The Magnificat

December 7, 2008 ()

Bible Text: Luke 1:45-55


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The Magnificat. Luke 1:39-56. The song is called the magnificat because that is the first word in the Latin version. It is used throughout the Western Church in worship and prayer. The song is rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures, particularly the Song of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2 where God opens barren Hannah's womb, and many of the Psalms. Context of the song: Mary visits her relative Elizabeth, who in her old age and in her barrenness has conceived a son who would be John the Baptist, who would go before Jesus and prepare the way for him. At Elizabeth's six-month of the pregnancy, Mary is told by the angel Gabriel that she would miraculously conceive as a virgin and bear in her womb the Messiah, The Savior King. Mary goes to Judea to be with her relative..

Luke 1:39-45. So, God is unfolding his Great Story of Salvation and the Healing of this Broken Creation and these two very humble women are being included in that story. They are having the courses of their lives radically altered by God; major plot twists in their personal stories that are divinely ordered. God is unfolding his saving plan and giving them both an important role to play in it. Elizabeth: She is a woman of God, righteous, walked blameless in the commandments of the Lord. But, she was barren. In that day, if you were barren, it was believed that you were being punished by God for something. So she lives with this stigma on her for her entire adult/married life. She speaks of her reproach in Luke 1. She has suffered greatly in her life. Then God miraculously opens her womb in her old age. She conceives. And the promise from God is that she will have a son who would be great, one the prophets spoke about - the one who would come and prepare the way for the Messiah, a forerunner. Her reproach is taken away.
    Then there is Mary, just the opposite; young, never known the pain and reproach of barrenness. She is favored by God and she will miraculously conceive by the Holy Spirit. She will have a son of unparalleled significance. She will bear the Son of God, the Savior of the world. And when they come together, Elizabeth shouts with joy. "Blessed are you among women" - most blessed among women. "Blessed is the fruit of your womb." She calls her the Mother of My Lord, acknowledging that Mary is the most blessed among women because she is carrying in her womb the Messiah, and she rejoices in it. POINT: There is not a hint of jealousy in Elizabeth at all. For 6 months she has center stage - the barren woman in her old age has conceived and will give birth to a son who will be truly great. And now, her young relative who has never known the sufferings and reproach of barrenness, is even more blessed by God, conceiving even more miraculously a child whose greatness and significance would infinitely surpass her own son's. She is not center stage any longer. She is not the main story. Her son will be a sign pointing to someone greater. And Elizabeth Rejoices! There is great freedom that comes when you can joyfully embrace the storyline God is writing for you without comparing it to anybody else's. It's freeing when you can still rejoice when you see other's being blessed more than you and suffering less than you. Elizabeth knows that God is at work accomplishing his good purposes; in that rejoices. And she joyfully embraces the storyline of her own life as God unfolds it without comparison or envy. Illus: The Apostles John and Peter after Christ resurrection. You be faithful to the story I am writing for your life and don't compare it to the story I am writing for others. Elizabeth knows that God is unfolding his story and her story that fits inside of it. God's story is so great, she just can't believe she has a role in it. In other words, don't despise your story. Trust the one who is writing it. Some of you are experiencing some plot twist right now. Job loss or the threat of it. Financial struggles, fears, family difficulties, loneliness. And you see others around you flourishing...God is writing your story. Not every scene is happy. But trust him. Trust him that He is unfolding a Great Story and he is making you a part of it and will resolve your own story in the end.

Mary. Elizabeth's blessing of Mary causes Mary to break out in this song of praise to God. And she expresses great joy over the fact that her life is being lifted out of obscurity - that her life is going to count for something of great significance. Mary will now be defined by God's work for her and in her. She Rejoices because her life will be defined not by her social position (humble estate), but by the fact that she has God as her Savior and has been seized for a great purpose. There is great joy that comes from knowing that you are giving yourself to something great that cannot fail and will endure.  Great joy in knowing that you are being seized by God for a great purpose - that life is more than your status or standing in society or in a company. But you are being included by God as a recipient of grace and are being given a role to play in the greater story he is unfolding. There is great joy in receiving his grace and salvation and in being used to extend that salvation to others. Notice Mary's words: From now on...Mary had all these aspirations for her life and now, God has completely altered them. Mary had one dream for her life, then God moves in this powerful way and she says, "From now on." A great change has taken place. God's plan and his work in my life has brought about a major change in who I am and what my life will be about. Have you had any of these moments - "From now on..." Where God has done something in your life that caused you to say, "a great change has taken place; what I lived for, I can't live for anymore; I am not the same and cannot pursue the same things."  From Now On Moments. Some of ours are painful - From now on I will have to trust God in deeper and hopeful ways...This Advent a from now on moment?

