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Sermon for December 11, 2022 – 3rd Sunday of Advent

Speaking of Life 5003 | Three Responses

Psalm 146:5-10 or Luke 1:46b-55 • Isaiah 35:1-10 • James 5:7-10 • Matthew 11:2-11

This week’s theme is songs of joy for who Jesus is. The call to worship Psalm praises God who frees captives and heals blindness pointing to the salvation that comes in Jesus. The Old Testament reading from Isaiah celebrates the wilderness being transformed into fertile land, the healing of those who are blind, deaf, lame, and dumb, along with the restoration of Zion. The text from James affirms Jesus’ soon coming return while encouraging patience. The Gospel reading from Matthew presents John the Baptist as the one preparing the way for Jesus while also confirming Jesus as the Messiah through healings and proclaiming good news to the poor. The alternate reading in Luke presents the Magnificat, Mary’s song of joy in anticipation of the coming of Jesus.

A Song of Joy

Luke 1:46-55 (ESV)

Today is Advent 3, which carries with it the theme of joy. Two weeks until Christmas, and this theme is already being echoed everywhere you go with the joyous music of Christmas that can be heard on the radio and in shopping centers, restaurants, and hopefully churches. Some songs may not be aimed as centrally to Christ as others, but the theme of joy is unmistakable in their tunes. Music all around during this season has a way of setting the tone of joyful anticipation. Joy and music tend to go hand in hand.

On that note, we shouldn’t be surprised that today our text for Advent 3 comes to us by way of a song. Specifically, a song Mary presents while she is pregnant with Jesus. This song has even been given a special name—Magnificat, which is derived from the first words of the song expressed in the Latin Vulgate (late 14th century Latin version of the Bible). Certainly, you can’t blame any mother who may want to sing with excitement because of the soon coming arrival of the baby she has been carrying. But there is much more going on in Mary’s case. Sure, she is singing in joyful anticipation of her new baby. But this is no ordinary baby. The arrival of this child will announce a change that the whole world can respond in joyful song, not just Mary alone. The first few versus of our text highlight the personal and global nature of the arrival of Jesus.

Mary begins the song in praise by reflecting on what God has done for her personally. The context of this song falls in the narrative of Mary visiting her relative, Elizabeth, who is also pregnant. Elizabeth is the wife of a priest named Zechariah, and she had been barren her whole life. Now in her old age she is also pregnant. She too has much to be joyful about. For her, bearing a child would reverse the stigma she has had to carry her entire marriage of not being blessed by God. You can imagine what this would also mean for Zechariah, who serves as a priest. When Mary, who is pregnant with Jesus, meets Elizabeth in an unnamed village in the Judean hill-country, Elizabeth’s child, who will later become John the Baptist, leaps in her womb. This greeting foreshadows the joy that follows when Jesus arrives on the scene.

As miraculous as Elizabeth’s pregnancy is, Mary’s is far more miraculous in that she is a virgin. As you can imagine, this miracle lies beyond cultural understanding, so Mary must deal with the shame that would come from being an unwed mother. But Elizabeth’s eyes have been opened by God’s work in her own life, to see God’s work in Mary’s. So, instead of looking down on Mary, as surely so many others had been doing, she praises her. It’s after this scene of greeting that we hear Mary’s response in song.

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. (Luke 1:46-49 ESV)

Mary rejoices in the fact that “God my Savior” did not look away from her “humble state.” This should not be confused with some pious humility on Mary’s part. The “humble state” refers to her status, which she is likening to a slave-girl. Mary perceives that what God has done for her will be extended “on all generations.” When God sets things right it is permanent. This is good news for us as we take account of our own “humble state” in so many ways.

Some of us may truly carry some societal status that robs us of freedom and dignity. And we know that society, governments, and the culture at large can be fickle in who they deem worthy and who they degrade as inferior. If you are in the “in” crowd one day, you may not be the next. But God is not fickle. As Mary notes, he is the “Mighty One” and his name is “holy.” His character defines how he acts towards us. God is faithful to himself, and nothing will deter him from being “mindful” of our situation.

Before going further, we need to note how this song works on two levels. First, Mary is singing because of the specific and literal rescue that God has given her. But there is more to Mary’s rejoicing than just some immediate blessing she has received. Her song indicates a salvation on a metaphorical level as well. Mary and her “humble state” stand in for all of us who realize we too are in a “humble state” on account of sin. We do not confuse ourselves as pious and deserving recipients of God’s grace and blessing. We stand with Mary, knowing that without a miracle we too are lost. We stand with Mary, knowing that it is only on account of God’s mercy, love, and faithfulness, that we have been freed and called blessed. This is a freedom and blessing that will never be lost or diminished.

