Sunday, December 23, 2012

Luke 1:46-55 Advent 4

I wonder if Mary really cared…that people shunned her, and the old women whispered when she walked past.    … that many people would think she had been unfaithful to the man who would be her husband.  I wonder if she cared about anything other than the Savior who was growing inside of her. With good reason, Mary has often been referred to as the “Blessed Virgin Mary.”  The child growing inside of her was such a blessing indeed, that she could not help singing about it. 
Years later, when the evangelist Luke was making his “careful investigations” before writing his account of Jesus’ life, he probably came to visit Mary, by that time an old woman.  As Luke talked with her about the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, she didn’t think to mention any of the struggles that must have come for the young mother.  If she had to struggle to convince her friends and family that the Holy Spirit had conceived this child in her, we will never know.  It didn’t matter enough to be a part of her story.  The things she treasured up in her heart were the great honor that she would bring the Savior into the world, and the great blessings that would come from the Savior.  As she told her stories to Luke, she recalled the angel’s visit to announce this miraculous birth.  “Greetings, you who are highly favored,” the angel said.  “You have found favor with God.  You will be with child and give birth to a son.”  Mary recalled her visit to Elizabeth, whose child jumped for joy as Mary approached with the Savior in her womb.  She told of Elizabeth’s greeting, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child that you will bear.”  Then she told Luke of the song she sang; she was so moved by the greatness of what God was doing for her and through her.  Maybe she even sang it for him,
“My soul glorifies the Lord
47      and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48   for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49      for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
50   His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51   He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52   He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53   He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54   He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55   to Abraham and his descendants forever,
even as he said to our fathers.”
Luke 1:46-55
Mary was filled with joy and sang because…
Theme:  Her Son was Born to Lift Us Up
1.  Now, if you would spontaneously burst into song like Mary did, singing of the great things God has done for you, quoting Scriptures from the songs and psalms of the Old Testament—people might think you’re a little crazy.  They would say, “What’s your problem?”  The problem is that we have too many problems to sing like that without seeming like we have gone crazy. 
We have no control over whether the next minute of our life will be pleasant, or painful.  We have no way of controlling whether or not God will take away the things that make us happy.  There is no bribe we can offer him.  A wise man once said that “we are all beggars.”  There is nothing we can give to God.  We can only take what he gives.  And actually, there are plenty of reasons why he would not give us anything good.  Our failures to do the right thing today would be enough, but then there is also the guilt of past sins which keeps coming back.  As often as you say you’re sorry, as many good things as you try to do to make up for it, the guilt comes back.  What are we to God, anyway?
Mary had thoughts like that too, and that’s part of the reason why she burst into spontaneous song.  While we may be tempted to dwell on the guilt and the feeling of being “nothing” to God, she dwelt on the wonderful things that God had done for her, even though she was a nobody.  Think about it—Mary was a young girl, not even married yet, and her husband-to-be was a lowly carpenter.  She would not be the honored wife of some priest or rabbi.  Who was she to God that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and the power of the Most High would overshadow her, so that she would conceive a son who would be called the Son of God? 
There is a passage in the writings of the rabbis that shows us how they expected the Holy Spirit to do this kind of thing only for the rich, powerful, respected people.  “R. Johanan said: The Holy One, blessed be He, causes His Divine Presence to rest only upon him who is strong, wealthy, wise and meek,” (Nedarim 38a).  It seems that no one expected God to work through a “nobody” like Mary—and Mary marveled that God would do such wonderful things through her, though she deserved nothing from him.
Don’t we expect that God would work through good people, bless them with riches, and do great things through them?  We are nobodies, but God has honored us and blessed us much as he did Mary.  Don’t let the things that you haven’t done or can’t do stop you from being so filled with joy that you might burst into song…you may be a nobody, but God has done great things for you!
2.  Mary was blessed to have a Savior.  He was born to bring God’s mercy to every generation, to perform mighty deeds for God’s people, to lift up the lowly and fill the hungry with food that gives us eternal life.  All the hope for rescue and release from the horrible curse of sin since the Garden of Eden, all the promises of God to rescue his people from every trouble, his promises of mercy and forgiveness all fulfilled in her child.
