Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sermon on 12/6

Song of Mary

26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. 28 And having come in, the angel said to her, "Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!"[c]
29 But when she saw him,[
d] she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. 30 Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end."
34 Then Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I do not know a man?"
35 And the angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible." 38 Then Mary said, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.


39 Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45 Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord."

      " My soul magnifies the Lord,
       47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
       48 For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
      For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
       49 For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
      And holy is His name.
       50 And His mercy is on those who fear Him
      From generation to generation.
       51 He has shown strength with His arm;
      He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
       52 He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
      And exalted the lowly.
       53 He has filled the hungry with good things,
      And the rich He has sent away empty.
       54 He has helped His servant Israel,
      In remembrance of His mercy,
       55 As He spoke to our fathers,
      To Abraham and to his seed forever."

56 And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house.


 

It is easy to look at Mary in the pictures that were drawn of her in days of old and get a different picture of her than is Biblical. It is easy to think of her as this matronly woman with alabaster skin and a beautiful blue and white robe. It is easy to think of Mary and beautiful and docile. A well-behaved young woman from a working class or middle class family whose father worked hard and whose mother stayed home to keep house and home school her and her brother and sisters.


 

Or maybe it is easy to think of Mary as that girl that never speaks up in class but always gets straight A's in her classes. She does what she is supposed to, but generally is meek and invisible and seeks to fade to the background and into the wall whenever possible.


 

As I start to read the gospel of Luke, and as I read Mary's song, commonly known as the Magnificat, I get a different picture of Mary. I hear a young woman full of courage and energy. A strong and bold woman. A woman who asks questions for clarification of the angel of God. A woman who lives a life defined by boldness and risk. A woman who courageously stands for what she believes, no matter what the cost. A young teenager who is willing to do whatever God told her to do, no matter who it confused and made angry.


 

Most historians put Mary's age at 13, though she could have been as old as 16 or 17 and as young as 12. It kind of worked rather simply in ancient Israel. Once a young woman shows initial signs of entering puberty and being able to have children, the parent makes arrangements for the girl to get married to an appropriate man, and about a year after that she gets married. Many parents would already have arranged that man to Mary, and have begun the wedding plans.


 

Mary's parents and Joseph and Mary had already made the wedding plans. They had already received the dowry that the family got from Joseph—in effect paying Mary's family to marry her. She had already set the date for the wedding. After her 8th grade graduation she would probably be walking down the aisle with her husband, who seemed to be a decent man with a good job to support her.


 

Then that pesky angel stepped on the scene. You know who he is. His name is Gabriel. That day he came to Mary and immediately told Mary that he had good news for her. Twice Gabriel says that Mary is favored by God. That God has seen her and approved of her. The angel tells Mary that God is with her.


 

Then Gabriel shares the big news that he has come to announce. He tells Mary that she will have a child. He tells her that she will have a son, and he will be called the Son of the Most High, that he will be in the line of David, that he will reign over the house fo Jacob forever, and that his kingdom will never end. Jesus will be his name.


 

Mary has a question, and she asks it. She asks how she can become pregnant when she has never had sex. Pretty bold to ask a question like that to an angel. But typical of a teenager to ask it.


 

Gabriel tells her that this child with be conceived not in a normal way that babies are made, but through the power of the Holy Spirit. He says after this that the child is the Son of God. And that Elizabeth, who had been barren and was well beyond childbearing years, was also going to have a child. It seems Gabriel shared this with Mary so that she would have another sign that what was happening to her was part of what God was doing. It seems Gabriel was also telling Mary this so that she would know that what was happening in her womb was bigger than just her and her situation.

He is also telling her this. There is nothing that is impossible with God.


 

There is no situation that is impossible with God. There is no town that is God-forsaken. There is no person that is hopeless. There is no illness that cannot be healed. There is no obstacle that cannot be overcome. There is no sin that cannot be forgiven. There is no situation, on heaven or on earth that is more than God can handle. Nothing is impossible with God.


 

Mary responds by saying this "Behold the maidservant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word".


 

At first that may appear as a passive response. A response such as "not my will, but thy will be done". That is not the kind of response that Mary has though. It is more akin to the prophet Isaiah when he encountered the angels in the Temple. Mary is saying boldly something similar to "Here am I! Send me!" or "Let's roll". It is the response of a good soldier to a general when they are giving marching orders. The angel said it. Mary believed it. She believed in what God was doing even if the whole world thought she was a fool. Or even if the whole world thought she was a slut, which it is clear that people even at the time of Jesus believed to be true. She had her marching orders. Now she was going forward armed with the knowledge that she was doing the good and just and right and fair thing.


