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The Hope of Mary

December 6, 2020 Speaker: Daniel Nelms

Passage: Luke 1:26–1:56

Luke 1:26–56

[26] In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, [27] to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. [28] And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” [29] But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. [30] 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.”[34] 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.

[39] 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.”

[46] 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. (ESV)

 

          This morning, like the good Protestants we are, we are going to talk about Mary.  I’ve never preached a sermon on Mary. I’ve never really talked much about Mary from the pulpit.  I think that as a guy who has been taught in Evangelical and Protestant circles, probably out of a reaction against the high veneration of Mary in the Catholic Church, I never quite knew what to do with Mary, and never thought to talk about her much, but almost out of instinct, to talk her down a bit.  “OK, all those statues are too much, look, she was just another woman who had faith that God used like anyone else.”
          Ultimately that is true, she was a fallen human being like anyone else.  Yet from time to time by the grace of God, extraordinary people are given extraordinary faith, and that is the case for Mary.  Mary has qualities that are pretty much unshared by anyone else in Scripture.  In fact, after this sermon, you will probably never see Mary the same again.  Let’s dive in:

Beginning in verse 26, we see that, when Elizabeth entered the six month of her quiet and hidden miraculous pregnancy of John the Baptist, that Gabriel made an appearance to a young unmarried women in Nazareth.  Nazareth was a town in the northern Galilee region of Israel,  rural and unknown little town of somewhere between 500 and 2,000 people in this time. In the first century, a “young unmarried woman” was probably around 13-14 years old.  So far, all of this is quite ordinary.

Mary’s fiancée was of the house of David, and his name was Joseph.  This was important to note, as the royal lineage was crucial for Jesus to have, and in this case, it would be through the legal adoption through his father Joseph.  And as Gabriel appears to Mary, he says “Hello!  Greetings, O Favored one, the Lord is with you!”  This can be translated as something like “Hello, one who is about to receive grace from God, the Lord’s with you!”

Now, like Zechariah was, she was troubled upon hearing this from the Angel.  Yet, as is usually the case, Mary is said to try and discern what the angel said, and why he said it.  At 13 years old, she’s a thinker, not a shallow girl.  And as she is considering what was said, the angel continues in verse 30,

“Don’t be afraid!  You have found favor with God.  Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  And the Lord God will give him the throne of his Father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Do not read quickly over those words.  Powerful words coming from an angel.  And she would be the mother of this child, the child spoken of for centuries by the prophets, the long-awaited Messiah would finally arrive.  And a 13-year-old unmarried virgin girl would be the mother.  Try and imagine yourself at 13, and imagine how you would have responded to such news through an angelic visitation.

Mary thus responds, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”  And she’s told that conception will be brought about by the Holy Spirit, and that she is not alone in a miraculous birth as her relative Elizabeth is pregnant too – “For nothing is impossible with God.”

Of course, and I want to be clear, as we look closely at Mary this morning, knowing what the remainder of the New Testament teaches, our faith that we have is ultimately a gift from God, says Ephesians 2, it is a grace and in the remainder of our life is a cooperative work between us and the Spirit of God.  The admirable things we find in Mary is from the grace of God, yet still we must recognize that she is still a remarkable individual.  Her response to Gabriel?  Unlike Zechariah, who was slapped with muteness for his doubt, Mary responds, “Let it be according to your word!”  There is an eagerness implied here.  This isn’t a soft spoken, “OK Mr Angel, sounds good, whatever you say.”  The Greek implies strength in her response, and even excitement.  This is a “GREAT!  I love it!  When do we start?  Let’s go!”

Mary’s response was to immediately run to her relative Elizabeth.  It seems to be a grace that Gabriel told her about Elizabeth, as Elizabeth’s pregnancy served as a sign for her coming pregnancy.  We can also assume that she probably wanted to see with her own eyes the miraculous work of God, the work in Elizabeth’s life that would soon be coming to her own.  She wanted to see God’s work, sit with someone who was experiencing the work of God in their life. 

          Elizabeth, now six months pregnant and showing, feels the baby leap.  And instantly, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaims: “Blessed/Happy are you among women!  Blessed/happy is the fruit of your womb!  Why is it granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  Filled with the Spirit, Elizabeth was able to instantly know exactly who was in Mary’s womb.  And Elizabeth adds, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (1.45).  Remember that her husband, Zechariah, had his own encounter with Gabriel, and unlike Mary, did not respond with quite the faith or enthusiasm that she had, and was still mute because of it.  One wonders if Zechariah was walking by, for her to say a little loudly, “Mary, you’re blessed that you actually believed the angel, unlike some people… it’s a pleasure talking with you Mary, wanna talk Zechariah?  Oh yea, you can’t, but Mary can…”

And here we land at Mary’s Magnificat, a latin word simply meaning “Magnify the Lord.”  What we find here is a prophetic vision, a very bold vision, concerning the coming Lord in her womb, concerning his future, and also concerning his Kingdom and what kind of Kingdom that was to come.

