Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sermon -- 4th Sunday of Advent (December 20, 2015)

Mary Visits Elizabeth, by Rembrandt van Rijn.  This painting hangs at the Detroit Institute of the Arts.

LUKE 1:39-55

In the name + of Jesus. 

     Two women with extraordinary news met in the hill country of Judea, just outside of Jerusalem.  One was the wife of a priest, an elderly woman who had never had children.  The other was a Galilean, peasant teen who was betrothed, but not yet married.  Both had received incredible news from an angel, and both deemed the news not only credible, but wonderful.  God had informed each of these women that they had miraculously conceived and would give birth to boys.  One would be a prophet; one would be the Lord.
     Both Elizabeth and Mary could have talked about how much their lives were going to change—both for better and for worse.  Both could have talked about how bizarre their pregnancies were—one in old age and the other a virgin conception.  Both could have magnified themselves, talking about how they were doing great things for the Lord.  Instead, they talked about one thing—Jesus.   Mary proclaimed, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” (Luke 1:46-47)  It was not about Elizabeth’s aged motherhood.  It was not about Mary’s virgin motherhood.  It was about Jesus, the Son of God, and the Savior.
     My soul magnifies the Lord.  (Luke 1:46)  For, he has remembered to be merciful. (Luke 1:54, paraphrase)  When Scripture says that God remembers something, it means that he is going to act, to deliver, and to work for the good of people.  God has remembered to be merciful, meaning that God is acting to prove his mercy to the world by sending a Savior.
     We, on the other hand, forget ourselves.  We do not humble ourselves because of our lowly, sinful condition.  You and I magnify ourselves.  In our daily labors we strive to serve other people, and our labors may benefit them tremendously.  That is as it should be.  As God's people, we glorify our God by serving for the benefit of our neighbor.  For, God’s people want to seek the good of other people.  If we came together and talked about all the good we did, that all may be true.  But it does not save us.
     Besides that, we still forget ourselves.  We are not as good as we like to believe.  If you magnify yourself, you are lying to yourself.  It means you don’t believe your selfish attitude is bad, even though you sin against your spouse by it.  It means that you believe people deserve your sarcastic remarks because you think they are stupid.  It means that you believe you are better than other people, so that your rudeness and arrogance are understandable and acceptable.  To be rude, selfish, sarcastic, and arrogant and to still insist you are a good person is lying to yourself.  The Virgin Mary expresses the warning to you: “He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts...  He has brought down the mighty from their thrones...  And the rich he has sent away empty.” (Luke 1:51-53)  Repent.
     Though we magnify ourselves, the Lord reduces us to nothing, and that is good.  For, the Lord has nothing for people who full of themselves.  But Mary declares, “His mercy is for those who fear him.  He (exalts) those of humble estate; and he (fills) the hungry with good things.” (Luke 1:50,52,53)  When you recognize that you are not good and empty yourself of all pride, then you will crave God's mercy.  Only then will you rejoice that God remembers to be merciful so that God has sent a Savior for you.
     My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. (Luke 1:46-47)  He has sent Jesus into the world to pay for sins and to forgive sinners.  Jesus has answered for our sarcastic words which have left pain and scars by his gracious words of healing.  He has answered for our selfish hearts which have used people by his own pure heart which has only sought the good of others.  He has atoned for our lack of patience with other people by his incredible patience with us.  Jesus' righteousness atones for our guilt.  Jesus fills us with his good things—his righteousness, his mercy, and his salvation.
     Jesus magnifies God's love for you.  He is not sarcastic with you because of your weaknesses or foolish choices.  On the contrary, Jesus loves you.  He speaks tenderly to you.  He remembers to be merciful to you.  His innocent blood continues to atone for your sins and purifies you of all unrighteousness. Jesus does not begrudgingly put up with you because he has to—like you may have to put up with that guy in your office because you work together.  No, Jesus does not put up with you begrudgingly or because he has to.  Jesus genuinely loves you.  Jesus wants to dwell with you and have you dwell with him for eternity.  He has remembered to be merciful, and he has saved you for that purpose.
     All that we do is designed to magnify the Lord and his mercy.  We glorify our God by serving for the benefit of our neighbor.  For, God’s people want to seek the good of other people.  We love them.  We serve them.  We even demonstrate patience with them and forgive them—just  as our Lord Jesus Christ loves us, serves us, is merciful to us, and forgives us.  But we do not do this to magnify ourselves.  It is not our works that save us; Jesus does.
     That is why the Church gathers together and continues to talk about what Elizabeth and Mary talked about so long ago—Jesus.  My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. (Luke 1:46-47)  Our songs magnify God’s love for us.  Our praises highlight his mercy upon sinners.  Our confession repeats how God saves us.  We magnify the Lord Jesus; for he has remembered to be merciful, and he saves us.

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