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Luke 1,29-45(46-55)

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TITLE:     God-blessed!

SERMON IN A SENTENCE:     If we will be obedient to God's call, God will
bless us and make us a blessing.

SCRIPTURE:    Luke 1:29-45 (46-55)

EXEGESIS:

CHAPTER 1:  A DIPTYCH

Farris characterizes this chapter as a diptych (a pair of hinged panels revealing two related pictures) with the birth of John the Baptist on one side and the birth of Jesus on the other.  Parallels between the two panels include the angelic announcement of the births (1:8-17, 26-33), the angel's "Do not be afraid" (1:13, 30), objections by Zechariah and Mary (1:18, 34), and the angel's response to the objections (1:19-20, 35-37).
Major differences include the contrast between Zechariah's unbelief (1:18) and Mary's belief (1:38) -- as well as Jesus' superiority over John, as demonstrated by the fact that "a birth to aged parents is unusual; a birth to a virgin is impossible" (Farris, 290-291).

Luke 1:36 identifies Elizabeth as Mary' kinswoman or relative (Greek: sungenis), but we don't know their exact relationship.  We usually think of John as Jesus' cousin, but that is based on 1:36, so our knowledge of their relationship is also inexact.  Given the age difference between Elizabeth and Mary, it seems likely that Elizabeth is one generation older -- perhaps Mary's aunt.

These stories are shot through with OT allusions.  The annunciation to Zechariah, his unbelief, and the subsequent birth of John closely resemble the annunciation to Abraham (Gen. 18:1-10), Sarah's laughter (Gen. 18:11-15), and the birth of Isaac (Gen. 21:1-7).  The birth of John to barren Elizabeth resembles the birth of Samuel to barren Hannah (1 Sam. 1).  Mary's song (vv. 46-55) is modeled on Hannah's song (1 Sam. 2:1-10).  There are also numerous allusions to the Psalms.


VERSES  39-45:   BLESSED ARE YOU AMONG WOMEN

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

"In those days, Mary set out" (v. 39).  Mary is the heroine of this story, but it is she who journeys to the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth --perhaps because Elizabeth's pregnancy preceded Mary's by six months and she would be great with child -- perhaps as a gesture of honor by the younger woman to her elder.  The most unusual feature of this visit is
that a pregnant woman, particularly an unmarried pregnant woman, would ordinarily be cloistered and would not travel.

"The two women, not only kin but drawn by a common experience, meet in an unnamed village in the Judean hills.  The one is old and her son will close an age; the other is young and her son will usher in the new" (Craddock, Interpretation, 29).

"the child leaped in her womb" (v. 41).  Still in the womb, John is filled with by the Holy Spirit (1:15), and begins his work of preparing the way of the Lord (1:17, 76; 3:4).

"Blessed are you among women" (v. 42).  All four Gospels establish Jesus' superiority over John.  In the Synoptics, John announces Jesus' superiority at Jesus' baptism (Matt 3:11-12; Mark 1:7-8; Luke 3:16-17).  In the Gospel of John, the announcement is part of the Prologue (1:6-9).  Luke is the only one to tell this story of Mary's visit to Elizabeth,
which establishes Jesus' superiority even while the babies are in the womb.  The Holy Spirit fills both John (1:15) and Elizabeth (1:41), and inspires their testimony about Jesus.

It is surprising that Elizabeth expresses honor at Mary's visit.  She is an elderly woman in a culture that honors older people.  Mary is young, probably a teenager, so she is the one from whom we would expect deference.  Also, Mary became pregnant while unmarried, and it is possible that she is not yet married at the time of this visit.  The typical visit
of an unmarried pregnant girl to a relative would be for the purpose of reducing the visibility of a shameful pregnancy -- although there is no hint of that in this Gospel.  It is Elizabeth, following in the tradition of ancient Sarah, who appears to deserve honor.  Mary has done nothing to deserve honor, except that she "believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord" (v. 45) -- but that is enough!