Mary is singing to us of the Lord she has met in her moment of salvation. In this encounter, she has come to know that God is for her regardless of her status, and he aims to lift her up. This same God does not turn away from the other Marys – like you and me – who are in need of salvation. He is “mindful” of our situation far more than we are. So, Mary invites you into her song, knowing that the Lord who saved her is seeking to save you. That salvation shows up in many ways for those who follow the Lord.

Sometimes, like Mary, we have miraculous moments in our lives where we experience God’s mindfulness of us, and we witness his intervention in our lives in very tangible and measurable ways. But even here, we are only seeing a sign of God’s heart and intentions towards us. As wonderful as some of our miraculous stories of his intervention may be, they are still signs of the far deeper reality of salvation he has accomplished for us in Jesus. These signs remind us through times of struggle and persecution that God has not lost sight of us. In the end, we know he will be faithful in lifting us up in his blessing, and forever reversing every curse we have ever had. Like Mary, we can be mindful of our Lord who comes to us knowing our past, meeting us in the present, and promising us a share in his eternal future.

So, Mary’s Magnificat is sung in celebration and anticipation of the extraordinary changes that are coming with the birth of her baby Jesus—changes for her, her people, and the whole world. Let’s go verse by verse for the rest of the song to see what changes we can expect and celebrate as we anticipate Jesus’ arrival.

And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. (Luke 1:50 ESV)

Jesus’ arrival was an arrival in concrete form of God’s mercy. The word mercy is translated from the rich Hebrew word hesed, a word carried through Israel’s history as it was revealed to her. This word indicates God’s grace and faithfulness to Israel’s future. For us, it means God will not leave us in our “humble state,” and he is committed to bringing us to be who he created us to be. Our future is secure, regardless of our past and present situation. He continually moves in mercy to bring us into his blessings. This means our sins will not prove to be a barrier too strong for the Lord to cross. Jesus enacted God’s mercy on the cross, crossing all barriers that alienate us from the Father.

And note that this “mercy extends to those who fear him.” This fear is not the kind of fear that the Angel told Mary not to have. Fearing the Lord is knowing him for who he is and aligning our lives to him. We come to know how good God is, and we trust in his goodness and faithfulness so that we would fear to not receive from him. This is the kind of fear that aligns with reality.

As an analogy, if you are standing on the banks of Niagara Falls, your awe and wonder of the power and majesty of those cascading waters, produces in you a proper fear that moves you to stay in bounds on the bank. To jump off the bank into the water would be to go against the reality of the relationship you have with the waterfall that lies before you. You do not fear that Niagara Falls will at some point reverse its flow and rampage up the bank in an attempt to destroy you. That would be a fear or paranoia, not a proper fear of the reality of the waterfall. But, to remain on the bank is to be able to receive the enjoyment of the waterfall. That analogy does not carry the personal nature of what we have with our living God, but hopefully it helps distinguish the difference to some degree between the fear that Jesus constantly tells us not to have, and the fear of the Lord spoken of in this song.

Here is a practical example of mercy being extended to those who fear him. Let’s imagine you have found yourself overcome by some sin. Maybe you have really blown it this time and have done much damage to yourself and your relationships. An improper fear would be to fear that all is lost because of your sin. But this is actually fearing sin more than fearing God.

A proper fear of the Lord is to know that he is full of mercy and quick to forgive. Because of Jesus, you know that God’s heart toward you is to restore and redeem all that is lost. His faithfulness to you will not allow your sin, no matter how grievous, to keep you from being blessed and having a future with him. When we know that reality of who God is and our relationship to him, we have a proper fear of him that compels us to respond accordingly to who he is. In this case, we can come boldly to the throne of grace. We can once again cast ourselves on his mercy. We can again turn to him knowing he is already turned to us. In short, we can repent because it is the goodness of God that leads you to repentance as Romans 2:4 tells us. This fear enables us to receive what God is giving us in Christ. And that is why “His mercy extends to those who fear him.” They are the ones who can receive it.

Now, let’s sing along to the next verse:

He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; (Luke 1:51 ESV)

Here is something we can certainly sing about with joy. The “proud” are the exact opposite of the ones in a “humble state.” Our world is full of the proud parading over those in low estate. The phrase, “kick them while they’re down” echoes from the actions of those who live by the mantra “might makes right.” The accumulation of wealth and power becomes a weapon of tyranny in the hands of the prideful over those who have little in comparison. This is seen played out throughout the history of the world, in all the nations and people groups without exception. Jesus comes to change all that. Can you imagine a world where no one is motivated by a pride that seeks to exploit and control others? That would be a day of joy for sure.

And how are the prideful scattered? By the mighty deeds “with his arm.” His arms were stretched on the cross in humble obedience to his Father for the sake of the world. That’s a mighty power the world finds scandalous and offensive. Jesus does not scatter his foes like his foes do. And notice he gets to the root of the problem. It’s the pride “in their inmost thoughts” that must be accounted for.

