Due to technical problems this morning in church, we are unable to provide any audio or video of our service. We apologize for the inconvenience.
Here is the text of Rev. Nick’s sermon on Luke 1:39-55.
December 19, 2021 – Luke 1:39-55
“Who Am I?”
Over the last month we’ve spent a lot of time in Luke 1, with a quick side trip into the Gospel of Matthew. We’ve been looking at the characters surrounding the birth of Jesus, in particular we’ve been looking at the parents of Jesus and of John the Baptist.
We started with Mary, then looked at Joseph. Last week we looked at Elizabeth and Zechariah. All 4 of these adults, these two married couples from very different circumstances, they were parents of two special sons.
We looked at how Mary was strong and brave for taking on the task God had assigned her. We looked at how Joseph was a kind and loving husband to face the challenges he and his young wife faced. We looked at how Elizabeth and Zechariah were older, but were faithful and wise and raised a humble and faithful son.
These two families faced significant challenges, yet met them head on when God asked them to take on very important jobs. One was asked to raise a great prophet, the other to raise God’s son.
I think we can agree, that after looking at the lives of these two sets of parents, we can agree that family is important. Being good role models is important. But also being faithful to God is very important.
At the same time, we’ve been looking at where we find ourselves in the Christmas story. God did not choose the most logical people for these special roles. He chose a young woman, an unmarried virgin from the middle of nowhere to carry his son. He chose a carpenter to be the father. A young couple of no special position in society. Shouldn’t the Messiah have been born on a thrown to a rich and powerful king and his queen?
And what about Elizabeth and Zechariah? An old couple past the age of having children. What possibly could two older people have to offer to God’s kingdom at that stage of life? And to have a child? That’s ludicrous!
Yet as we saw over the last month, there are specific skills and experience each person brought to the story. No one, no matter how insignificant they may seem to be, no one is unimportant in God’s overall story of showing his love and grace and redeeming this world. No one is unimportant. No one!
Not even you.
You are important in God’s plan. You always have been. You always will be. Big or small, hard or easy, world changing or impacting only one person, God has a plan for your life.
Mary and Joseph were chosen to be brave and loving parents, who were also incredibly humble and faithful. They were chosen to raise God’s only Son.
Elizabeth and Zechariah were chosen to raise the one who would prepare the way for the coming Messiah, to the point where John the Baptist simply pointed at Jesus walking by one day, saying, “There he goes!” and people left him to follow Jesus.
We have also been chosen for a purpose. Sadly we haven’t been approached by angels with great news. We’ve had to take a more subtle approach to learning what God has in store for us. We read our Bibles, we pray, we listen to what God has to say to us. That’s how we tend to find out God’s purpose in our lives. Sure, it would be great if an angel came along and proclaimed our role, but it doesn’t really happen that way. Most stories you read in the Bible are much more subdued, many are more like quiet whispers and other signs. So we need to be humble and seek God’s plan, and not assume we know all the answers.
Even the two sets of parents had to humble themselves to receive their full instructions from God.
Today, in our final look at these loving and devoted parents. We are returning to the words of Mary. When Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, and Elizabeth acknowledged the very special child Mary had within her womb, Mary delivers what we call her “Magnificat.”
Magnificat means, “my soul magnifies the Lord.” It is a song of praise to God. In a way, it’s kind of like Mary’s addition to the book of Psalms. It is a poetic declaration of Mary’s love of God and his impact on her life and on the lives of the people who open themselves up to God’s way.
It is also a provocative piece in many ways. Mary talks of scattering the proud, bringing down rulers, sending the rich away empty, these words are speaking against the powers and tendencies of this world.
There are places in the world in recent years that have tried to ban the reading of Mary’s Magnificat because of its political tones.
Think about this for a moment. As the birth of the Messiah approaches, two women sit together and what are they talking about? They talk about overthrowing the powers and leaders of this world. Two women! Women are property of men, they are to submit themselves to their authority, they are to be passive and obey their husbands.
Meanwhile Mary and Elizabeth are talking about raising up a political revolution! That’s not very submissive or passive at all! That’s the kind of discussion I want to be part of!
Yet the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Nothing has changed over the last 2000 years.
Business people control government. Big oil calls the shots. So do many other influential people with lots and lots of money.
The pandemic has only widened the gulf as billionaires make record profits and spend their money sending their friends into space while their workers suffer to make ends meet making a minimum wage that doesn’t cover the cost of their monthly bills.
Inflation is out of control right now. Economies are on the brink of collapse. Everyone is seeking out ways to make a quick and easy buck. All while those who are poor continue to struggle as their monthly costs for rent, food, heat skyrocket out of control.
