FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT December 23, 2018 Luke 1:39-55
39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!" 46 And Mary said:
"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."
In the of Jesus Christ the embodiment of God and his love, by dear friends,
May 21,, 2013 a meteor struck and shattered the windshield of a car park on a Montreal street. If you are the owner of that car, what are your thinking? Out of all the places and things on earth to impact why does this thing strike my car? You visit your doctor after suddenly losing hearing in your left ear. The doctor runs a number of tests and returns with a diagnosis. “You have a one in a million disease called acoustic neuroma. It’s a tumor near your ear putting pressure on your acoustic nerve.” On the way home you ask yourself, “Why me?”
Under what kind of circumstances do you and I generally ask that question?” Isn’t usually following a painful or costly event? When was the last time you asked, “Why me?” when something good and pleasant happened to you? If you walk into a grocery store and suddenly bells ring, lights flash, the franchise chairman says, “congratulations you are our 1 millionth customer, and as such we award you with $1,000 worth of free groceries.” Are “why me?” the first words out of your mouth then?
When trouble strikes we say “why me?” implying, “I don’t have that coming.” When good things come our way we tend to say, “Why not me?” implying we do have it coming. For three weeks of Advent we have studied the gifts Jesus came to bring us. So far we have learned about his gifts of hope, peace, and joy. Are we worthy of these gifts? Do we have them coming? “Why me?!!!” That’s the question today’s lesson will help us answer as we consider the final gift Jesus came to bring us—the gift of love.
Our lesson centers around two pregnant women—Mary and Elizabeth who were cousins. Elizabeth was childless for most of her life. Now in her old age she is six months pregnant. Mary had just been told by an angel she too was pregnant by the Holy Spirit. As Mary entered Elizabeth’s home Elizabeth literally got a kick out of it from the baby in her womb. The Holy Spirit revealed the meaning of that kick to Elizabeth, “As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” Joy was overflowing in that house that day. Note carefully Elizabeth’s reaction to these wonderful things that had come to her. “But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” There’s a “why me?” in that sentence isn’t there? “Why am I so favored?” Is Elizabeth implying she is worthy of standing in the presence of the Son of God and his mother? Not at all. It’s just the opposite. She feels she doesn’t have it coming.
Now let’s look at Mary. The angel, Gabriel, had informed her she would become pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit and give birth to “the Son of the Most High.” When Mary entered her home, Elizabeth shouted, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” Out of all the women on earth to bear children, Mary would give birth to God’s Son. She was literally chosen by God to be the mother of God. We might expect Mary to say, “Why yes I am special. Elizabeth, you may be giving birth to a prophet, but I’m giving birth to the Son of God. Neener-Neener.” Instead Mary said, "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.” There’s a veiled “Why me?” in her response too. She referred to herself as being in a humble, low, empty state. Her giving birth to the Son of God was not a result of her greatness but God’s. “My soul glorifies (declares great) the Lord,” she said. Once again Mary indicates she didn’t have this coming to her.
Throughout their lives Mary and Elizabeth were students of God’s word. Through that word the Holy Spirit caused them to understand the difference between what they had coming and didn’t have coming from God. Through Mary’s song he provides the same lesson for us.
What do we have coming? In her song, Mary consistently points to herself as lowly, blessed and a recipient of mercy. By referring to herself as lowly, Mary recognized there was nothing about her that set her apart from anyone else. The same is true for you and me. From our human point of view we see categories of people. We see achievers and do nothings, bright and dim, winners and losers. This is what God sees, “There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away; they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, Not even one” (Romans 3:10-12). When God looks at humanity he sees nothing but rotten apples. This is what we look like compared to everyone else on earth—all rotten.
Mary recognized herself has a rotten apple. That’s why she called herself blessed rather than owed. So why Mary? Mary was not chosen to be the mother of Jesus, the Son of God, because she was special. She was chosen because God is special. “From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.” To be holy is to be set apart. God is set apart with regard to his power. No one can match it. He is also set apart with regard to his love. That too is matchless. He loves those who hate him and hurt him and reject him. Adam and Eve didn’t beg for mercy or forgiveness in the garden. God promised it freely. His love comes to us and the world in the same way—unasked, unforced, unearned. Why was Mary chosen to be the mother of God, why was a Savior sent to rescue you, me and the world? Because God is love—nothing more and nothing less.
In love God directs our lives and human history to impress this truth on us. “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” A throne isn’t a regular chair. It’s a lofty, high chair. It says of those who sit on them, “I’m higher than the rest of you. I’m special.” Many rulers don’t see a need for God’s power and love. They feel entitled to it. So the Lord gives them a reality check. When King Nebuchadnezzar took credit for his vast kingdom, the Lord humbled him with insanity. When Moses and Aaron failed to honor God saying, “Must we provide water for you from this rock,” they were banned from entering the promised land. God owes us nothing. To those who see themselves as empty and needy; to those whose souls hunger for peace with God, God gives everything. Throughout history God has chosen those of low birth and sordid pasts to receive the honor of bearing the Savior’s blood line. There’s second born, deceitful, heal grabbing Jacob; then brother selling Judah; followed by the prostitute Rahab, Ruth the foreigner, David the adulterer and more.
God’s point is clear. No one deserves his love, yet no one is beneath it. No matter what is in your past: drunkenness, murder, slander, disrespect, theft, pornography, abuse the child in Mary’s womb was born, grew into a man, and claimed your sins, every one of them as his own. He endured what you and I and the world have coming when he died. In love he gives us what he had coming for his life of obedience to his Father—eternal love. What a gift!
Today we are gathered in God’s house with hearts exalted and filled by the word of life. From that word we see there is no difference between us and prison inmates on God’s scales of justice. Yet in Jesus we have the gift of hope—the confidence eternal light awaits rather than darkness. In Jesus, we have peace—the comfort that everything is once more the way it was intended between us and God. We have the gift of joy of knowing God has crushed Satan, our enemy, taken away our punishment and will bring us safely home.
Why you? Why me? Because God and his love are special with special results for you and me and all who believe. As the Apostle John put it “what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (John 3:1). Hope, Peace, Joy and Love—Jesus was born to give them all to us. Enjoy your Christmas gifts! Amen.