Sermon Advent 4: The Magnificat Luke 1:39-55
For many people this season can be a time of pain…A time when the virgin, and the elderly become pregnant with a child. For those of us who’ve suffered a loss or have struggled to conceive…It is a tender subject…And for those of us who are experiencing a blend of sorrow and hope, grief and joy, pain and love in this season, the supposed to be joyful mood of the holidays is hard…And nothing I can say can make any of that any better, but I wanted to honor it…For it is in the midst of the long seasons of waiting that we hear the promise today.
In Matthew’s gospel account today, we hear an interesting question, John the Baptist sends his followers to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” This question is one we all ask…How do we know when what we see is the Lord at work in our lives? In the midst of struggles, trials and temptations how do we recognize the Lord at work?
We heard John’s proclamation that he baptized with water, but the one who is coming would baptize with the Holy Spirit. The answer Jesus gives to John’s “Are you the One I’m waiting for?” Goes beyond a simple yes. It offers him the evidence of the Holy Spirit, alive, and active in and through the ministry of Jesus Christ. “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” Jesus doesn’t just say yes, he gives evidence.
But the evidence foretelling of the works Jesus would do by the Holy Spirit goes back even further though. Straight away after receiving the news from the angel that she would bear a son, Mary went to her cousin Elizabeth. Mary’s eagerness to see Elizabeth is connected with her sense of shared destiny in miraculous motherhood. This connection is further underscored when Mary arrives and the baby John leaps in his mother, Elizabeth’s womb. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and she prophesies, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."
Elizabeth offers confirmation of what the angel has told Mary. She offers both joy and praise to Mary. Elizabeth we hear is filled with the Holy Spirit and prompted to prophesy and offer Mary the assurance that all will be as the angel said.
Elizabeth’s praise of her, leads Mary to offer glory to God. Mary takes Elizabeth’s words and sings a song in response. And it is this song that we read together this morning. And it is this song that foretells of what Jesus will do. But besides reading the Magnificat together today, this is not the song many of us sing about Mary this time of year. There’s a far more popular one we hear…perhaps you’ve heard, “Mary did you know?”
Now maybe I’m a curmudgeon, because although I find the song Mary did you know, to be musically beautiful…It leaves me wanting to respond…yes, she did! She did know. She sang a song about it…To be fair to the song, Mary probably did not know or imagine that her Son would one day walk on water but she did, very much know, that he would save our sons and daughters, and would indeed deliver her.
Mary proclaimed, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. Mary rejoices in her Savior.
1:48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Mary is not reflecting on her personal affliction here. The words here are echoing Hannah who longed for a child and promised a nazarite vow (1 Sam. 1:11). They reference Leah, Leah who became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, “It is because the Lord has seen my misery.” (Genesis 29:32) It references the longing for deliverance cried out for in Deuteronomy 26:7 7 Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression.
It echoes to the words of the prophet Samuel 9:16 16 “About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin. Anoint him ruler over my people Israel; he will deliver them from the hand of the Philistines. I have looked on my people, for their cry has reached me.”
No the affliction Mary references is not connected with childlessness as an individual, no the affliction she references is the specific childlessness, the specific lack of a child who is to be the messianic deliverer. Daughter Zion, the woman Israel is here personified, and in Mary is understood to have her long lack met.
Mary can say, Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; because she knows the turning point in history that is made right now in her womb.
Yes indeed she can say 1:49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. For while Mary’s situation and experience are unique as the theotokos, the God bearer, her experience resonates and echoes with the deep history of Israels experience of God’s saving intervention. Mary’s experience of bearing God is unique and a far more intimate bond, and yet Mary is the first to experience the salvation that is for all Israel, and indeed for all people.
Mary goes on to extoll that the promised redemption is for all times…
1:50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
The language moves from Mary’s individual experience to express what has been accomplished for all Israel. 1:54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 1:55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."
Mary was a prophet, and she KNEW…She KNEW that the hopes and fears of all the years, were met in the child she carried. She KNEW that this one act of God’s mercy was bringing all of human history to fruition. Mary knew that already and not yet by the birth of her son God had shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. Already and not yet 1:52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; Already and not yet 1:53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
Mary KNEW! And Imagine if we did too…Imagine if like Mary, we consented to be theotokos. Ones who bring forth God. Mary’s experience is unique, no one again will be pregnant with God, but it was also a firstfruit of all the ways God can be born into the world. What if when confronted with the promises of God, we didn’t doubt or fear…What if we consented to be like Elizabeth and rejoice to behold what God is doing in the world. What if rather than keeping silent we were moved to sing…
What if we like Elizabeth proclaimed when we saw God at work in the lives of others? What if we looked for God at work? What if like Mary, we consent to let God work in us what is pleasing to Him? What if we stop asking God to do what we want, and look for ways instead to glorify God. What if we magnified the name of the Lord?
You see I believe all our lives are pregnant with possibility…there are unnumbered ways that each of us can bring glory to God, and unnumbered ways that each of us can bear the image of Christ. Within the body of Christ, the church, we can bring forth more of God in the world. What if we can be like Mary, and be a people who KNEW, who Know, that God, the work of God is alive within us, and the promised Salvation is at hand.
But like Mary we have work to do. There is a labor that must begin…In our collect today we prayed Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
Lets take this prayer seriously! Stir up your power O Lord. Let’s undertake the hard effort, to with blood, with sweat, with tears, and with joy. Make way the way for the Lord. Let us be bearers of Christ in our own day to a generation that so desperately needs to hear of him, to know him, and to know of his love for them. For as Mary said this good news is for generation to generation…Let’s not let the good news stop with us. May today as then the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.