Sermon: Mary

Immanuel, as we wait for your return,
help us see your glory and love
through the reading and preaching of your Word. We pray in your name. Amen. 

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

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.” 

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. 

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, four children pass through a magical portal inside a wardrobe into the fantastical world of Narnia. Narnia is a land where it is always winter, but never Christmas. The White Witch has kept the land covered in cold and snow and buried in hopelessness for a hundred years. But the promise, whispered in quiet homes around low fires, is that the Aslan is on the move. Aslan, the great Lion, the Son of the Emperor across the Sea, the true Lord of Narnia will come and break the witch’s power over the land of Narnia.

In one scene, the children have fled in the night ahead of the witch and her henchmen. After trudging for hours through snow drifts and heavy snowfall, the children and their companions spend the night huddled sleeping in a small cave, hoping to avoid the witch. In the morning, they awoke to an amazing sound. “In fact they were all sitting up with their mouths and eyes wide open listening to a sound which was the very sound they’d all been thinking of (and sometimes imagining they heard) during their walk last night. It was a sound of jingling bells” (114-115). (ring bell)

The children soon discover that the bells and the accompanying sleight do not belong to the witch, but Father Christmas. In Narnia, a land which is always winter but never Christmas, the coming of Christmas was a sign that the witches power was being broken. The rest of the day, the land warms and thaws, and the wicked sleigh of the witch gets stuck deep in the muck, unable to move. The land springs to life as Aslan is on the move. 

It is a wonderful story if you have never read it. It is a beautiful picture of the power of Christmas and the cross, but I won’t spoil anymore so you can go read it yourself. But what I love about that scene I described is that the coming of Christmas is the sign that the witch’s wintery power over the land is being broken. The coming of Christmas is the first death toll of the witch’s power over Narnia. And the coming of Christmas is signaled by the jingling of bells.

(ring bell)

Mary’s Song is the bell ringing announcing the coming power of Christmas. Mary and Joseph are engaged but not married yet. The angel Gabriel appears to Mary and pronounces incredible news. She has been blessed by God. She will bear the Messiah, the Savior, the Lord in her womb. This Child will be Son of the Most High, he will be given the throne of David, and will reign over the house of Jacob forever. Mary is understandably confused. She is a virgin, how can she be pregnant with this promised child? The angel explains that this child’s conception will not be an act of human will or work, but of God. Then he points to Elizabeth, whose womb God has already opened in her old age. Mary, humbled, accepts the calling and joy of carrying the Christmas Child. 

Soon after, Mary sets out to visit Elizabeth. Their meeting is momentous. John leaps in the womb at the presence of Mary bearing the Savior. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaims Mary blessed. And Mary sings. 

Mary’s Song is the bell ringing announcing the coming power of Christmas. (ring bell) She sings with joy. She sings with hope. She sings with prophetic vision for what God will do through this child. Her song rings the coming power of Christmas, which breaks open the winter of this world with good news. 

What is the power of Christmas? What does Mary’s song tell us about the impact of the birth of Christ? What good news do we hear at the ringing of the bells? (ring bell)

In Mary’s Song, we see that the power of Christmas is mercy, strength, and filling. Mercy, strength, and filling. 

Verse 50: His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. The power of Christmas, the power of the coming of Christ, is personal and spiritual and it takes the form of mercy. Herman Bavinck says it this way, “The goodness of God, when shown to those in misery, is called mercy.” God’s mercy is his goodness shown to those in misery. 

Mary sings, His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. The coming of Christ is the coming of mercy. Jesus’ birth is God’s goodness reaching down to the depths of who we are and reaching us in the depths in order to show his goodness to us. 

For those who fear the Lord, who look upon him with reverent awe and wholehearted trust, the coming of Jesus is the coming of God’s goodness to us in our misery. (ring bell) Mercy is relief from the pain of misery. Mercy is rescue from the chains of shame and guilt. Mercy is peace found in God’s forgiveness. In all the ways you are in misery, God’s goodness comes to us in Christ. 

The past you regret and never seem to outrun. The decisions you cannot undo. The life you lived that hounds you still, that binds you in shame. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. God’s mercy is his goodness shown to those in misery. In all the ways you are in misery, God’s goodness comes to us in Christ. 

The sins you know, the ones you might even have enjoyed, but keep you separated from God and deserving of wrath. The words cannot say anymore. The words you cannot unsay. What your hands have touched that they should not have touched. Where your feet have walked that they should not have walked. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. God’s mercy is his goodness shown to those in misery. In all the ways you are in misery, God’s goodness comes to us in Christ.

The vices you cannot seem to kick – pride, lust, sloth, anger, indifference. The crushing weight of what has been done to you. The thoughts that creep in the middle of the night and run circles through your head. Failed expectations, broken dreams, life cut short. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. God’s mercy is his goodness shown to those in misery. In all the ways you are in misery, God’s goodness comes to us in Christ.

