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“Seven Scenes from the Advent-Christmas Story: Mary Praising”
Luke 1:46-55


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Second Sunday in Advent—December 4, 2011

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The theme for our services during Advent this year is, “Seven Scenes from the Advent-Christmas Story,” including, “John Preaching,” “Shepherds Watching,” “Angels Singing,” “Joseph Dreaming,” “Herod Fearing,” and “Wise Men Worshipping.”  We continue this morning with today’s Gospel Reading, the story of “Mary Praising,” and the song of Mary we call the Magnificat.

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior.’”  Mary begins her song of praise by turning our focus away from herself and ourselves and to where our focus should always be, especially during this holiday season: “My soul magnifies the Lord.” 

Most people don’t realize that the word “holiday” is a contraction of “holy day.”  The focus of this holiday season should be where Mary directs us: “My soul magnifies the Lord.”  But, the original “holy days” of this season have mostly metamorphosized into secular “holidays.”  In the process the focus of the season has shifted, from the Lord to us, from his glorious works and miraculous birth, to our material gratification and worldly concerns.  Follow Mary’s example and shift your focus this season, away from yourself and back to the Lord.

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior.”  In case anyone would get the idea that Mary herself as the Mother of God was without sin, she makes clear that she too is a sinful human.  “And my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior.”  She wouldn’t need a Savior if she wasn’t a sinner.  Mary rejoices not only because the Savior she will be blessed to bear is bringing forgiveness, life, and salvation to the whole world.  She calls him “my Savior.”  So, her joy is personal, because the Savior she will be blessed to bear is bringing forgiveness, live, and salvation not only to the whole world but also to her.

“My spirit rejoices in God, my Savior.  For he has regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden.”  The Virgin Mary was an unlikely vessel for the birth into the world of the Son of God and King of Kings.  From a human perspective, there seemed to be many young women in Israel much more qualified than lowly Mary.  Princesses from the ruling royal family; daughters of wealthy, important, powerful people.

In contrast, when Philip told Nathanael that the Messiah was from Nazareth, Nathanael exclaimed, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”  Although it seems that Mary’s family did have royal roots, and that like Joseph she also was “of the house and lineage of David,” from a human perspective she was but a humble country girl, from a backward country town.

The angel says to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.”  Why did Mary find such favor with God that he chose her to be the vessel by which his Son would become man?   Elizabeth tells us why Mary found favor with God: “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” 

Mary was saved by faith in the coming Messiah.  She found favor with God not because she was sinless, but because she believed the promises of the Messiah’s coming which she had learned from the Old Testament.  In Galatians, Paul says that in the Old Testament God “announced the Gospel in advance,” and the book of Hebrews says, “For we also have had the Gospel preached to us, just as they did.”  Mary found favor with God not on the basis of the Law, because of her own works or merit, but she found favor with God and was saved by the Gospel, which she had learned and believed from the Old Testament.

“For behold, from this day all generations will call me blessed.  For the Mighty One has done great things to me.”  The Augsburg Confession of the Lutheran Church states: “It is also taught among us that saints should be kept in remembrance so that our faith may be strengthened when we see what grace they received and how they were sustained by faith.”  So, it is proper that we remember and honor the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Mother of God. 

However, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession adds the caution, “We cannot accept . . . ideas about worshipping the saints or . . .  the practice of praying to them. . .  We must not believe that we are accounted righteous by the merits of the Blessed Virgin or of the other saints. . . Such notions are obviously of pagan origin.”  So, while we properly remember and honor the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Mother of God, we do not pray to her, or worship her, or believe we are in any way saved through her.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me,” and that also applies to his Mother, the Virgin Mary.  That is why Mary always shifts the focus away from herself and to God our Savior. 

“For the Mighty One has done great things to me, and holy is his name; and his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation.”  Mary proclaims the Good News that the favor and blessedness she has received is not limited to her.  All those who fear, love, and trust in God from generation to generation receive his marvelous mercy just as she did.

“And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm.”  This is an idiomatic expression that conveys what Paul says in 1st Corinthians: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” 

God’s way of doing things often seems weak, even stupid, to the world.  Why would God have his Son be born into the world as a helpless, little baby, with a humble girl for his Mother?  Why would he be born, not in mighty Rome, or even Jerusalem, but in the insignificant little town of Bethlehem?  Why would the Creator of the universe be wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger?  Why would there be no room in the inn for the King of Kings?  And, ultimately, why would God allow himself to be executed, to suffer and die on a cross?  But, what seems foolish to us is actually God’s eternal plan for the salvation of the world.  What seems weakness to us is actually God showing his strength.

“He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has exalted the lowly.”  The proud and mighty are those who trust in themselves for salvation, who think they’re mighty enough to save themselves.  They will instead be cast down into hell.  But all who humble themselves before the Lord, confess their sins, and trust in him for salvation will be exalted to heavenly glory.  As Jesus said, “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

“He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has exalted the lowly.  He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away.”  This is an image used frequently throughout the Bible.  As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” 

If you feel you are “rich,” that you don’t need spiritual nourishment from the Lord, then you will be “sent empty away.”  But, Jesus promises, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. . . I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will not hunger, and he who believes in me will not thirst.”  As you come this morning to the Lord’s table with your spiritual hunger and thirst he fills you with good things indeed! 

“He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away.  He has helped his servant Israel in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his seed forever.”  Abraham was the founder and father of the ancient people of Israel.  The Lord promised Abraham that the entire world would be blessed by one of his descendants: “Through your Seed all nations on earth will be blessed.”  In the Magnificat, Mary beautifully confesses her faith that the promises given to the forefathers, and through the prophets to ancient Israel, are now fulfilled in her womb, by the Son of God, whom she bears.

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

“For he has regarded the lowliness of His handmaiden.

“For behold, from this day all generations will call me blessed.

“For the Mighty One has done great things to me, and holy is his name;

“And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation.

“He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

“He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has exalted the lowly.

“He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away.

“He has helped his servant Israel in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his seed forever.”

Amen.

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