"and blessed is the fruit of your womb" (v. 42).  These were Moses' words to the Israelites -- the blessing, in that case, being contingent on their obedience to God (Deut. 28:4).  Mary is being obedient (1:38), and her blessing, like her baby, grows out of that obedience.  "Elizabeth does not wish or offer blessing, but recognizes (Mary's) blessedness" (Nolland).

"the mother of my Lord" (v. 43).  The baby is the source of Mary's blessedness.  She is to be the mother of the Lord.  " 'Lord' is a title first of all for God (as already in Luke 1:6, 9, 11, 15, 16, 17, 25).  Of Jesus, it is used most properly as a resurrection title (see Acts 1:21; 2:34-36; 4:26, 33; 8:16, etc).  But Luke, even more than Matthew, uses it for Jesus not only as a greeting but also as a title (see Luke 2:11; 7:13; 10:1; 11:39; 12:42; 17:6; 18:6; 19:8, 31; especially 24:34)" (Johnson, 41).

"For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy."  (v. 44).  Later, John will humble himself before Jesus just as Elizabeth humbles herself now before Mary (Matt. 3:14).
"And blessed (Greek: makaria) is she who believed" (v. 45).  Mary's belief brings her blessing.  The Greek word used for blessed is the same word that is used in the Beatitudes (6:20-22) -- a word which implies a blessing based on a right relationship with God. Mary believed, in contrast to Zechariah, who did not believe and was thus struck mute "until the day these things occur" (1:20).  During her pregnancy, Elizabeth has been living with a man who, because of his unbelief, has been unable to speak.  Now she receives Mary, who did believe, and is thus able to sing a joyful song.

The angel has appeared both to Zechariah and Mary, announcing to each the birth of a baby.  "The second wonder.exceeds the first.  John will be born to an aged childless couple, but Jesus will be born to a virgin..  John will be a prophet, but Jesus will be God's son" (Tannehill, 52).  In the Magnificat (vv. 46-55), Mary acknowledges the reversal.  God has indeed "lifted up the lowly" -- beginning with Mary (v. 52).

While it is an honor for Mary to be chosen as the mother of the Lord, the honor is not unalloyed.  "That very blessedness was to be a sword to  pierce her heart....  God does not choose a person for ease and comfort and selfish joy but for a great task that will take all that head and heart and hand can bring to it" (Barclay, 8).  The woman who will cradle
her newborn in a feeding trough will also see her son die on a cross.


VERSES  46-55:   MY SOUL MAGNIFIES THE LORD

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

Mary's song is known as the Magnificat because of the first word in the Latin translation of this verse.  The parallels to Hannah's song (1 Sam. 2:1-10) are quite strong.  Hannah's song began, "My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God."  She spoke of reversals:  "The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength" and "He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor."  In her ending verses, she celebrated the fact that the Lord "will guard the feet of his faithful ones.and exalt the power of his anointed."  Mary's song follows much the same outline.

The parallels would be stronger yet if it were Elizabeth who sang Mary's song.  Both Hannah and Elizabeth were barren, and prayed for their wombs to be opened.  Both took great joy in their pregnancies and the subsequent births of the children.  Some scholars have suggested that Mary's song is really Elizabeth's song, but there is little to justify that opinion.  In the best manuscripts, v. 46 identifies the speaker as Mary, and v. 48
describes Mary better than Elizabeth.

Elizabeth is an old woman (1:7), and some scholars believe that Hannah was also old.  I do not find that in the scriptures.  The only evidence that she was old is the comment, "So it went on year by year" (1 Sam. 1:7).  However, this is offset by the fact that she is not called an old woman and by the fact that "she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters" after Samuel's birth (1 Sam 2:21).

