"God's Great Reversal" - Advent 4
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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
December 24, 2017 at 10:45 AM
Central Passage
Luke 1:39-56

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: Advent 4, December 24, 2017

Luke 1:39-56


God’s Great Reversal


            Today is an unusual day, isn’t it? We commemorate the 4th Sunday of Advent in this morning and return for Christmas Eve worship this evening. Our minds are already surely far ahead to tonight – and not just worship, where we’ll sing our favorite Christmas carols, remembering the birth of the Christ child. We’re remembering everything else that we’re doing too, like which relatives are coming over for dinner tonight or tomorrow, or whose house you’re supposed to be at. Or making sure everything on your list is bought or made and wrapped. We’re already anxiously ahead of ourselves, hoping that everything is in place.


            So, in this place of anxious anticipation, I ask you to try something different. For the next ten minutes or so, instead of thinking about Christmas Eve, travel back with me to a small town in the Judean hill country, where two mothers-to-be are about to visit each other.


            Mary has just learned from Gabriel that she will be the mother of the Christ, solely by God’s miraculous action. No help from a man required. In her finite, mortal body, she will carry the infinite God. That’s quite a lot to take in. Plus, Gabriel’s given her the news, in characteristic bluntness, that her “relative Elizabeth in her old age” will have a son, and that she’s already in her sixth month. So she travels approximately 80 miles to the Judean countryside to visit Elizabeth and Zechariah.


            This visit seems to have come as a total surprise. (No calls ahead in those days to see when someone was coming!) Something amazing and unexpected happens when Elizabeth hears Mary’s greeting. She speaks out of the fullness of the Holy Spirit: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” She seems to have surprised even herself when she next asks, “And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord has come to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.” On the spot, the Holy Spirit reveals to Elizabeth through her own words what Mary has become by the grace of God: the one chosen to be the God-bearer.


            This wasn’t a well-to-do or prominent family. Mary was what we would consider to be still a girl, 12-14 years old, from a backwater town in a backwater province of the Roman Empire. Her relatives Elizabeth and Zechariah were in similar circumstances. Even though Zechariah was a priest, he was only on station in Jerusalem a couple weeks out of the year. Think of the image of the poor country pastor and you’re on the right track. Most of the time, they lived in a little town on the fringe of civilization. It shouldn’t surprise us that Luke is the only Evangelist who knows about Elizabeth and Zechariah. This wasn’t a family that was primed to make history – not in the conventional sense.


            No, the only way they would make history was by what God had chosen them for and what God had done for them. Look at Mary’s song – a remix of Hannah’s ancient song of triumph, sung well over a thousand years before Mary’s time. Mary bursts out into praise of God the Mighty One, who keeps his promises. Mary’s song confirms what God has done for her. It isn’t the fact of her lowly status or her humility that makes her blessed. It is God’s gracious regarding of her in that condition that makes Mary “blessed among women”.


            We also hear in Mary’s song what God will do to save humanity from its pathological need to impose its own judgments, its own norms, its own standards on human beings. God is going to turn the world upside down. God will bring about a great reversal. God scatters the proud. He brings down the mighty. He sends the rich away empty. Conversely, God lifts up the lowly and fills the hungry with good things. We do Mary (and the rest of Scripture) a disservice if we see this as a narrative of revenge. The mighty are not brought down and the rich aren’t sent away to punish them for being “great”. Rather, in order to be brought to a place where they, too, can receive grace, God brings them to a place where they can receive it.


            After all, what need do we have for God if we can do everything on our own, if we are self-sufficient? How can we possibly be open to God’s grace if we haven’t been shown our need for it? The word of God is always double-edged. It always “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”. For those who are on top, Mary’s words are difficult to hear. It reminds them that human status and wealth count for nothing in God’s eyes. They, like everyone else, are purely dependent on the mercy of God. And part of that mercy means being put in a place to receive grace. As Luther wrote in a sermon, “You must not only think and speak of lowliness, but come into it, sink into it, utterly helpless, that God alone may save you. Or at any rate, should it not happen, you should at least desire it and not shrink. For this reason we are Christians and have the Gospel, that we may fall into distress and lowliness and that God thereby may have his work in us.” Talk about radical! Luther’s words sound crazy to us. So much of our lives is about avoiding pain; here Luther counsels turning into it, courting it, even praying for it, so that we may know that our entire lives are in the hands of a gracious, merciful God.


But those who have already been made by the low can hear this as pure gospel. Those who totally despair of their own efforts to win security, both now and after death, can hear the song of Mary as pure grace. Those who know they are utterly dependent on God’s grace are in a place to receive it. And Mary is a prime example of that. Indeed, even though Mary affirms that “from this time forth all generations will call me blessed”, it isn’t because she’s suddenly gotten a big ego. Nothing could be further from the truth. Mary is simply telling the truth – people will call her blessed because God has blessed her.


            And that is why we are blessed. We are blessed and beloved children of God because God has blessed us by being made low himself, by coming to earth to be born of a human mother. Not because we are anything in ourselves, but because Christ has made us everything in himself. So when bad things happen, when pain enters our world, when we ourselves have been made low, God give us eyes of faith to see him, hidden but still powerfully at work, bringing grace and mercy to us. Amen.


© 2017, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.