But the real joy of this particular line of the song is in the recognition that this is what God aims to do in you and me. If we are not too proud to admit it, we must come to grips with the deeply imbedded pride that resides in our own “inmost thoughts.” How many of our actions are motivated in some way or another by pride. Can you imagine the freedom it would bring to not have these strings of pride pulling on you in all directions? We have barely come to experience what it really means to be human. Jesus has come to make us fully human, scattering all that seeks to dominate us and control us.

Let’s sing on:

He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; (Luke 1:52ESV)

This is similar to the verse we just read. But it carries the great reversals the Lord brings with him. Our Lord has surely told us that those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. What wonderful news that the Lord who is full of mercy, compassion, and all wisdom will be the one who does the bringing down and the lifting up. How often in our world have you seen the greedy and unscrupulous rise to the top while those of integrity get pushed to the bottom?

This world is upside down and the Lord comes to set it right-side up. We shouldn’t take this to mean that Jesus simply swaps the status between the haves and have-nots. That doesn’t solve the problem. That would only enable the same problems to continue, only under new management. This verse follows the thought of “scattering the proud in their inmost thoughts.” The problem is not with having rulers and thrones, but how people rule on those thrones. Jesus is our true ruler who reigns on a throne of truth, grace, and mercy. He comes to establish his rule on earth in a kingdom where all are lifted up into his life and love.

The song continues…

He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. (Luke 1:53 ESV)

Here we have another reversal that Jesus brings. Again, we must not read these reversals in such a way as to polarize between certain people. It is implied that the “rich” that are being sent away empty are not being sent away simply because they are rich, but because of what they do with their riches. However, while this verse does speak to the physical realities that faced the early Christians under a tyrannical Roman rule, it primarily refers to the spiritual poverty and hunger of those oppressed by sin and evil.

We can sing praises and rejoice in the fact that Jesus comes to establish a kingdom where we will be spiritually fed with the very life of the Father, Son, Spirit. In this life, there is no exploitation or domination of one over another. That mindset will be sent away to the empty wastelands where it belongs. Jesus doesn’t hoard his riches to maintain power over us, rather he shares all good things with us, as is fitting in a kingdom powered by grace.

One last line to sing:

He has helped his servant Israel,  in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers,   to Abraham and to his offspring forever. (Luke 1:54-55 ESV)

This verse concludes Mary’s song of joy. She identifies herself with Israel and speaks in the language of covenant. Jesus, even though not born when this was sung, is understood to be God’s ultimate faithfulness and fulfillment of the covenant he has with Israel. This is a promise fulfilled that will continue forever. And it’s a promise that extends to all. Jesus is the Lord who has come, continues to come in the Spirit, and will ultimately come to us again. He does not come forgetting to be merciful. He comes as our Savior and Lord and one worthy of our praise and worship. Which means this song may conclude here, but we will continue to sing songs of joy from here to eternity.

The Welcome Mat w/ Al Kurzawa W2

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December 11 – Advent 3
Luke 1:46-55 “A Mama’s Praise”

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Program Transcript

Anthony: Let’s move on to our next pericope, which is Luke 1:46 – 55. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Advent 3, which is December the 11th. Al, would you read it for us, please?

Al: Sure.

46 Mary said, “With all my heart I glorify the Lord! 47 In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. 48 He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant. Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored 49 because the mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is his name. 50 He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God. 51 He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations. 52 He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed. 54 He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, 55 just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”

Anthony: Mary’s Magnificat is a beloved passage of scripture, and I could tell you like it too, just the way you read it. What stands out to you in this contemplation of her song?

Al: First, I usually tend to stick to the NIV translation. I like reading some of the others. But when you mentioned that we were going to read from the Common English Bible, and I read this passage, I’m so glad you picked that translation.

Because what jumped out at me was right there at the beginning, “with all my heart I glorify the Lord in the depths of who I am.” Mary is feeling this sense of awe and worship to the depths of her bones. It’s just bubbling up out of her. And I get this sense that she couldn’t stop herself from singing God’s praises at this moment, even if she wanted to.

And I was trying to think how can we relate to this?

And I thought back to the concept of proposing. When I propose to my wife, there’s that moment because you’re a little, what if she says no? But you propose, and she says yes, and you’re happy and all that. But I thought back, and it was after that, nights afterwards, days afterwards, that I was sitting there when this joy was just like, she said yes. It was like it was just hitting me. She said, Yes! My whole life is now going to be different for the better.

And to me that, that was the closest I could come to what Mary is feeling here, is that it’s just this joy that she’s feeling and it’s bubbling up and it’s not just this instant thing, it’s something that’s just percolating, and it just keeps bubbling up.

The more and more she thinks about everyone will consider me highly favored. That this is something that is going to change – not just me – this is going to change everything. This is going to change my generation, but this is going to change everything for all of humanity. And she’s just, wow.

