The First Song of Advent: God is mindful, mighty, and merciful. (Thanks Alistair Begg)

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Mary responded,

“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
47     How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
48 For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
    and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
49 For the Mighty One is holy,
    and he has done great things for me.
50 He shows mercy from generation to generation
    to all who fear him.
51 His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
    He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
52 He has brought down princes from their thrones
    and exalted the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    and sent the rich away with empty hands.
54 He has helped his servant Israel
    and remembered to be merciful.
55 For he made this promise to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and his children forever.” – Luke 1:46-55 [NLT]

Spring-Fed River | Roaring River State Park, Arkansas | October 2021

Once in a while I must invoke the Rick Warren Rule. When I was studying at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California, we visited Rick – who was also enrolled in the D. Min. program there. He shared some of his insights at that early stage of his church’s development. He told us, “If my bullet fits your gun, shoot it.” I like that image – inappropriate as it may be in these days of gun control and gun rights sensitivity. But the message is a reflection of Ecclesiastes 1:9, “…there is nothing new under the sun.” It’s all been said before. The only truly original One is God himself.

So when I heard Alistair Begg’s message on Mary’s song, and his title, I decided to grab his bullet. Mary’s witness here is that God is mindful, mighty, and merciful. What a delightfully-powerful combination that is! He is not just aware of our needs. He is not merely powerful. His heart is not only open to us in our time of pain. His mindfulness is not impotent. His power is not ruthless. His mercy is not amorphous. Or put more positively: His mercy is connected to his awareness of our true needs. His mindfulness leverages an immense storehouse of power. And his power is directed thoughtfully. 

Diane and I are working on mindfulness. Being fully present with each other. Not being distracted with screens or other diversions. I’m reminded of Elijah’s taunt of the prophets of Baal: And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened” (1 Kings 18:27). Idols are mute. They serve only to distract us. They can offer no real benefit. They provide only what we invest in them. 

God is no idol. He is keenly aware of our needs. He knows our frame (Psalm 103). Not one sparrow falls to the earth apart from his knowledge (Matthew 10:29). God knows our needs even before we ask of him in prayer (Matthew 6:8). Even before we speak he knows our thoughts (Psalm 139:4). God takes notice of the humble (v. 48). God knows and cares about all his creatures. He is present with us. God is mindful.

“God is not a wimp.” Bruce said that to me years ago and I’ve never forgotten it. And sometimes we try to resolve an inexplicable mystery and paradox: God is all-powerful. God is loving and good. Yet evil exists and intrudes into our world and lives. How do these three go together? Such a question leads us away from God toward doubt. Better we should ask, “What does God do about evil?” (Check out Michael Ziegler’s excellent message about this on The Lutheran Hour podcast.) This is a profound mystery: God dealt with evil by laying aside his power, taking the form of a servant and becoming obedient to the point of death. And in that powerlessness evil was defeated! That is a paradox beyond comprehension.

God’s heart is also tender to us. He is not just present and powerful. He allows himself to feel our pain – and in no trite manner. His mercy is to those in need, for which we can all say thanks be to God. In fact, we can sing…

My soul proclaims your greatness, O God, and my spirit rejoices in you,
You have looked with love on your servant here, and blessed me all my life through.
Great and might are you, O Holy One, strong is your kindness evermore.
How you favor the weak and lowly one, humbling the proud of heart.

You have cast the mighty down from their thrones, and uplifted the humble of heart,
you have filled the hungry with wonderous things, and left the wealthy no part.
Great and mighty are you, O Faithful One, strong is your justice, strong your love,
As you promised to Sarah and Abraham, kindness forevermore.

My soul proclaims your greatness, O God, and my spirit rejoices in you,
You have looked with love on your servant here, and blessed me all my life through. – Holden Evening Prayer

 

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