Wednesday after Advent III - Luke 1:39-56 - December 16, 2015

Order of Matins (Pg. 32)
Hymn #540 With Lord Lord Begin Thy Task
Hymn #275 My Soul Doth Magnify the Lord
Hymn #62 O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Sermon on St. Luke 1:39-56



1)         Mary’s song of praise, the Magnificat, praises the backwardness of God. Not that God is backwards, but to sinful man His ways seem that way. What man treasures, God disdains. God thinks little of the things that man pursues and praises. To sinful humanity, man’s ways seem right side up while God’s priorities seem upside down and inside out. It is as the Lord says through the prophet Isaiah, For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9). This is the theme of Mary’s song of praise. Mary sees this happening to her specifically. She sings, For He has regarded the low estate of His handmaid, for henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. The Lord regarded Mary, poor, lowly, unimportant Mary and chose her to be the Mother of God. The Lord did not regard a queen as worthy of bearing God in the womb, nor did the Lord consider choosing a woman of royalty or high station. Mankind would gravitate toward that sort of thing. In fact, it is even backwards to our way of thinking that God would enter the world through the womb of a woman in the first place, isn’t it? God came down on Mt. Sinai in cloud and majesty and awe. He appeared at the Tabernacle in a majestic cloud. He appeared to Job in a mighty whirlwind. But for this appearance of God, to win salvation for all mankind, the Lord will come not in glory, power, and might, but in humility, born just of a woman just like each of us. The Lord who is the almighty and ruler of all things condescends to our level and becomes one of us, the most helpless of our race, an infant born of woman. This alone seems backwards to our way of thinking, but He adds insult to injury and chooses to be born of a humble virgin from backwater Nazareth.

2)         Mary also sings that the Lord has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. The Lord’s strength is shown not by scattering Egyptians soldiers in the surging Red Sea. He demonstrates His might chiefly is this, scattering the spiritually proud in the imagination of their hearts. The Lord does not come to those who are proud, those who think they need Him not. During the day of His earthly ministry Christ did not seek out the company of the Pharisees and the Scribes. Pharisaic was popular Judaism. It was also quite conservative, especially compared to the version of Judaism held by the Sadducees, the ruling class. Everyone looked up to the Pharisees for their religion and piety. They were the good guys! But Jesus does not seek them out and enjoy their company. He chooses to be with the outward, manifest sinners and the tax collectors, the ‘bad’ people. The Pharisees and Scribes, though they had the Scriptures and their religion, had become spiritually proud and thought they didn’t need a Savior. They thought, “We have the forgiveness of our sins, but our sins are small, so we can move on to other, better, flashier forms of religion. We don’t need to talk about this forgiveness business all the time.” But Jesus scatters them in the imagination of their hearts when He says in Mark 2:17,  Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance. There are not who are righteous, of course. So Jesus is being sarcastic here when He implies that they are righteous. Those who think they are righteous by their own works think they have no need for a savior. These are not the people for whom I have come. The spiritually proud, who want little to do with the forgiveness of sins, those Jesus scatters. If you don’t have sins that need forgiving, then you don’t need Jesus.

3)         Mary also sings that He has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted the lowly. Again we see that the things mankind exalts, the Lord despises. The Lord knows no partiality. He does not care about one’s rank and social status. When King Herod hears from the Magi that they have travelled to worship the one born King of the Jews, Herod has a military grade hissy-fit and slaughters the infants of Bethlehem and the surrounding area. Christ is not born in the house of Herod. Earthly kings and their kingdoms are of no consequence to the coming Christ, for His kingdom is not of this world. His kingdom operates backwards compared to the way earthly kingdoms and governments rule anyway. Earthly kingdoms must be governed by the rule of law, or the rule of men, and citizens are coerced into compliance. Not so with the kingdom Christ brings. His reign is one of grace, forgiving sins, giving life, and leading people into good works not by compulsion but out of love, because if a work is done out of compulsion it is not a good work in God’s eyes. Christ rules all things in heaven and earth, this is His kingdom of power, but we don’t see that with our eyes. Christ rules His kingdom of glory, the saints in Heaven, but this rule, too, we do not see. But His kingdom of Grace, His church where He rules through His gospel, this we experience and see that He exalts the humble by lifting them up through the Gospel.

4)         Mary then sings, He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent empty away.  Again, humanity collects and hordes currency, money, wealth, and possessions. And these things end up owning us as they become our gods. A god is simply that to which we look for good things. So we end up worshiping mammon, wealth, whether we have it or not. But the Lord does not exalt the wealthy. He fills up the hungry. He provides daily bread which is everything we need to support this body and life. The Lord provides for you just as He did for the Widow and Zarephath, one day at a time. Your Lord gives you exactly what He wants you to have just as He did to the Israelites in the wilderness, one day at a time. It is not the rich that the Lord seeks out. It is the hungry, especially those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who hunger for holiness and want to be rid of their sin. He fills the spiritually hungry, those who in humility wait upon their Lord in faith, trusting and knowing that He will provide everything. Mary shows us in her song just how different God’s ways are compared to our ways. What we prize and treasure, God treats as if it were nothing. What mankind thinks is precious, the Lord throws in the trash heap. God does not behave like we expect Him to behave. He behaves in a way that to us is mysterious, ineffable, and far above our expectations.

5)         St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1 that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. In the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. (1 Cor. 1:18, 21) Paul is teaching the same thing that Mary sings about today. God’s wisdom is higher than man’s wisdom. God’s foolishness is higher than man’s wisdom. God cannot be understood by human reason, imagination, opinion, or human emotion. All of those are inadequate ways of God to communicate. Instead Paul says, if you want to understand God you must seek His wisdom, which is Christ. It looks backwards to us. It looks upside down. Which is why it all requires the faith of a child, faith which simply receives Christ and takes Him at His word, not doubting but believing that His Word is true no matter what.

6)         As you approach the manger this Christmas, remember this. God’s ways are not our ways. Jesus did not choose to be born in a soft palace with a silver spoon. He chose humility, being born of a poor peasant girl in a cattle shed, and chose to be laid in a feed trough. But even this has a purpose. As He chose the wood of the manger for His first bed, so He also choose the wood of the cross at His death. The manger is unworthy of the one laid in it, just as the wood of Cross is unworthy of the one who hangs upon it. Neither the manger nor the cross make sense to humanity. But this the way the Lord works. He hides under His opposite. The Almighty hides under humility. The Creator is concealed under the cross. Christ dies so that He might swallow up death forever, bringing life out of death for all who believe and are baptized. This is how He wants to be known by you. He wants you to know Him as the one who comes to you, gentle and humble of heart, to suffer the pains of Hell so that you don’t have to, to die for your sins so that you can live His life forever. For this, join in singing with dear Mary. Magnify the Lord, let Him increase and yourself decrease. Rejoice in God your savior. Soon you will worship Him as the one lying in the wooden manger so that He might hang upon the wood of the cross to earn your forgiveness, your life, and your salvation. For this is what Christ’s Mass is all about, Christ coming to you, for your salvation. Amen.

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