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Read Luke 1:39-56

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

 56 And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.

Luke 1:46-56

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Tightly-cropped image of a Christmas ornament | November 2017

In a quick internet search of the phrase, “hours and hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror,” I discovered that it was applied to everything from wartime to poker, and aviation to stock market investing. I’m not certain we can all identify with such radical pendulum swings in life. But following Mary’s encounter with the angel and her visit with Elizabeth, Luke tells us that Mary went back home.

This reminds me of a quote in Martin Luther’s Christmas Book. He says of Mary,

“See how purely she leaves all to God, and claims for herself no works, honor, or reputation. She behaves just as she did before any of this was hers–seeks no great honor, is not puffed up, vaunts not herself, calls out to no one that she is the mother of God, but goes into the house and acts just as before–milks cows, cooks, scrubs the kettles, and sweeps the house like any housemaid or housemother in the most menial tasks, as if none of these overwhelming gifts and graces where hers. Among the other women and neighbors she was esteemed no more highly than before and did not ask to be. She was still a poor townswoman among the lowliest. What a simple pure heart was hers! What an amazing person she was! What mightiness was hidden below her lowliness! (The Martin Luther Christmas Book, translated and arranged by Roland Bainton, p. 29-30)

Our embrace of God’s gift of eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ for some is a remarkable and life-changing moment – a dramatic conversion to faith. For many, however, our faith was a gift the beginning of which we cannot recall. Whether through baptism as an infant, or through being raised in the culture and climate of a Christian family, faith is God’s gift that can easily lie dormant until tested. It might well be that we experience years of life with little challenge or testing of our faith. In those times, it is good for us simply to go about our daily calling: doing the next thing, carrying out our vocation as teacher, mother, employee, laborer, engineer, father, or manager.

There will come a time for Mary to be tested; more than one time really. She will have to travel to Bethlehem while she is “great with child,” and deliver her son in a stable and lay him in a feed trough. She will worry about her son’s wellbeing and even perhaps his sanity (cf. Mark 3:31-34). She will see him die.

Perhaps Mary will have more moments of pure terror than most people. But as she waits, she simply waits. She realizes that she is the Lord’s servant. And that is enough. That’s a thought I will bear in mind today. How about you?

Read Luke 1:39-56

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

 56 And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.

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German Nativity Decoration – Another View | November 2017

If you remember the TV show Quincy, you might recall that every episode involved a plot that unfolded in the following manner:

  • A hint at a problem would be revealed; which would give way to
  • The real problem – much more serious, challenging, and compelling; then would follow
  • A clue! The case begins to come together in spite of the challenges of the real problem. Then would come
  • The solution: the case was solved; whereupon
  • Everyone would go to the local bar and have a drink in celebration of the case being closed.

It was like clockwork – or better yet – like the classical plot of many tales and stories. It can be outlined as Opps! Ugh! Aha! Whee! Yeah. So says Eugene Lowry, homiletics professor whose book The Homiletical Plot offers that outline – complete with a graphic:

Mary’s story has a similar plot but a significantly-different “Yeah!” She will not head to the local pub for a drink once the mystery is solved (the mystery being how a virgin will conceive and bear a son: she will have a baby because the Holy Spirit will come over her, conceiving the Son of God). Rather she goes to visit her cousin and once there sings a song of praise to God.

This is a song of deep gratitude to God, expressing the right-siding of all the upside-down things of the world. The strong and mighty who have put down the poor and needy will be brought low and the hungry and humble will be lifted up. Those who do not presume to tell us how the world really works will discover that not only were they justified in letting God run the universe, but those who claimed that they had all the answers had no answer at all. They will have no words to say when confronted by God (cf. Romans 3:19).

All glory goes to God. All honor is his alone. People will recognize Mary’s favor as the blessing from God that it is. Those who would judge her will discover that they have no foot to stand on. Those who wait for God’s deliverance will find peace. Thanks be to God!

 

Read Luke 1:39-56

And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49     for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”

56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

– Luke 1:46-56

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Stars atop our German Nativity | December 2017

I’m reading an historical novel by Ken Follett about the years after the Protestant Reformation, and the death of Martin Luther. It includes episodes of the radical reformation and the Spanish Inquisition. Follett manages to paint certain characters is a sufficiently evil light to cause me to hope for their demise. I yearn to turn the page to learn how an evil, scheming, and manipulative character gets the rug pulled out from under him. I so want him to get his comeuppance!

Once in a few pages one of the bad characters gets perilously close to receiving his due, only to see evil continue, and wiggle out of the clutches of justice. It’s clear that the day of reckoning will come – at least I hope so – but it is slow in coming.

Mary is seeing that day approach in bold relief and expresses as much in her wonderful song of praise to God. He is the One who will bring down the mighty from their thrones. He is the One who exalts those of low degree. He is the One who has brought down rulers and lifted up the humble. He has regarded the low estate of his servant Mary. Justice is coming to her aid. She who trusted God’s word, who was willing to say, “I am the Lord’s handmaid. Be it to me as you have said,” is filled with joy, hope and praise.

Sometimes we may yearn for justice to suit our own personal goals and sensibilities. Sometimes our justice-seeking is myopic and self-serving. God has a way to deal with that as he calls his people to live in a state of constant humility, repentance, and faith. But when we see evil triumphing, and ruthless power-mongers leaving behind the scorched earth of injustice and tyranny, cruelty and corruption, it is good to know that God will one day bring down the mighty and exalt the humble.

As we await that day, it is good for us to sit with Mary, as the Lord’s servant, letting his will be done in and through us, leaving the comeuppance to God, and rejoicing in God’s even better gift of grace, life, and salvation.