It is worth noting that Zechariah, after recovering his voice at the birth of his son, will be filled with the Holy Spirit and will sing his own song (1:68-79) -- a song that parallels Hannah's and Mary's songs.  Mary is granted the privilege of the first song, however, because she believed, and Zechariah did not.  It will be only after the promise is fulfilled
that Zechariah will sin g -- only when he can see by sight rather than by faith.

In the first part of her song, Mary celebrates the blessing that she received from "God my Savior" (v. 47).  A Savior is important only to a person who needs saving.  While we all need salvation, the lowly and hungry (vv. 52-53) best understand their need of a Savior.  The more comfortable we are, the less needy we feel.  The more affluent we are, the
more likely that we will look for happiness in some new possession or experience.  The more successful we are, the more likely that we will celebrate our achievement instead of seeking God's help.

"he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant" (v. 48).  Mary is lowly in two senses.  First, she has a humble spirit that stands ready to respond to God's call without reservation (1:38).  Second, she occupies a humble station in life -- a woman in a patriarchal society -- a young person in a society that venerates age.  Her child will be born into this humble station.  His first home will be a stable -- his first crib a manger.  As a man, he will say of himself, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head" (9:58).

"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" (vv. 48-49).  As a Jewish woman, Mary can look back across the centuries and remember men and women whom God called into service.  Abraham and Sarah!  Isaac and Rebecca!  Moses!  Gideon!  Deborah!  Every child knows their names and their stories.  Now Mary's name will join theirs.  People will revere her for her special place in God's plan.  Kings and presidents struggle to be
remembered well, but God reached down to this simple girl and elevated her to a place of greatness.  He has conferred on her an honor that she did not seek and a privilege that she could never earn.  "Holy is his name" (v. 49).

"Taken as a whole, this scene confirms that the unbelievable words of Gabriel are indeed to be believed" (Cousar, 37).

At v. 51, Mary's vision broadens from her own blessings to the blessings given to Israel (v. 54) and "to Abraham and to his descendents forever"
(v. 55).  "These descendants include Gentiles as well as the Jewish race, as can be seen in God's promises to Abraham (see Gen. 12:3; 17:4-5; 22:18). Reference to God's promises to Abraham is also made by Zechariah following the birth of John (see v. 73)" (Evans, 27).

Mary celebrates Godly reversals.  "He has scattered the proud" (v. 51).  "He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly" (v. 52).  "He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty" (v. 53).  "He has helped his servant Israel" (v. 54).  God's choice of Mary to be the mother of the Lord is proof that these reversals have already begun.  In fact, they began many years earlier when God chose Abraham.

Liberation theologians use these and similar verses to justify violent revolutionary action on the part of the church, but "Mary's Song is not a revolutionary call to human action but a celebration of God's action" (Green, 100).  To interpret such verses as a call to revolution "ignores the spiritual dimension present throughout the hymn, not to mention the national character of the hope expressed in verses 54-55.  On the other hand, some want to dilute the references to the poor and hungry altogether and speak only of the poor and hungry in spirit.  This also undercuts the passage's force" (Bock, 47).

Godly reversals are good news for the dispossessed and disenfranchised, but not to the wealthy and powerful.  Most of us hear them as good news, because we do not consider ourselves to be wealthy or powerful.  However, most First World people enjoy a standard of living that seems impossibly rich to the rest of the world. We live in homes that are palatial, not only by the standards of the Third World, but also by the standards of our
parents and grandparents.  We drive ever-larger and more luxurious cars.  We seldom miss a meal.  We need to hear the Magnificat as a warning shot across our bow.  We may be the ones in danger of being brought down from our comfortable places.  If we are sensitive to the needs of the lowly, the hungry, the homeless, the disenfranchised, and the prisoner, perhaps we can escape the judgment of this text.

Throughout Mary's song, she describes God's activities in the past tense.  "The Mighty One has done great things for me" (v. 49).  "He has shown strength with his arm" (v. 51).  "He has brought down the powerful from their thrones" (v. 52).  "He has filled the hungry" (v. 53).  "He has helped his servant Israel" (v. 54).  We can attribute her use of the past tense, in part, to the fact that she is looking back upon centuries of God's relationship with Israel.

