Saturday, July 1, 2017

Visitation Sermon

The Visitation – July 1 and 2, 2017 – Luke 1

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Alright – so what's the deal with today. Here it is, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and we've got a Mary day stuck right here. Good night, Pastor Brown, what in tarnation is going on! Well, let me explain – July 2nd is the old, traditional date for the celebration of the Visitation – when young and newly pregnant Mary went and visited the quite old and surprisingly pregnant Elizabeth, and the old Lutherans kept this date on the calendar not as an attempt to praise Mary. No, Mary in the magnificat undercuts any idea that she herself is worthy of praise. Rather, this text is all about who Jesus is and what He does.

Before we look at the text, let's spend a moment or two thinking about how strange this whole meeting would be. First, you've got Elizabeth. She is, according to Zechariah her husband, “advanced in years.” She's old. Okay, some of you might think she's young, but her child bearing years are long behind her. Yet, she ends up pregnant with John the Baptist, and Zechariah is struck silent until John is born. Again, while some of you ladies might think your husband being unable to talk for a few months would be a good thing – let's think about Elizabeth's situation. It's utterly strange. And her husband is less of a help than normal. And being pregnant is uncomfortable enough when your a fit 20 year-old – now have all that kick in when you've got old joints and a creaky back. Yeah, it is a neat blessing and all, but practically speaking, it would be lousy.

And then you've got Mary. And here's how Mary gets introduced. In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. Now, there's a lot here in this simple verse. Mary arose and went with haste. Why? Think about Mary's situation for just a second. There she is, engaged, ready to get married, a nice, normal future set in front of her, and then BAM – Gabriel shows up and tells her that she is going to bear the Messiah as a Virgin. You do realize that Mary knew this would mess things up, right? When Gabriel comes she asks “how” - how is this going to work. And then, when she agrees she doesn't jump up and down and say “oh goody-goody gumdrops!” She says, Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” That's not a response of eagerness. That's resignation. That's saying, “Well, if this is what God is going to do... okay...eep.” Because Mary knows what this is going to look like. She's going to be a teen pregnant before marriage – and moreover pregnant when her fiancee Joseph had nothing to do with it. Think that would be a bit awkward? We hear in Matthew how Gabriel ends up going to Joseph to calm him down – he had been planning to divorce her quietly, which actually was the nicer thing. Joseph could have protected his honor and demanded that Mary be stoned to death as an adulteress. And you know tongues were wagging because they liked juicy gossip as much as we do today. So there's Mary's situation – where the nicest thing was that her fiancee was merely planning to have nothing to do with her ever again. Do you see why she high-tails it out of there, why she goes to her cousin's house with haste?

So think about it. We've got two women who are going through incredibly strange and difficult times, and they are meeting up, and the first thing we might expect would be the massive complaint session – oh, see how rough it is – commiseration, tears, all of that. And I don't say that negatively – I'd be freaked out if I were either Mary or Elizabeth – I'd want shoulders to cry on. Yet, what happens? And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me, for behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”

Okay, there's lots of angles people can take on this. John leaping here is often used as a text for the fact that there can be faith even in the womb, or you do get folks who want to hype up Mary focusing on the blessed are you. But do you see what happened here? Little John the Baptist just preached his first sermon – couldn't say “behold the Lamb of God” yet so he kicked his mom. And it was a good kicking based sermon – the Holy Spirit comes upon Elizabeth – and she speaks the higher and greater truth. Yeah, there's fear and weird stuff going on – but look at what is really going on. The Lord is here, the Lord God, the Savior – right there in your womb. Mary, this is incredibly cool right now. The Holy Spirit pulls their eyes off of any worries or fears they might have, and instead they are focused upon Jesus.

Elizabeth hits the point. Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord. Blessed is a big word – it's how Jesus starts out the Sermon on the Mount in the beatitudes. Blessed – happy – fortunate. But blessed in a way that the world might not see. Think on the Sermon on the Mount – blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the meek – things that don't look to be “good” – yet because God keeps His Word and fulfills His promises, yes, they are blessed. And so there's Mary and Elizabeth, and while almost everyone else in the world might have viewed them as freaks and hussies and with disdain – the Holy Spirit makes them to see the truth that they are in fact blessed by God, and in a completely awesome way.