What have we done?
Is this what God wants?
Maybe Mary has a point. Maybe Mary is on to something. Maybe there is a better way!
“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.”
If only I could be so eloquent in my appreciation of God’s love. “my soul glorifies … my spirit rejoices … for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.”
Mary knows she is loved by God. She knows God has graced her with blessings beyond her understanding, even beyond the gift of the child she is carrying in her womb. She knows God has been with her all the way, and he rejoices in his presence.
“From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.”
Notice Mary’s language. She says they will call her blessed, for what? She says, “for the Mighty One has done great things for me …”
For me. Not “in me”. Not “through me”. Not “because of me”. She says God has done “great things FOR me.”
This is the clue that tells us she means far more than just the child. She acknowledges God’s blessings in all her life, and that he has done them for her, as his child, as his loved one. She also acknowledges that it is not her that has done great things, but it’s God. When she says “humble servant” she isn’t kidding. She gives God all the credit, taking none of it for herself.
Remember what the angel Gabriel said to her when we proclaimed the good news she will become pregnant, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” Those words are probably words she has reflected on many times since the angel left her. Those words, and Mary’s response along with her Magnificat, tell us God has been very present in her life over the last number of months as she fully embraces her role as mother to the Messiah.
“And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.”
When we read about the fear of the Lord, we need to recognize the context in which it is used. God is not to be feared, especially if we are aware of his presence in our lives. Think of this use of fear as a healthy fear, a reverence if you will. Mary is encouraging people to come to the Lord and know him in a healthy way, to receive his mercy.
If we’re looking for mercy from someone, do we go to someone who is going to hurt us, someone who makes us shake in our boots to be near? No, we go to someone we know who will hear us and love us, even at times when maybe we don’t deserve the mercy we’re looking for.
“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; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”
Who has God come for? Was the Messiah born to a great and powerful king? Did he live in a palace and dictate to the peasants? No, the Messiah was born to a young virgin, miles and miles from any palace. He was born to parents who were humble, in fact they probably had very little to take great pride in. Yet God chose this humble couple, he has exalted them, and in doing so makes the mighty thrones tremble in fear.
God wants a humble heart. This is where we start in our faith journey … the realization that we cannot do great things on our own. At least not the great things God wants done in this world.
God scatters the proud. We see this with the tower of Babel. People became proud and even arrogant, and came together to build a huge tower. God saw their arrogance and pride in what they did, so what did he do? He tore it down and scattered the people across the land. They saw their own power and thought they could do greater than God. God showed them they cannot match him. He is greater than all of us put together. So he taught them a lesson, he gave them time to reflect on the errors of their ways.
Today we’re still scattered, but instead of reflecting on what God can do for us, we still see people building their own towers. Towers of riches and fame, proclaiming they did it all themselves. All while people suffer because of their greed.
God will exalt the humble, like Mary. Like Elizabeth. Like so many of his servants in the Bible who gave up their own plans in order to follow the one offered to them by God. A way forward greater than anything we can imagine for ourselves.
Mary concludes with these words,
“He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
She knows she carries the Saviour of the world within her. She knows this is the promised Messiah, the redeemer of Israel, God’s chosen people. She knows this is the promised child, from all the way back to Abraham, who will bless his descendants forever.
But Jesus also shows us he has come for more than just the children of Abraham. Jesus ministered to all people who came to him, Jew and gentile. Just as he ministered to Mary, God ministers to us as well. He blesses us, he loves us, he cares for us.
So much so, he sent his Son into the world through the virgin Mary so people will know of his love forever, including us today. Including you. Jesus came for you.
On this Sunday where we traditionally remember the love of God in our Advent candles, may we do more than remember it … may we celebrate it. May we experience it. May we share it as it was so freely shared with us in the lowly manger.
We are in the Christmas story. We may not be Mary or Elizabeth, Joseph or Zechariah. But we’re there. We are there in the quiet moments, in the in-betweens, in the signs and the stories we read.
Do you see it? Do you see yourself?
You are there. You are as much part of the story of the birth of the Messiah as anyone else. Because God had you in mind when he chose these special parents to bring his love into the world.
He thought of you.
Because he loves you.
And he wants you to know it in your heart.
In these final days of Advent, let’s prepare a home for God’s love to dwell. Not in a manger. Not in a great light display in our yard. Not in presents under the tree.
Let’s prepare our hearts to receive the gift born for all. A gift born for you. Love comes for you in the manger. All he asks for is your humble life … your heart.
Will you open yourself, your heart, your soul, all you have to receive the gift God has for us, the gift we celebrate on Christmas Eve, the child of love, born in a manger for you.