Mary sings of mercy. Her songs rings like those bells Christmas morning, proclaiming the goodness of God to all in misery. Mercy is what we need most this Christmas, every Christmas. It is the tone of reconciliation, of redemption, of resurrection. Mercy is the tone that rings out Christmas morning and rings truest on Calvary. This is the power of Christmas, God’s goodness comes in Christ to all in misery in the form of mercy. 

Yet Mary also sings of strength. As her songs rings out, proclaiming the coming of the child born from her womb, she rejoices in the strength and justice of God. This, too, is part of the Christmas song. It’s verses 51-52: 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;

There are social and political dimensions to the coming of Christmas. The power of Christmas does not simply take hold of us – heart, mind, and soul – but also reaches out and grasps at this unjust world, turning it around. The coming of Christ, the birth of the true King, is a threat to every wannabe and poser for power. The coming of Jesus says to all tyrants, to all who pour forth injustice, to all who climb high by stepping on the backs of the week, ‘Your days are numbered.’ 

Mary sings of God’s strength to scatter the proud and pull down rulers from their thrones. Those whose power is in armies, in political parties, or simply in the pride of their own hearts, their days are numbered. 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

No tyrant will be spared on the basis of party affiliation. Tyrants of red, blue, orange, or otherwise should all tremble when the Christmas bells ring. The King is coming with mercy for those in misery and with justice for those who bring misery. Those who ignore, trample, or abuse the weak or innocent – whether they do it ‘for us’ or ‘for them’ – are caught up in Mary’s song. 

My second favorite Advent song is one we have not sung here. My favorite is ‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,’ but my second favorite is called “The Canticle of Turning.” It is based upon this song of Mary and has a joyful tune. Part of what I love is that it captures the joy that comes with Advent longing and the hope that comes with clinging to the promises here in Mary’s Song. It even includes a stanza about God’s justice concerning rulers that has been in my mind as I was preparing this week: 

From the halls of power to the fortress tower

Not a stone will be left on stone

Let the king beware 

for your Justice tears 

ev’ry tyrant from his throne

The coming of Christ, the true king, is the pronouncement of judgment upon injustice and the promise to raise up the lowly. Though the powerful seem to trample the weak with impunity now, their days are numbered. Like how the sounding of the Christmas bells in Narnia was a sign that the power of the witch was being broken, Mary’s Christmas song is the proclamation that the wicked powers in this world are being broken by Jesus Christ. The Canticle of Turning captures this as well: 

Though the nations rage from age to age

We remember Who holds us fast

God’s mercy must deliver us from the conqueror’s crushing grasp

This saving word that out forebears heard 

is the promise which holds us bound

‘Til the spear and rod 

can be crushed by God

Who is turning the world around

Friends, this is good news. Part of the power of Christmas is the strength of God to cast down the powerful and lift up the lowly. For those lowly here in Canada, here in this room, or our brothers and sisters around the world who live under vicious tyrants, the song of Mary is a song of joy. Like the children rejoicing at the Christmas bells in Narnia, the joy was both for the coming of Father Christmas, but also for its signal that the power of the witch was broken, that Narnia would not stay in winter forever. 

Lastly, Mary sings of filling. Mary’s Christmas song of the coming of Jesus is a song of mercy, where God’s goodness is shown to all in misery. It is a song of strength, where God’s justice will bring down the tyrants and lift up the lowly, but it is also a song of filling, where God promises to feed the hungry. Verse 53: He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 

Jesus’ coming means food for the hungry. This is where singing along with Mary gets really practical. Feed the hungry this advent season. Mary’s song is like a bell ringing the message of Christmas. It is the proclamation of mercy for those in misery and we sing along with Mary when we rejoice in the mercy of God in Jesus and share that joy with others. Mary’s song is the proclamation of justice upon the tyrants and for the lowly and we sing along with Mary when we pray and work for justice in our land and around the world. 

But the power of Christmas, the power of the coming of Jesus, deep and wide, but also as basic as food for the hungry. He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. God fills empty hearts, empty souls, but also empty mouths. It is fitting that this time of year is the greatest time of giving to places like the Food Bank. Part of living as people who have heard the good news of Christmas is to live out what we hear here. Feed the hungry. Fill them with good things in the name of Jesus. In doing so, we sing Mary’s song with our lives. 

For many of us, the year 2020 has felt like a long winter. For those who do not know Christ, life has often felt like it was always winter, but never Christmas. My hope this morning is that, like the children in Narnia, you have heard Christmas bells this morning. My hope is that you have heard the good news through the song of Mary – the mercy of God in Jesus, the justice of God in Jesus, and filling of the empty in Jesus. My hope is that in hearing the good news of Christmas, of the coming of Jesus, the winter breaks for you, for me, for this world. 

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen. 

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