And then Mary speaks – speaks words that are basically one of the four earliest hymns of the New Testament. Luke has four songs that got put into worship – Mary's here ends up being called the Magnificat – then later in Luke 1 we get Zechariah's song, the Benedictus – and then there's two more in Luke 2 that we sing today – the Gloria in Excelsis of the Angels and then the Nunc Dimitiss – Simeon's song in the temple. While we normally key in on the later two, Mary's is the first. And it is wondrous. Listen.

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of His servant. Mary actually means this. This isn't a “humble brag” on her part when she says that she's in a humble estate. She's an unwed pregnant teen who had to get out of her home because people were gossiping so much – she is low, she is in a lowly place. That word humble means “brought low” - and she's pretty low on the Jewish social totem pole right now. And yet, what is true? God is her Savior. Doesn't matter how low she is, how despised she is – God is her savior. Period. That's an awesome confession right there – one that we can sing out too. Doesn't matter how low things get for you – God is your Savior and He looks upon you with love even when you are at your lowest.

For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. Mary recognizes that she is going to get a lot of fame and praise – and she hasn't done anything. This isn't about Mary – it's about Jesus. Mary didn't do anything to be the Mother of Jesus – literally not a thing – she's still a virgin. This is all about how great Jesus is, and yet because Jesus is great, Mary is called great too. And you do realize, friends, that this is your song as well. You are those who have been baptized into Christ, you are fellow heirs with Him, you are called now children of God, you are princes and princesses of heaven – a Royal Priesthood – and not because of what you have done. No – He who is mighty has done great things for you when He poured His Spirit upon you by Water and the Word.

And His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation. Yep, Mary knows you here are included in this – we're just a generation well on down the line – but the steadfast love and mercy of the Lord endures forever – and this Jesus in Mary's womb is bringing blessing and mercy not just for Mary! No, He's bringing it for you, and He pours it upon you today as He declares you forgiven for His sake.

He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate. So the world looks down upon you? Folks at school mock you, family gives you problems, even the government and the powerful give you a hard time? Oh well, for Christ Jesus is the Lord, and He exults you unto life everlasting, and He shall give you a new heaven and a new earth to enjoy and delight in without any of these hassles, for His arm is mighty – his arm bears the weight of all sin as it is nailed to the cross, His arm is mighty as risen from the dead He appears to the Apostles and lifts his arm to show them His wounds and says, “Peace be with you.” Troublemakers shall trouble you no more, for I bring peace!

He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. With good things – Jesus fills those who hunger and thirst for righteousness with His own life giving Body and Blood. If the rich and haughty ignore this, if they wish to skip the banquet – so be it, but it is still here for you, for He always gives Himself to you.

He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and His offspring forever. And now it all comes to a point. All the promises of the Old Testament come boiling down and rushing to this point. There, in Mary's womb, is God Himself, Christ Jesus, come to fulfill all the promises made in the Old Testament, the promises of salvation made to Israel and Abraham and David and Isaiah and on and on – even on and on to you here this day. The promise of the mercy of the Lord. Mary's song is all about Jesus, all about what Jesus does for you.
And that, dear friends, is why we celebrate the Visitation today. The important thing isn't that Mary happened to visit Elizabeth – although that was good for them – Mary hangs around there for three months and I'm sure they were a blessing to each other in the midst of their odd pregnancies – but the great thing is that God Himself, Christ Jesus came and visited us, brought salvation for Mary and Elizabeth with His death and resurrection, and He still visits us today, comes to us in His Word, comes to us under bread and wine – pours His Spirit upon us even as His Spirit came upon Elizabeth. The troubles of this life – they may remain. Yet because Christ comes to you, you see the wonderful truth that you are well and truly blessed in Him. This is truth, no matter what awaits you this week outside those doors. Christ Jesus is mightier than all of them, and He is your Savior. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

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