In verses 50-55 Mary's song turns from God's specific work in her life to His general workings among people. Here is what we learn in these verses: God is opposed to the proud but gives grace and mercy to the humble. This is the way God interacts with humanity. Those who by human standards should be the objects of his interests, who have the most to offer (the rich, confident, strong, and self-sufficient) are actually the objects of his resistance. Those who are prideful in their hearts - who have confidence in themselves and little or no regard for God - he scatters them like wind scatters chaff. Those who are strong, who are mighty and hold positions of authority and think that their strength got them there and refuse to honor God as the ultimate authority, he brings down. Those who are rich, who are content with the things of this world and see no need for God, he sends away empty. God stands against the self-righteous (those who think they are good enough and put confidence in their merit); and the self-sufficient (those who think they are strong enough and have no need for God); and the self-focused (those who do not regard others but use them for personal gain) - God stands against them all. But the humble - he gives grace. He gives mercy to those who fear him, exalts those of humble estate (poor and needy) and he fills the hungry with good things. ***When the text speaks of God being opposed to the rich and strong and powerful, it is speaking of those in that state who have no regard for God or the needy. When the text speaks of blessing the poor and needy, it is referring to those who have no confidence in themselves and look to God in humble trust for their every need. Mary's Song is political and prophetic. She is living in occupied territory under an oppressive and powerful nation where the rich get richer and poor get poorer. She is saying, this child that she carries, that is God's promised King will one day rule over all nations and he will resolve all the issues of injustice and oppression and poverty. (What she doesn't see is that this child's Kingdom will come in two stages. He will have to suffer before he reigns). But he will reign and put an end to every evil and injustice. I look at this world sometimes and wonder why God does not just kick it to pieces. Illus: Morgana's pictures.  The arrogant and proud and rich who lived with no regard for God or others and who exploited the weak and poor and needy for their own good will be torn down, scattered, and humiliated. But those who were weak, oppressed, victims of greed, prejudice and injustice but who trusted in God and feared him and looked to him for their needs and salvation, will be exalted and filled and vindicated. There will be a great reversal. We can ask why God does not just kick this world to pieces. But the Advent message is that he is healing it and will one day bring righteousness and justice and peace to it in full. **This serves as a warning to Luke's original audience, most excellent Theophilus, a man who was a man of great wealth and social standing. Luke is saying, God is opposed to those who are impressed with themselves. Warning to us as well. Are you impressed with yourself - your strength, your wealth, your morality? You are not saved and "a somebody" by your merit, but by his mercy. He opposes the self-righteous who point to all their moral achievements or good works or good efforts who try to save themselves. He gives grace, mercy, salvation, forgiveness, eternal life in his kingdom to those who will humble themselves and acknowledge their total inability to earn anything from God. And all of our interactions with God operate on this matrix. He does not help those who help themselves but those who acknowledge their complete dependence upon God. This is what Advent is all about. If we could save ourselves, Christ need not be born; he need not suffer and die; he need not rise. We are made part of God's story not by our merit but solely on the basis of his mercy. And, He is not for the arrogant who live without regard for him or for others; He is against those who use people to build their own lives instead of using their lives to build other people. In the end, the prideful rich and powerful lose, and those who trusted God are vindicated.

Conclusion: How should a believing community respond to this Song? Faith in this Story. Readiness to play a role in it. Humility to receive God's mercy and the compassion to extend it. Our City needs a community that believes this Song.

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Sermon Speaker:

JR Vassar

Former Lead Pastor, Apostles NYC