Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent (December 20, 2015)

Advent 4 – Series C (December 20, 2015)
Pro-Life, Pro-Faith, and Magnifying the Lord” (Luke 1:39-56)
            “My soul magnifies the Lord,” Mary sings. Is God so tiny that he needs a magnifying glass to be seen? Of course not. That’s not the way Mary uses that word. She means to praise him, exalt him, extol him, make his name great to others as she declares his praise. On the other hand, consider this wonder of wonders. The Son of God himself, the Living Word, the Creator of the universe, became so tiny in his mother’s womb that it would indeed have taken a magnifying glass to notice him.
            As we read this account of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, or “The Visitation” as we call it, you might say that this is a “pro-life” text. Two babies in their mother’s wombs, both with such remarkable futures ahead of them – lives of great purpose, lives of ultimate purpose – in spite of the fact that they both met with horrible deaths. Nevertheless, this was God’s plan to save the world and bring eternal life to all who believe in the message of the cross.
          “Blessed is the fruit of your womb,” Elizabeth says to Mary. That goes for all babies, of course. The psalmist says, “…you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14). That goes for John, too … a precious gift to elderly, childless Zechariah and Elizabeth. But it’s true especially of Jesus and Mary. The uncreated God takes flesh from his mother’s womb by the power of the Holy Spirit. A body is prepared for him to perfectly do the will of the Father. A body is prepared for him to offer a perfect sacrifice for the sins of all (Heb. 5:5-7).
            What do we do with those words, “Blessed are you among women” and Mary’s own words, “from now on all generations will call me blessed”? We often hear the song “Ave Maria” sung at Christmas. It’s not typically sung in Lutheran churches. Still, we do highly honor Mary as the mother of the Lord. She is the Blessed Virgin. She is the Mother of God. If Jesus is God, and Mary is his mother, then we can call her that. Calling her the Mother of God makes a solid, biblical, theological point about the nature of that Holy Child that she bore. He is True Man, but he is also True God.
When I taught at a Roman Catholic high school, this prayer was said at the beginning of every home room period: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” I could say the first part. I just couldn’t join in on the second part. Even if the saints in heaven do pray for us, nowhere in Scripture are we told to pray to them. Jesus is our only mediator between us and God the Father (Romans 8:34; Heb. 7:25).
Our text is also a “pro-faith” text. Here, we see three remarkable examples of faith. The word of the Lord stirs up faith in our hearts.
God stirred up faith in Elizabeth. She praised God and acknowledged Mary as the mother of her Lord. It takes faith to believe that this baby whom you cannot see is the Lord.
God stirred up faith in John. Three months before he sees the light of day, he leaps for joy in the presence of the unborn Child whose way John would be born to prophetically prepare. It takes faith for an unborn baby in his mother’s womb to get excited in the presence of the Lord.
God stirred up faith in Mary. She listed to the message of the angel. And she believed. It takes faith to believe that God has given you such an awesome responsibility to be the mother of the Savior of the world. It takes faith to compose such a magnificent song as the Magnificat, a song that has become a significant part of our evening liturgies. How was this young girl from a town of no significance able to give us this gift? Well, Mary had heard the Scriptures. She borrowed from Hannah’s song of praise at the birth of Samuel. She borrowed from the Psalms. And obviously and above all else, the Holy Spirit was upon her. Mary sings for all of us. We join her in singing, and through this Word, God stirs up faith in our hearts.
We live in a world that does not magnify the Lord. He is an insignificant part of the lives of so many people. For some, he is not a part at all. At times, we act as though he is an insignificant part of our lives, when we neglect to let his Word shape the way we live and the way we speak, when we don’t give him a second thought during the week other than on Sunday morning. For this we must repent.
So, repent. Then, in faith, magnify the Lord by making his name great in the world. Make his name great in the way you speak and in the way you live. “Hallowed be thy name,” we pray in the Lord’s Prayer. Make his name holy. Magnify it. The Small Catechism explains, “God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, Heavenly Father!” So you see, it’s not just false teaching that profanes God’s name. It’s false living, too … words and deeds contrary to God’s Word.
But in the Magnificat, Mary proclaims how in this tiny Baby in her womb, God has come to deliver us from all our sins, and does so in surprising ways.
God acts contrary to our expectations. He has shown strength with his arm. For the Israelites, their deliverance in the Exodus was always in view. Certainly, God bared his mighty arms in the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. But here, God shows his strength in those tiny arms forming in Mary’s womb which one day would be stretched out in weakness on a cross to bear the sins of the world.
In a world that glorifies power and wealth, God brings down the mighty and sends the rich away … those who are arrogant and proud, those who rely on their own strength, those who rely on riches and wealth rather than on God. Instead, he exalts those of humble estate and fills the hungry with good things … those who humbly and repentantly recognize their need for a Savior, those who know they have no resources of their own. Recall Jesus’ words in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven … Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:3, 6).
Finally, Mary reminds us all how God always keeps his promises, even when it seems a long time in coming. How long had they waited for the Messiah to come? Ever since God promised in the Garden that the seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15). Ever since God told Abraham that in him all the families of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:3). And now, here was the Messiah, soon to “first reveal his sacred face.” Mary sings, “His mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation … He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.” Mary sees what Gabriel has told her as the fulfillment of all of the promises to Abraham – a kingdom, a people, a great name, and a blessing to the nations. In the child she would bear, Mary sees the fulfillment of all of God’s promises. So when you hear that Christmas pop song, “Mary Did You Know?”, you don't have to keep asking did she know, as though there's no answer to the question. The answer is “yes, Mary knew,” and the Magnificat proves it.1
So magnify the Lord today that YOU know. You know who your Savior is. God has lifted you up out of your humble estate, exalted you as a baptized Child of God, and placed you in his kingdom. Make Mary’s song of praise your own, and in word and deed magnify the Lord who has given you faith to believe in the Savior, the one who gives you eternal life in his perfect life, death, and resurrection.
Advent is quickly coming to a close for another year. We rejoice that God kept his promise to send a Savior. And no matter how long it takes, Jesus will keep his promise to come again at his Second Advent.

1 Thoughts at the end of this paragraph borrowed from the Rev. John Fraiser

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