However, Mary's use of the past tense also demonstrates her confidence that God's promise is true.  She is not yet the mother of the child who will be great and who will be called the Son of the most High (1:32), but God has promised it and she believes the promise.  The author of Hebrews defines faith as "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Heb 11:1).  Mary is a person who possesses that kind of
faith, and it is that kind of faith to which God calls us.  The richest blessings go to those who believe God's promise -- who walk in faith.


SERMON:    

Don't you sometimes have a great day -- a day when the sun is shining and the temperature is just right -- when you feel good -- when things seem to be going your way -- when you feel like singing, "Oh, what a beautiful morning!"  Most of us have a day like that now and then -- just not as often as we would like.

In our Gospel lesson today, Mary is having that kind of day.  We can hear it in every word.  First, we hear it from Elizabeth, Mary's kinswoman.  Both women are pregnant.  Mary is a little pregnant, and Elizabeth is very, very pregnant -- close to being ready to deliver.

Elizabeth is older than Mary -- an aunt, perhaps.  She wanted children all her life, but it never happened.  And then an angel came to Zechariah, her husband, and told him that Elizabeth would have a baby.  Zechariah said something to the effect, "At her age!  You gotta be kidding!" -- for which lack of faith the angel struck Zechariah dumb. You might think of that as a special blessing for Elizabeth!  But the angel did NOT take back the
promise -- Elizabeth's swelling belly proves that.

When Mary arrives on her doorstep, we expect Elizabeth to talk about her own pregnancy.  After all, Mary is young, and young, pregnant women are nothing unusual.  It is Elizabeth who has experienced the miracle!  Elizabeth who has been touched by an angel!  Elizabeth whose lifelong disappointment has been reversed!  We expect Elizabeth to talk about her own baby -- her own plans -- her own hopes!  But, instead she greets 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."

(NOTE TO THE PREACHER:  For a quotation this long to work well, you must
know it well and be able to say it in part from memory.  Practice!)

Can't you hear the excitement in her voice -- the "Oh, what a beautiful morning" JOY!  Luke tells us that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit -- inspired by the Spirit.  The Spirit provoked Elizabeth's joyful response.  Elizabeth is happy about her own baby, but she is even happier about Mary's baby -- because the Spirit has made it clear that Mary's baby is the LORD!

And then we have Mary's joyful response.  Just listen to her words:

"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 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."

Wow!  Elizabeth is excited!  Mary is excited!  Frankly, when I read this story, I am excited too!  It is a story of God touching the lives of two very ordinary women -- and blessing them -- and blessing the world through them!

When I read their story, their JOY just leaps off the page at me, and I feel joyful too!  I feel their joy about their babies.  I feel their joy about being part of God's plan.  I experience with them the wonder of God's having touched THEIR lives.  God has chosen THEM for blessing and honor, and they can hardly believe it -- but they DO believe it!  Their happiness just bubbles off the page -- and their happiness makes me happy too!

But when I read this story, I am excited for myself as well -- and I am excited for you!  Let me tell you why.

I am excited for us -- for you and me -- because Elizabeth's story and Mary's story show what can happen when God touches our lives.  Their stories -- and the blessings that came through their babies -- hold out the promise that God can do great things through my life!  And through your life, too!

Don't get me wrong!  There will never be another mother of John the Baptist!  There will never be another mother of Jesus!  Elizabeth and Mary were each one of a kind!

But God still touches lives!  God still blesses people!  God still chooses people through whom to bless the world!  I believe that I am one of those people -- that God has touched my life!  And I believe that God has touched your life too!  I believe that God is trying to bless us!  And I believe that God is trying to make something wonderful out of our lives so that we will become a blessing to others.