And she just can’t help but sing and praise. This song probably captures how she was feeling for days and weeks, just contemplating as this little baby grows inside of her and she feels this kick. It’s probably something that she just repeated to herself again and again. God is faithful and, ah, yeah, I’ll stop there.

Anthony: She said, yes. That sounds like a jewelry commercial.

But Mary obviously said amen to God’s amen to her. And she recognized that she was highly favored with God and that favor is unique and particular to her. But let me ask you this, can the particularity of her favored-ness show us something which is universally true about all of us?

And if so, how and if not, why not?

Al: Yeah. Good question. You know what God does for her; she says he looked with favor on the low status of his servant. And that’s what he’s done for all of us. Because in one state, in one sense, all of us have that low status. All of us are sinners. All of us live under that, that Adam and Eve’s line, and he’s done this act for all of us, this act of mercy. That of Jesus the Son coming and being incarnate in Jesus.

He’s done for everyone. So, it’s this personal story between God and Mary. And yet in Mary, it’s also our story in that God is a personal God. He shows each of us great favor, just simply because we’re now adopted in the Son through the Spirit. We are now in Christ. And the Father now looks at you and at me, and at all of us as beloved sons and beloved daughters.

So, this feeling of awe and victory and worship that Mary feels. And her song of praise, she does on our behalf, because it’s our story too. God has looked on us the least, the last, the little, the lost (as Robert Capon likes to say.) Those that seem to be dead to society, and he has given us favor.

Mary recognizes that she’s entered the unfolding story of God’s fidelity to Abraham and his seed way back in this story in Genesis 12, where he promises that all nations will be blessed through you. And she’s now a part of this story that continues to unfold generation after generation. And so just as she’s a part of it, we now get to be a part of it too.

Anthony: With that in mind, o favored one, Al Kurwaza, what else would you like for us to see and hear from this passage?

Al: Two things. And the first, I’ll just point to somewhere else, and that is the place of Israel in God’s heart. He did not abandon them at the cross any more than he ever abandoned Gentiles.

They’ve always been a part of his plan. And I can’t it articulate as well, but T.F. Torrance in his book, The Mediation of Christ, just does such a great job of recognizing that. I’ll just point to that way because that was something that jumped out in this passage. That Mary is part of that Jewish story, and that Jesus comes within Israel’s story for Israel.

When Paul goes out, he would go to the synagogues first. He wanted to share the story with the Jews, and then he would then share it with the Gentiles because the story is for both.

And then the other thing in this passage that I really like is how God sees us. It’s the Zacchaeus that you mentioned just previously, right? That he’s in this tree. He’s a short little guy. He is in a tree trying to get a glimpse of Jesus. And Jesus sees him.

Jesus sees Hannah, who is sitting there, and she wants to have a child so badly, and she’s praying, and she goes to the temple year after year. And God sees her.

And then there’s this beautiful story with Hagar when Hagar takes Ishmael and leaves because Sarah is just torturing her practically and giving her such a hard time. And God says, Hagar, where are you going? And talks to her and says that your son, Ishmael, and says what the name of Ishmael will be. And it’s “God hears.” So, God hears us. And then Hagar names this place, and she names it because you are the God who sees me.

So, it’s these little people, the Hagars and the Hannahs and the Zacchaeus and you and me, and that God sees us. He cares for us. And in Mary’s song, I think that’s where it comes out. She’s a nobody. She’s a nobody. And yet God sees her and includes her in his wonderful plan that he has for all of us.

Anthony: Your reflections made me think of Luke 13, a recent lectionary passage where Jesus is in the synagogue teaching. And he sees a woman who had been bent over for 18 years and calls her forward to participate in her healing that day based on his loving initiative.

And this is who God is. And I think this is why Mary sings with all of her hearts. And where we can sing too, because as it says in verse 50, he shows mercy to everyone. That’s all of us. We are the lowly who have been lifted high in the ascension.

Hallelujah, praise God.

Al: Oh hallelujah. And I love that what you just said. He takes the initiative. That’s what’s so wonderful about this God. He takes the initiative and then, ah wo

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • The first two kinds of people were identified as those who despair in response to all that’s wrong in the world, and those who jump in to solve the worlds problem on their own. Share how you have responded in these two ways at different times in your life.
  • How is the response of the Christian different from the two ways listed above?

From the Sermon 

  • Do you find Christmas music during the Christmas season joyful? How does it help you anticipate the joy of Jesus’ coming?
  • In what ways can you identify with Mary’s “humble state”?
  • Discuss what is meant by fearing the Lord.
  • Which verse in Mary’s song resonated with you the most? Which one brought you joy in your anticipation of Jesus’ coming?
  • Discuss the connection to who God is in his character and nature, to how he comes to us.

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