Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Sermon -- Advent Vespers, Week 1 (December 3, 2014)

LUKE 1:46-52
He Raises Up The Lowly.

In the name + of Jesus.

     A young peasant girl from Nazareth was going about her humble life, but things were about to change.  You see, she had been betrothed to a man in the same city named Joseph.  Mary was soon to leave her parents’ home and make a new home with her betrothed Joseph.  If Mary was following the same cultural practice of her day, she was likely in her mid to late teens.  She would be vaulted quickly from childhood to adulthood by her marriage.  Things were going to change a lot for this young, peasant girl.
     But the angel Gabriel was sent to Mary to let her know that her life was about to change in a far more drastic way.  He said to her, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” (Luke 1:31)  Before she could even enjoy the wedding feast, consummate her marriage with her husband, and settle into the routine of married life, Mary learned that she had conceived a boy in her womb. 
     The Lord had not sent Gabriel to seek volunteers or to week through potential candidates for this task.  God chose Mary.  Gabriel appeared to her and announced to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” (Luke 1:30-31) 
     Mary reacted two times to this news.  The first was in that room in Nazareth: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)  The second reaction was a number of days later in the hill country of Judea.  There, in the presence of Elizabeth, Mary broke out in song.  And Mary said, “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)
     You can make a strong argument that Mary’s lowly estate took a few steps down.  After all, Mary had not asked for this.  Mary had not asked to be the object of gossip and slander among the residents of Nazareth.  Mary had not asked to have her reputation sullied before her parents or her betrothed.  Mary did not want to be the subject of a legal debate about whether or not she should be stoned to death for adultery.  This was a lot to put on a teenage girl.  We would not have been surprised if Mary had broken down in tears at Elizabeth’s doorstep.  Or perhaps that she would have broken out in a rage.  Mary’s voice did not cry out with anguish or with anger.  Mary broke out in a song of praise and joy.
     Mary’s joy was not because she felt like she had finally earned some reward from God for being noble and humble.  Mary acknowledged her lowly estate, which is no different and no worse than yours or mine.  We are all sinful beings.  We are victims of gossip and slander.  Our reputations are sullied.  But then we also victimize and sully others with our sins.  Our lowly estate is our own doing.  All have sinned.  All are low.  In addition to this, we also face the pains, sorrows, and disappointments of life.  Finally, we will die.  You might want to cry out, “I did not ask for all this.”  Nevertheless, God has you endure it.  It is the price of sinful rebellion.  There is nothing about it that God should honor or pity.  But God also has you endure it because it leads you to recognize your lowly estate, to repent of your sin, and to long for a Savior.
     Mary does not out in anger or in anguish.  Mary rejoices because God has not despise us in our lowly estate.  She sings, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (Luke 1:47)  My soul magnifies the Lord, because he raises up the lowly.  To raise us up from our lowly estate, Jesus humbled himself to our lowly estate.  God Almighty took on weak and frail flesh.  God, who had good reason to despise and disown us, because God with us.  He submitted himself to the hatred and scorn of Pharisees, to the mockery and brutality of Roman soldiers, to his reputation being sullied by false witnesses, to being condemned because of trumped up charges and popular demand.  They crucified him despite the lack of any evidence against him.  Jesus knows what it is to be victimized by sin and shame.
     Nevertheless, Jesus submitted himself to such humiliation and shame in order to deliver us from our lowly and wretched estate.  He exposed his back to the scourge.  He put his shoulder under the cross.  He stepped beneath God’s curse.  All the while, Jesus did not cry out, “I didn’t ask for this!”  Instead, he sought this.  He came from heaven to earth to be born for this.  Mary sang, “My soul rejoices in God, my Savior.” (Luke 1:47)  He is your Savior, too.  He rescues you from the depths of death and despair.  He removes all your disgrace.  My soul magnifies the Lord because he raises up the lowly. 
     Mary’s song continued: “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate…” (Luke 1:51-52)  God showed the strength of his arm by working salvation for us.  Nevertheless, we still like to flex our own muscles.  We like propping ourselves up and claiming to be better than we are.  It is usually at the expense of someone else.  We are proud in the thoughts of our hearts, crediting ourselves for how good we are…or meant to be.  And we assume that even God is in agreement with us.  Mary’s song warns us against such self-praise.    Those who exalt themselves do not want mercy, but bragging rights.  The Lord has nothing for those who exalt themselves.  He scatters the proud and casts down those who prop themselves up.
     Do not try to find ways to convince God that you are better than you are.  It takes too much energy, and God knows it is a lie anyway.  In the same way, you do not have to invent ways to humble yourself.  The Lord has taught you simply to acknowledge yourself for what you are—lowly, sinful, and fully dependent upon God’s mercy.  Therefore, you confess: I am by nature sinful.  I have done what is evil, and I have failed to do what is good.  God have mercy on me, a poor, sinful being.  It is honest, and it is true.
     A broken and contrite heart God does not despise.  That is why you can sing along with Mary, “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, … he has … exalted those of humble estate…” (Luke 1:46-48,52)  The Lord your God has been pleased to raise you up from your lowly estate, and he has changed your title, “sinner,” to a title that is greater than any other title in the world.  Now, you are children of the Most High God. 
     This has been a drastic change to your life and to your future.  Jesus has saved you from the depths of hell and the grave.  Jesus has removed every sin and all shame from you.  You are no longer sullied, but saved.  Though you may still appear lowly to those who are in this world, the Lord has exalted you greatly.  You are heirs of heavenly glory in his everlasting kingdom.  Even anger and anguish shall be turned into joy.  And it is why Mary and the Church rejoice and sing. 

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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