 

Can you imagine the kind of character it would take to be pregnant out of wedlock for nine months in a community where everyone knew everyone, where everyone gossiped and whispered about the indiscretions of everyone? Furthermore, can you imagine going through all of that anger and judgment and disappointment that people would heap upon her?


 

What kind of teenage girl would it take to deal with all of that? I will tell you what kind of girl. A passionate girl willing to do what she believes is true and right even if it means defying everyone around her. A courageous young woman that is willing to do her part to bring the kingdom of God to earth. Strong. Bold. Full of conviction. Not meek or passive. Submissive to the word of God. Yes. But Mary was no wilting flower.


 

So soon after Mary discovers she is pregnant she goes up to visit her cousin Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth meets Mary John starts dancing in her womb. The Scripture said John leapt as a fetus in the womb of Mary. He started praising and dancing. And when Elizabeth touched Mary she started saying under the power of the Holy Spirit that she was blessed, that the Messiah was coming from her womb, that Elizabeth was overwhelmed to have the Mother of her Lord come to her. Furthermore, Elizabeth says that the promises that the angel made to Mary are true, even before Mary was able to share with her cousin the story of Gabriel's visit.


 

Mary responds with one of the most amazing words from Scripture. Her prayer has been banned by governments in the 20th century, because the governments who heard it believed it to strong and too subversive. She prays a prayer that expresses the truth that Jesus came to set the world upside down. Or rightside up. Depends how you look at things I suppose.


 

She sings a song that thanks God for looking at her, and making her the vessel to bring Jesus into the world. Then she says what God is doing through her at that moment. At that moment God is turning the world on its head. He is bringing down the proud from their thrones and lifting up the lowly. He is looking with favor upon the poor and the hungry, and he is stripping the wealthy of the money they are so proud of. He is remembering his people, and he is at work setting things right for them. Those that have lifted themselves up will be brought down to their knees, and those that are humble will be lifted up from their lowly estate. This is what God is doing for me and through me said Mary. This is what is happening through this Jesus that is in my womb. Mary speaks up against the evil rulers and the greedy rich. She speaks up against evildoers in power. And she speaks up for the humble and the forgotten, the lowly and the faithful.


 

You see, faith is not passive. The word faith is an action word. It takes courage to live by faith in God. You will offend people. You will lose friends if you stand for what is right. If you walk by faith there will be times where you are literally living by a prayer.


 

When you choose to live by faith, you are living a life of active dependence on God to help, to provide, to guide, and to show the way. You are not always going to make the most money. You are not always going to have people clap for your words. You might be lonely. You might have people roll their eyes when you walk by. You might be mocked. You might even be physically attacked.


Living by faith means trusting God. At times when it is hard to trust, we must keep acting in a trusting manner. We must keep standing for God. Faith isn't faith when its easy, and when we can see the end in sight. Faith is faith when we walk step by step forward, leaning forward to hear the voice of God calling us to keep moving forward into a future we cannot completely see.


 

And it is when we have the courage to trust God when it is not easy to trust God that we see God doing amazing and unthinkable things through his people in their simple and humble estate. Will you have the courage to have the passionate faith of Mary? Will you have the courage to be as bold as Mary? Will you trust God enough to trust Jesus then? I hope you will. Because faith like that never is in vain. You never lose your investment in the kingdom of God.


 

Mary is a woman of faith. And she expresses that faith through her song and her actions. But she about more than her and her situation. As Mary sings that prayer she is speaking of a God who is faithful. Faithful to the prayers of generations. Faithful to the promises that God had made through the prophets. Faithful to love people like you and like me, and to make a way for us when there seems like no way.


 


 


 


 

By faith she points forward to what she had yet to imagine in those months when Jesus was still in her womb. She points to the love of God that sends Jesus to teach us the Way of God. She points forward to the faithfulness of a Jesus that wandered as a homeless man, and taught us how to love and live. Then he showed us what the love that regards us in our lowly state was really all about. He did that by being willing to go to the cross and to die there for our sins. Mary suffered the mocking of her peers. Jesus endured something far worse. He suffered mocking from the very people he came to save, to love, and to die for. And they beat Jesus. And the hung him on a cross. And they left him there for dead. And when he took his last breathe they ran a spear through him to make sure he had died. And to everyone who looked around it appeared like their hopes were in vain, their faith in Jesus was ill-placed, and their prayers were all for naught. But that was not the end of the story.


 

Scripture says that on the third day Christ rose again. He was victorious over sin and death. He ascended to the right hand of God. He rules even now, and he will come soon to judge the living and the dead.


 

And he urges us, as we come to this table to be bold enough to trust him. To stand with him and for him. To take this bread and this cup and proclaim that we trust that what God was doing back then means that we can stand for him and trust him even today.


 


 


 

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