December 14, 2014 – He has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant

Isaiah 61:1-4

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

Luke 1:39-45

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “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. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Luke 1:46-56

And Mary said, “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. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

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Advent 3   December 14, 2014   Psalm 85, Isaiah 61:1-4, Luke 1:39-56

He has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant

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The Spirit of the Lord God has anointed the prophet Isaiah to proclaim good news for the lowly, the brokenhearted, oppressed, and imprisoned. The year of the Lord’s favor for all. The year of the Lord’s favor is a reference to the biblical year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25), in which debts are canceled, slaves are freed, land lost due to debt is returned… And the world starts all over again for God’s people. A clean start, by the power of God’s word…

Later Jesus quotes these same words from Isaiah – saying he is the living embodiment of these words – making the prophet’s message now his own mission statement (Luke, chapter 4). But while Jesus is still in the womb – here’s his mother Mary, singing her own version of the biblical song of Isaiah and Jesus – proclaiming the glory of God who has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant…

The favor of God has indeed come to Mary – who has said yes to the angel, who has told her she’s about to become the mother of the Son of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit. The very highest of all high callings.

Yet Mary is living in precariously lowly circumstances. Young, betrothed – engaged, not yet married – now pregnant, out of wedlock. Highly vulnerable, if her fiancee (or her parents) should choose to reject her.

Yet here’s Mary – rejoicing greatly in God her Savior. And yes, God has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant… Yet living in this fallen world –

How can she be so deeply joyful – considering all the danger and difficulty she faces?

Well – Luke’s gospel tells us, when she hears from the angel Gabriel, Mary ponders the angel’s message.

Probably she kept pondering… in prayer and deep listening…In deep prayer and pondering, likely, Mary heard the word from God – to go, travel – visit with your relative Elizabeth – whom, the angel Gabriel has spoken of to Mary saying: ‘your relative Elizabeth, who was said to be barren, is now five months pregnant.’

So Mary has journeyed from her home in the far north to the hill country of Judah in the south, to the home of Elizabeth, wife of Zechariah the priest – who was visited by the same angel Gabriel in the Jerusalem temple… months before the angel’s visit with Mary.

Zechariah, remember, had a harder time than Mary, with accepting the angel’s word. And the angel assigned Zack to nine months of silence – time in which he is unable to speak… An extended sabbatical of silence for the man of God… who seemingly forgot to believe… the word of God is still happening in the present tense… today…

But Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth believed. And now, as the angel has said, now – ‘she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month.’ And now her relative Mary – her niece or perhaps cousin – we’re only told they’re relatives – now Mary has arrived, and Elizabeth greets her with warm blessings… And –

The Holy Spirit who is safeguarding and nurturing infant Jesus and Mary all along… is now inspiring Elizabeth to cry out with joy. Causing her child also (who’ll grow up to be John the Baptist) to leap for joy in the womb in the presence of his holy cousin… And as these women greet each other, and their babes in the womb meet in utero… And the holiness of God’s Spirit overflows… Elizabeth is speaking God’s blessings on Mary and Jesus in the womb… The Holy Spirit is powerfully present… As Mary is lifted up in blessings…

Yet lowliness – is the word Mary speaks to describe herself…as favored by the Lord.

And if we’re to do as our Thought for the Day suggests, in the words of St Ambrose– if we are to “Let Mary’s soul be in each of (us) to proclaim the greatness of the Lord” – we too must live into the lowliness of Mary…

The lowliness, humility, modesty, meekness, gentleness of Mary… is the holy habitat for the birth of Jesus… Habitat for the birth anew of Jesus among us, also. The habitat in which the love of God, revealed in Jesus Christ, lives and grows and flourishes among us.

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Lowliness… Humility… Modesty… Meekness… Gentleness…

So many of you model these virtues far better than I… (I’m glad and grateful to be able to be learning from you…and with you…)

And the calling of all Christians everywhere… Is to continue learning from Mary’s example… Bringing forth Christ ever-always in faith… Paying close attention to how Mary, his blessed mother, brings Jesus to birth – in lowliness and in the Lord’s favor…

Like her and Elizabeth, we seek out each other’s company, as we worship, and counsel and pray together; as we study the word of God together to keep on track… Helping each other stay on the gospel path….Knowing there’s always abundance of distractions and temptations trying to shift our focus and attention elsewhere.

Yet knowing all the more… it’s only the good news of Jesus… that brings the deep and unceasing blessings our souls need and most greatly desire…

And the Spirit of the Lord is still at work among us. Working through the Word…Filling the hungry with good things. And sending the rich away empty. This too is part of the salvation message. Far better to learn the lesson while it can be learned – then to find out too late – we should have paid more attention to sharing when we could. A story older than Dicken’s A Christmas Carol… And as the ancient proverb says – ‘I’ve never seen a hearse… pulling a U-haul.’

We know this part of the story, but we need to remember – not everyone does know it. Part of our job description as Christians is to share all the Jesus story, including the parts that disturb the world…

And we are still called to remind the world… God’s Holy Spirit is still working among us… to reverse all injustice and un-mercy and release all that binds so many in dark desperation… while others live with excesses of luxury. As God’s people we bear witness to the words of scripture in Isaiah, whose very first chapter says that prayer will not be answered, if we’ve ignored God’s widows and orphans, the poor and needy… A message the world still doesn’t usually want to hear…

Thus the Spirit of God is often unseen and ignored…. As Martin Luther said, “we don’t see Jesus, because we don’t look low enough…” and…

So easily the world forgets – The same Jesus born to an unwed mother in a stable… is our Lord in heaven above…

The same Messiah who lived on earth among the poor, the scorned, the lowly…

Is still indeed our Savior holy…

The same Savior who spent his entire ministry on earth lifting up the poor, warning the rich to share extravagantly…

The same One whose birth we celebrate properly… by doing all he told us to do, in love…

Remembering that He leads his people on… To the place where he has gone…

Looking still with favor…

On the lowliness of all his servants…

For which we say, always –

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

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(Let’s sing – Once in Royal David’s City…)