Monday, November 20, 2006

Sermon on the Magnificat

This is lightly adapted from a sermon I wrote last week for preaching class. The passage is Luke 1:46-55.

Suppose you had to pick a woman to change the world. Who would you choose? Someone famous - a pop star, an actress, a celebrity, a TV presenter? Someone influential - A politician, a top lawyer, maybe a teacher or a doctor or an academic? Or maybe you'd go for someone spectacularly bad who could be turned around – a prostitute maybe or a criminal?

Chances are you wouldn't do what God did in v27 of Luke 1. God is going to change the world, and he starts with Nazareth - a town so obscure that no-one had ever written about it - in Galilee - a provincial backwater that most people ignored, and he starts with Mary, probably a teenage girl who's never even had sex and is engaged to be married to a guy whose only claim to fame is that 1000 years before, he'd had a famous ancestor. Lets face it, she's not the obvious choice for the job. At least get someone with maybe some influence, or useful life experience or at least from somewhere people have heard of! But that's not the way God does things. God chooses Mary.

Reading from verse 28...

The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you."

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."

“How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"

The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail."

"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me according to your word." Then the angel left her.

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil his promises to her!"

Mary has had an angel appear to her and tell her that she's “found favour with God”, and that she's going to be the mother of the Son of God. Even her respectable relative, Elizabeth, is acting like she's amazing. She's probably realised that she might well become the most famous woman of all time.

How does she respond?

She takes everything people have said and points it back to God. It's not about her at all really. Listen again to what she says:

My soul glorifies the LORD – literally that's closer to “my soul bigs God up” - and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant – that would be better as the “humiliation of his servant”. From now on all generations will call me blessed for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name.

She's praising God because God has noticed her, even though she's nothing.

Actually, it's not just Mary. She doesn't even mention herself again in the song, but she notices that actually when God chose her, he did what he's always been doing.

His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers (powerful ones) from their thrones but has lifted up the humble (or the humiliated ones – the low ones). He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised his ancestors.

God has been doing what God has always done. Mary has been looking at the Old Testament, and realising that's always the way that God acts, and that's the way God promised to act. You know, they say that 60% of this song is lifted directly from lots of different bits of the Old Testament, and the other 40% is heavily influenced by it. How many teenage girls could do that. Come to think of it, how many adults who are regular church attenders could do that?

Mary's been studying her Bible, she knows what God is like. She knows that God always looks out for and helps the humiliated, the low, the hungry ones who fear him, who respect him, who honour him. He doesn't go for the proud, the powerful, the rich – if anything, God brings them down because they are too cocky, they don't respect God properly. So God chose Abraham. He was a nobody too – he was a nomadic Chaldean sheep herder. He was so unimportant, archaeologists reckon they'll probably never have any archaeological evidence that he even existed. But God met him and told him that he would become a mighty nation. Why? Not because Abraham was great, but because God loved him.

Here's Moses speaking to the people as they are about to enter the promised land. It's Deuteronomy 7

The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

God didn't choose his people because they were great. He chose them because he is a loving God. He loved them because he loved them, he made promises to them because he wanted to. God doesn't choose the best people, he chooses whoever he wants.

God chose Mary.

And when he did that, he did exactly what he always does, and what he's promised he'll keep on doing. He chose the foolish things, the weak things, the despised things, so that no-one can boast.

We need to hear this today.

Maybe you're feeling weak. Maybe you're feeling foolish. Maybe you're feeling despised. Maybe you're feeling like you're a nobody. Well if so, Mary would say that's great, because God chooses people like you. If you respect God for who he is, if you fear him, then God will show mercy on you. God will lift you up, God will fill you with good things. That's what Mary's son Jesus came to do – to show mercy to people like you so that you can know the incredible joy of knowing God for yourself, and praise him as Mary does here.

If you to find out more about how you can come to know God, e-mail me, or talk to a Christian you know.

Or maybe you don't feel like that. Maybe you're proud, maybe you're powerful, maybe you're rich. For you then, this isn't such good news, because God scatters those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He brings down the powerful, he sends the rich away empty.

To you, what this passage is saying is “Change”. Come before God, recognise that he is the amazing God who created the universe with a word - the God who keeps everything in the entire universe running, the God who is so big and so powerful that we can't even begin to get our heads around it, the God who is so pure that if anything or anyone is less than perfect in his presence they just get burnt up. Come before that God, and realise that you are nothing. Realise that however rich you think you are, you are bankrupt in God's sight – that however clever you think you are, you are a complete fool – that however powerful you are, that you can do nothing. Recognise that, then maybe when you see that you are poor, that you are humiliated and worth nothing, when you are hungry for God, then he will have mercy on you. Or maybe, like me, you're a bit of both. Maybe you need to hear that where you are weak God is longing to bless you and to build you up, but where you feel strong and rich, he will tear down your pride so that you come to trust in him alone.

Because that's what he's doing by choosing a nobody like Mary. That's what he's always done. And that's what he's promised to do.

Lets pray.

Father God, where we are proud, break us. Make us into people who recognise our poverty, our humiliation, who hunger and thirst for you, and then who know what it is to be filled and lifted up by you, and to rejoice in God our Saviour.

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