Message Manuscript for “How Mary Instructs Us” Luke 1:39-55
Delivered to Church for the Highlands John Henson
Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 20. 2015
It is difficult to define our Advent word for today: Love. We use it in so many ways, describing our feelings for someone we are crazy about, someone who is the greatest of friends, our favorite flavor of Bluebell ice-cream, or, as our bumperstickers state, our dachshund or our cat. At some point, we have used it in more serious ways, like when we question if love is something beyond a feeling when we decide to declare it to someone significant or when, after doing so we, at some point, wonder if we ever did or if we ever again could. It seems, then, that we have many uses and meanings of the word love. This is so because either it is such a grandiose thing or we just don’t really know what it means at all. What is love to you?
Our Advent text this morning gives us a great place to seek an answer to that question, as we hear from Luke’s gospel about someone who came to embody true love. Luke describes for us about what took place when Mary went to see her cousin, Elizabeth. Both women were expecting and would have had much in common and plenty to talk about during their visit. We don’t get all of the details about their visit, but what Luke does tell us is that something amazing happened when they greeted one another, as the unborn children they carried greeted one another as well, with Elizabeth’s baby John the Baptist leaping within her as Mary’s baby Jesus drew near. What’s most significant, though, is what we learn about Mary in the words of Elizabeth and in the beautiful song Mary sings.
Baby John the Baptist’s in utero gymnastics were followed by Elizabeth’s powerful encounter with the Holy Spirit, leading her to celebrate what God had revealed to her about Mary with these words, “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.” We don’t know much about their prior visits, but I’m betting that this was not the typical conversation when these two cousins got together for a reunion. Elizabeth could do nothing else but be moved by the Spirit when she saw Mary and God’s blessing on her; when she saw who Mary was bringing into the world.
On this fourth and final Sunday of Advent, we are given the great opportunity to encounter Mary in a similar, life-changing way. The same Holy Spirit that moved Elizabeth and the baby within her can move us here today as we see Mary and consider what we can learn from her blessing from God. For one, Mary was chosen by God to be the vessel of love, justice, and salvation in the world. Elizabeth saw this. Mary felt it, so deeply in fact that she sang out these words, “for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” It would have been blessing enough to be allowed to hear that God was about to save and deliver the Jews, but imagine this poor peasant girl’s realization that she was pregnant with the very one who was to bring it all to be. She was the vessel of hope, love, justice, and salvation of the world.
My mother collected antiques throughout her life and blessed our home with furniture that contained stories from the past. One item she found somewhere was this brass tin. She gave it to me as a Christmas gift one year. I could tell by its shape it wasn’t the electric guitar I had hoped for and I wasn’t sure what it was after pulling it from the wrapping paper. When I opened it, I found a card describing what it was and where it came from. It was one of many that Princess Mary of England gave to British soldiers in the hellish existence of the mustard-gas filled trenches of World War I. Each solider received this tin full of chocolates as a Christmas gift, a vessel of gratitude and of hope in the darkness of those days.
As followers of Jesus today who await his liberation and salvation for our world, we can know that we are blessed to be vessels of God’s hope and salvation. Though we do not carry the physical presence of Jesus in our world like Mary, we are called and blessed by God to be containers of Jesus. What a blessing to be carriers of the Christ! In these times of unceasing violence, societal unrest, pervasive bigotry, rampant incivility, and perpetual hardships, what a blessing to be assigned by God to deliver to our world the one who can deliver us all. On this day when we light the candle of love, what a blessing to be like Mary and share with the world a love that is everlasting.
What we also learn from Mary is what it means to believe God. Its one thing to believe something about God, but quite another to believe God, especially when God informs you that you, a young girl living in poverty, are going to have a baby who is going to save the world. What a daunting assignment for such a young girl! What a scary thing to be approached by an angel and told that you would be involved in such an outlandish plan. Surely Mary was tempted to think she was seeing things that night of the annunciation. Surely she must have been in a daze, wondering what was wrong with her mind after hearing voices of angels. And yet she believed. She believed in God’s message. She believed in God’s plan. She believed in God’s Son.
Much is in the news right now about Mother Teresa, as she will soon be recognized by the Catholic church as a saint. It is hard to think of her and not already see her as a saint for all she did with her life in this world. It is obvious that Mary was her inspiration, as she revealed in her prayers like this one, Mary, give me your Heart: so beautiful, so pure, so immaculate; your heart so full of love and humility that I may be able to receive Jesus in the Bread of Life and love him as you love him and serve him in the distressing guise of the poor.” Mother Teresa was blessed with a great example of what it means to believe God.
Doesn’t Mary’s simple belief in God challenge you today? It challenges me. Just when we begin to think that we must have misheard God or to question God’s audacious plans for the world, we are to remember Mary’s belief. When we think of all that is wrong with this world, of all of the hurt and hopelessness, we are to remember that Mary trusted God in the midst of just as much darkness and despair. When we think that the powers of the proud and unjust are too great to overcome, don’t forget that Mary believed God had given her an overcomer and one who would lift up the lowly. Just when you think that you are too small, too poor, too powerless, too sinful, too damaged, too young or too old, you must remember Mary’s belief.
Mary also sang of how her soul magnified the Lord. As The Message translation phrases this verse, I’m bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior God,” the realization of what was going on inside of her and how it would affect what was going on all around her prompted her to burst out in complete adoration of God. As a lens magnifies small print and brings it close up to the eye, so her soul was bringing God up close and personal with her praise. She was drawing attention to God with her song in jubilant awe of what God was revealing and doing. The hope of all Israel was on its way; soon delivered directly for them to behold and wrap in swaddling clothes.
Mary’s recognition of this and her way of magnifying God give us a great example and inspiration for how we are to do the same. As we come to the point to recognition of what God has birthed into our world through Mary, we can’t help but offer our praise to God. As we also get to the point of realization of what God is birthing in and through us into our world of today, we magnify God and remind the people around us that hope is on its way, but that it is also here for us all now. It is here for us to receive into our arms, to behold, and to wrap with our lives and love. What a different world there could be if we truly embraced this hope this week as we celebrate his arrival in our world long ago; as we announce his arrival in our world today.
[Click here for audio of this sermon]