Read Luke 1:39-56

And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49     for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name. – Luke 1:46-49

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I have a file folder in my desk drawer called “KEEPERS”. It is a collection of cards, letters, notes, and emails I have received over the years of my ministry which have offered words of encouragement, thanks, appreciation, and blessing. I don’t often take it out to read those notes. In fact, I most often end up reading some of those notes  when someone sends me a KEEPER. It seems to be a good occasion to recall that God has moved people to express love and encouragement to me when I file away another KEEPER.

It is interesting to me, however, that Mary uses the occasion of God’s blessing to her as an opportunity to offer praise to God, and to express the glory of God, and his grace toward those who are humble.

I’m not inclined toward hubris – at least not in a manner of which I am aware. But any time we look toward ourselves as worthy of praise, or the source of success we walk dangerously close to the line of self-sufficiency. Mary shows us a better way: she magnifies the Lord.

Magnifying the Lord is a matter of putting him in the place of prominence in our field of vision. We cannot make God any bigger than he already is. We cannot make him more powerful or holy than he already is. But we can get so close to him that he blocks out the voices of those who might thwart God’s plans, steal our joy, or destroy our faith.

Those who are truly humble will not seek to take God’s spotlight. They will give God the glory. They will recognize that his work is the only good work that truly matters. They will recognize God’s blessings to them. They may even acknowledge that God has turned the spotlight on them (“…all generations will call me blessed”). But they will seek always to honor God and live under the lasting awareness of his far-reaching grace and love.

Sometimes a KEEPER will reference how I brought the person closer to Christ, or how the love of God became more clear to them through my teaching. That is a high privilege and great honor. I hope to embrace the attitude of Mary in such cases and point people to the true giver of every good and perfect gift: the Mighty One who has done great things, and whose name alone is holy: my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He is the true KEEPER!

Read Luke 1:39-56

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah,40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” – Luke 1:39-45

Interior of the Basilica of St. Peter and Paul at Vyšehrad fortress

Interior of the Basilica of St. Peter and Paul at Vyšehrad fortress | Prague, Czech Republic | August 2017

There are a number of blessings that Mary experiences in these few verses. She has a cousin who is experiencing the favor and miraculous blessing of God. Elizabeth – well past the age of childbearing – is pregnant. She is expecting John the Baptizer who will be there forerunner of the Messiah. Mary is carrying the Messiah in her womb. She is now able to spend time with her cousin; reflecting no doubt on God’s promises and faithfulness. She is given the additional blessing of Elizabeth’s blessing and witness, that at the sound of Mary’s voice “the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”

Then comes the pièce de résistance. Elizabeth speaks to Mary, revealing a blessing that not only Mary can experience; but one any believer can experience. She offers this blessing: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” We who believe Jesus’ promise and word have this same blessing.

This does not mean that our faith causes anything to happen. That’s not what biblical faith does. Faith is not some sort of sanctified Star Wars-style “Force” at work in our lives. Faith receives that which God promises and which, therefore, already exists. God does not promise anything in vain. When God speaks, things happen. That’s how the whole world was created: God spoke. It came to be. It was good. God promises. The gift is given. We receive the gift by faith. Faith does not put the gift within our reach; faith finds the gift within our reach.

Blessed is she or he who believes what God has spoken. Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given you. Seek and you will find. Knock and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). “The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy,” says Jesus. “I came that you may have life in abundance” (John 10:10). “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” (Romans 10:17). There are other promises of God that faith will embrace. Blessed are we whenever we do.

Read Luke 1:26-38

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

35 And the angel answered 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 called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. – Luke 1:34-38

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Born in a Manger Triptych | December 2017

Perhaps you have experienced a struggle similar to that which I and other sincere and dedicated Christians have encountered. You are asking for God’s favor, praying for relief from pain, yearning for a breakthrough in your marriage or seeking an emotional peace that only God can give. You know that God is able to do abundantly more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power at work within us (cf. Ephesians 3:20-21). But the heavens are silent. The illness continues. The marriage relationship is stuck in the stale dust of barren lovelessness. Anxiety reigns; there is no peace.

Mary’s question, “How will this be?” is replaced in the end by, “I am the Lord’s servant.” The assurance that, nothing will be impossible with God,” is a reminder by the angel of the power of God. Somehow, though, Mary’s conviction and confession is born of God’s word and specific promise. I suspect that Mary knew that God could do anything; nothing is impossible for him. 

Mary’s understanding of God’s power was becoming an experience of God’s work in her life. This is no longer theory: she is the subject of God’s work. He is at work in her and through her.

We may have urgent desires, fervent prayers, and dire needs that we present before God. The answer of God to his people will ultimately come for their good. As we wait for that answer it is well that we echo Mary’s confession, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” In that confession and and faithful conviction God’s power moves from theory to reality. 

Read Luke 1:26-38

And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 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 father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” – Luke 1:31-33

There is a beautiful Christmas version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” released in 2013 or 2014 by Kansas-based band Cloverton. You might be surprised to learn that there is at least some controversy about the Christmas version of the song. It was even removed from Youtube for a while, but is back on now. After reading the lyrics – in anticipation of singing it on Christmas Day at St. John – I decided to write an additional verse referencing Jesus’ resurrection and eternal reign. Listen to the song and then consider this additional verse. I hope you like it.

And so You died; laid in the grave
But on the third day You rose to save
And gave us life eternal – hallelujah!
And now we sing and praise Your name
Exalted Lord, Jesus You reign
Forever in our hearts we sing hallelujah!
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

© 2017 David Bahn. ARR.