And that’s the other thing—the Savior was her child.  God chose her to bring the Savior into the world, though she was nobody, though she was just a lowly sinner herself.  And if that rubs your ears the wrong way because you’ve heard somewhere that Mary was sinless, the Bible doesn’t say anywhere that Mary was sinless.  The Scripture here makes the opposite point—that God did this great thing for lowly Mary, the sinful mother who would later forget her child in the temple, and be so out of touch with God’s will that she would have no clue that she should look for Jesus in the temple, where he would be doing his Father’s business. 
That God would give her a Savior whom she did not deserve, and use her of all people to give birth to the Savior—It is no wonder that she sang, “from now on, all generations will call me blessed!”
We are blessed in much the same way.  We don’t deserve any of this.  We scarcely understand what the Savior was all about—and what we do understand is only because God has crushed us and pried our selfish minds open so he can teach us a few things from his Word.  He has taught us to confess our sins, but who really understands what is so bad about most of these sins—what’s a little lie anyway?  Except that we know God hates it so much that he created hell for it and says that liars, and people who disrespect their parents, and all others who commit common understandable sins go to hell.  He gave us a conscience that feels guilty about it, even though we couldn’t help it.  So we confess, because he has promised to take away that guilt.  We try to do better, because that guilty feeling is awful, and we want to feel good about ourselves.  But we sin again anyway, maybe even in exactly the same way.  What is so good about any of this, that we would deserve a Savior?  Nothing.  Yet we have one, because God has been good to us.
Then, as if that were not enough, we find that God has decided to use us to carry the wonderful news of the Savior out into the world.  He could have used his holy angels to do it again, as he did—and what an impression they would make, announcing the Christmas Gospel with “Glory to God in the Highest” sung so beautifully and powerfully that no human choir would ever dare try to imitate it again!  God could have, but instead he thought to use us.  He has truly done great things for us!  He has truly lifted up the humble!  Why not burst into song like Mary did!
3.  Perhaps the sadness of recent days still hangs like a thick fog in your heart.  It may be the Sandy Hook massacre.  It may be the guilt of recent sins.  It may be that you haven’t seen your loved ones in a long time and they are far away.  Maybe you don’t have a reason for it, but you just feel depressed.  Take a lesson from Mary, and fill up on God’s words in the Holy Scripture.
During those anxious months of waiting for her child to be born and enduring untold shame from people who didn’t understand, Mary’s mind recalled cheerful passages of Scripture.  Mary’s song was filled with the words of the Old Testament.  Her song especially echoes the words sung by Hannah, the mother of Samuel.  And it’s no wonder Mary found strength and inspiration from Hannah’s song in Scripture: both women experienced scorn from friends and neighbors who didn’t understand, both women found great joy in the miraculous baby that was given to them and the great things that child would do.
Do like Mary did, and dig into the Scriptures for strength and inspiration.  You will find people who struggled with the same things that we struggle with today—everything from temptations to horrible tragedies.  You will find the answer, as they did, in Christ.  He was born to lift up the lowly.  He has brought salvation—a rescue from this troubled world and our lowly lives.  He has brought righteousness—the perfection God requires given freely to those who can’t do it.  He has lifted us up out of the dust to entrust us with carrying these blessings to the world in Word and Sacrament. 
Fill up on the saving work of Jesus, and all that it means.  Fill up on the forgiveness that God gives for your wrongs, and the new life that he gives, as a person who is no longer worthless and a nobody.  To God, you are worth sending a Savior.  When you were baptized, he thought you were worth his presence to wash your sins away and give you a new birth as his child.  He thought it was worth his trouble to make sure that all these words in the Bible would be written down and delivered to you—and he has honored us with the task of delivering the message of his salvation to others, a job first done by angels!  God has truly lifted us up!  No, you haven’t done anything to deserve it.  God just loves you.  Be cheerful.  This is why Mary was so happy.  Jesus was born to lift us up!  Amen.