Devotional Message: The 4th Sunday of Advent (12/23/2018)

Lessons

Micah 5:2-5a
St. Luke 1:46b-55 (52)
or Psalm 80:1-7 (7)
Hebrews 10:5-10
St. Luke 1:39-45 [46-55]

Prayer of the Day

Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. With your abundant grace and might, free us from the sin that binds us, that we may receive you in joy and serve you always, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Text for This Sunday

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” 

46 And Mary said, 
“My soul magnifies the Lord, 
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. 
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, 
and holy is his name. 
50 His mercy is for those who fear him 
from generation to generation. 
51 He has shown strength with his arm; 
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, 
and lifted up the lowly; 
53 he has filled the hungry with good things, 
and sent the rich away empty. 
54 He has helped his servant Israel, 
in remembrance of his mercy, 
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, 
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

St. Luke 1:39-45 [46-55], New Revised Standard Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Message: Magnificat

“My soul magnifies the Lord.” Μεγαλύνω. Magnify. Extol. Exalt. Glorify. Regard highly. If ever one wanted to imagine what Jesus means when he instructs us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (St. Mark 12:30), a few minutes with this weekend’s Gospel passage might help. In a frightening situation (being young, single, and found to be bearing a child in the first century), Mary doesn’t focus on how difficult this is for her. She focuses on how magnificent God is: God, who has looked on her with favor, who has done great things for her, and who has shown her mercy, as God seems want to do.

We often describe Mary as meek, humble, unassuming and willing to do whatever God asks of her. Many contemporary versions of her Magnificat are set to beautiful, gentle, flowing melodies. The setting we have used for Evening Prayer these past few weeks is among them. Yet Mary is no shrinking violet. She has placed herself in service of a God who shows strength by opposing the powers that be, and working for justice on behalf of those who who are are in need. According to Mary’s song, God has shown strength by scattering the proud, bringing down the powerful, lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry and sending away the rich.

There is a temptation to spiritualize Mary. To focus on her willingness to be a servant of God; her humility in accepting her fate; her gentle nature in giving birth to and raising Jesus. In this passage we see her in a different light. She magnifies God, who who regularly shows up where we least expect God to be. Her song celebrates how God has acted in the past, and how God will act through her son. God will show up in the manger, where only the outcasts of society gather. God will show up at Jacob’s Well in Sychar, in the heat of the day, when only women rejected by their community go to draw water. God will show up on the cross, suffering where only the worst of the worst suffer.

Mary magnifies God, who fiercely opposes the injustices visited upon the most vulnerable members of society. And her deep faith and strong faithfulness is reflected in the ministry of her son, who is accused by the Pharisees and the scribes of “welcoming sinners and eating with them.” (St. Luke 15:2) There is a temptation to spiritualize Mary, but in doing so we lose sight of her vision for how the presence of God and the kingdom of God break into this world.

The Magnificat proclaims that God is concerned with those whom society has left behind. And the kingdom of God is revealed when a lost sheep is found; when a wounded traveler is healed; when an accused adulterer is forgiven; when a dying criminal is promised paradise; when a denying disciple is restored… 

Mary sings to the God who turns the world upside down. The God who has a heart for justice. The God who responds to brokenness with compassion. The God who hears the cries of those who are oppressed. The God who wants us all to be free. And with her song, she invites us into the very heart of God.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel

  1. Why does the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leap, upon hearing the voice of Mary?

  2. What does it mean that both Mary (1:35) and Elizabeth (1:41) are touched by the Holy Spirit?

  3. What is most surprising about the song that Mary sings?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel

  1. When have I felt that God was looking with favor upon me?

  2. How has God lifted me up when I have been in a time of need?

  3. What oppression or injustice might God be calling me to oppose in my world, today?