Don't get me wrong here either!  I am not talking about winning the lottery and never having another problem.  I am not talking about spending life sitting in an easy chair eating chocolates.  The life of blessing to which God calls us is seldom an easy life -- seldom comfortable!  Mary didn't have her baby in a beautiful, well-lighted, antiseptic hospital, you know.  She had her baby in a dark, smelly stable.  And when her baby
grew up, she found herself watching in alarm as he stirred up more and more controversy.  And then she saw him die -- crucified -- a painful and shameful death.

No!  God does not call us to easy lives.  God calls us to lives that matter!  Blessed lives!  Lives worth living!

God called Mary to be the mother of the Lord!  Mary felt enormously blessed to be so chosen, because she could imagine all the wonderful things that her baby would do.

God called Mother Teresa to pick up dying people from the streets of India to give them a decent place to die -- and sometimes a decent place to live.  She felt enormously blessed to be so chosen, because she knew that the Lord would make something important of her work.

God called me to preach this sermon, and I feel enormously blessed to be so chosen.  I cannot guess how my ministry or this sermon will affect anyone's life -- but I am confident that the Lord is faithful -- that the Lord will make something important of my life if I faithfully do what the Lord has called me to do.

God called Lorince Taylor to help prostitutes in Monrovia, Liberia.  She found that prostitutes had no way to make a living other than prostitution, so she felt God's call to teach them sewing and secretarial skills.  She felt enormously blessed to be chosen for such a ministry, and she has been an enormous blessing to women otherwise trapped in a
lifestyle that has no escape (from Charles Colson, Kingdoms in Conflict).

God called Matie Smith to be a farmer's wife -- and a mother -- and a faithful member of a small Indiana church.  Matie felt enormously blessed to be so chosen, and did her work for Christ quietly and effectively for many decades, touching countless lives, including my own.  I can only guess at the blessings that she bestowed on other people -- God knows!  I only know that my own life would have been immeasurably poorer had it not
been for Matie Smith.  (NOTE TO THE PREACHER:  This is an example from my own personal life.  Matie Smith was her real name, and she was a wonderful woman.  Use an example from your own life.)

God called my mother to raise her two sons, and she felt enormously blessed to be so chosen.  Her goal in life was to get my brother and myself launched before she died, and she lived long enough to do that.  I owe many people a great deal for blessings that I have received, but none so much as my mother.  (NOTE TO THE PREACHER:  Use an example from your own life.)

I don't know what God has called you to do.  Perhaps you don't know.  I only know that God has called you to be blessed and to be a blessing.  If you don't know what you are called to do, make it a matter of prayer to hear the call.  If you will do that, I cannot guarantee you an easy life -- but I will guarantee you a blessed life -- an important life -- a life worth living!

Live out the calling to which Christ has called you, and you will be able to say with Mary:

"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 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."


TRUE STORY:     

In 1913, Albert Schweitzer, physician and concert organist, gave up a glamorous life in Paris to go to Africa to start a medical clinic for people who would otherwise have no medical care.  His first hospital was a converted chicken coop.  An old camp bed was his first operating table.

In 1949, on his one visit to the United States, a reporter asked Schweitzer if he had found happiness in Africa.  He said, "I have found a place of service, and that is enough happiness for anyone."


A BIT OF HUMOR:

The story is told of two Boy Scouts who came upon a boy who had fallen
into the lake.  After trying to help, they ran home with tears in their
eyes.  "We tried to give him artificial respiration," they said, "but he
keeps getting up and walking away."


 


 

Joy to the World (BH #87; CH #143; CO #208; GC #343; JS #194; LBW #39; LW
#53; PH #40; TH #100; TNCH #132; UMH #246; VU #59)

O Come, All Ye Faithful (BH #89; CH #148; CO #225; GC #341; JS #193; LBW
#45; LW #41; PH #41; TH #83; TNCH #135; UMH #234; VU #60)

 


 

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