Again, try to scratch away what preconceived notions you have of Mary, and remember:  this is a 13 or 14 year old girl we’re talking about.  Here is where we see the hopes of Mary expressed, and beautifully expressed, and her hopes will have the effect of properly guiding ours as we look to Jesus all over again this Advent season.

First, she starts where all praise should – on the glory of the Lord.  It’s all about him, all about God, and she says, “My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in him.”  Now just with that first line, I see a Mary full of smiles, just ecstatic to see her relative Elizabeth pregnant, and knowing what is coming with her own pregnancy, says “oh if the depths of my soul could magnify the glory of the Lord for all to see!  I rejoice in him!  You’ve looked on me, such an unimportant person of no means.  All generations are going to call me blessed and happy!”
          Now why would all generations call her blessed and happy?  Remember that if it were not for the intervention of God in her life and her special choosing to carry this baby, Mary would have never been remembered in history.  Young unmarried teenagers were common. Yes, maybe she would have really had a heart to love God, and really have a devoted life to him, but yet again, this could have been said of many other teenagers as well.

The only reason why we’re talking about her this morning is because “he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is the name.”  Friends, if there is anything to boast in, it is of God and his work in our life.  If there is anything to take pride in, it is that Jesus loves you and has given you great grace, and even you, the insignificant you, the God of this universe has a love for you, he even has given thoughts towards you, and even moreso, has a plan for your life and wants to use you in his grand mission to grow and extend his Kingdom and his love in this earth.  But those plans are not ultimately about you, but about Him.  And like we see in this passage, we are most blessed and most happy when he receives all the glory in our life, and not ourselves.  We rejoice when God receives all the glory, and not us.  This is what I like to call “God-Centered Theology,” as opposed to “Me-Centered Theology.”  To be a Christian is to lose your life, and to gain the life in God.  God does not serve us, rather, we serve him.  We do not use God to do things for us, rather, he uses us to do things for him.  This is what we find in Mary’s life, and it is this grace in her life that makes her so extraordinary.

Now Mary tells exactly what kind of Kingdom is coming that will have no end.  What is this new rule and reign of God going to look like?  We must remind ourselves of where she is living and what time period this is:  this is the Roman Empire, this is first century Judea beneath Herod the Great, the Tyrant in whom it was said “It is better to be Herod’s pig than his son,” since, being Jewish, he did not eat pork, but gladly would kill family if they attempted to threaten his political and governing power.

If you were powerful, you were also commonly wealthy, and most wealth in those days was mostly attainable through ill-gotten means.  Unlike today, the rich in Mary’s day were mostly an oppressive class of people, and even were expected to take advantage of the poor and weak to continue their gain.  This was the Rome she lived in, and this was what was expected in the Roman Empire, yet this new Kingdom that was coming and the people in this Kingdom beneath this coming King would be quite different, and God’s agenda and plan one that would challenge this Roman status quo and even turn it upon its own head:

“He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”

Now again, we can envision a smiling, joyful, happy but confident Mary, saying these things out loud for all to hear.  And she was probably greeted by a bunch of “shhh”’s.  You do not challenge Rome, Mary. Rome enjoys nailing people to crosses in public display to show us what happens when we challenge their authority.  Quite boldness for a 13 year old girl.

Yet God in his ultimate judgment on this world will overthrow all powers and rulers and authorities that rule with oppression, with pride, with arrogance.  Those who think they are mighty he will cast down.  Yet those who are humble, he will lift up and exalt.  The common theme here is that those in such places with such authority easily forget that they do not need God.  Yet if one is to be favored and exalted by God, seek humility.  You can sit on a throne and still be humble – the key is having yourself and God in the correct order.  Ultimately God is ruling, his coming Son will be King, and he seeks to humble humanity, to remind us that anything we are given in this life, whether riches or positions of influence or even an ordinary life, is from him, a higher authority than yourself.  This is a rightly ordered humanity, knowing our place before God.  Mary continues,

1:53 – “He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”  Mary is announcing this coming Kingdom as a place where the hungry will no longer be hungry.  Innumerable times in the Old Testament, the prophets looked towards a community of people where God is ruling and reigning, where the poor are cancelled out, where there is no one hungry, and no one oppressed, with some having more than others, some flourishing while others suffer.  In God’s Kingdom, the oppression of the powerful against the poor will be removed, and judgment will even come on them.  She is imaging a Kingdom of justice, and this will be the very strength of this Kingdom.  No swords here, no war here.  But rather hot meals for the hungry.  These are not ideals from Mary, wishful thinking from a 13-year old girl.  She is dreaming in Old Testament verse, she is collecting together much of what God has been teaching for centuries, and saying “it’s going to come!  It is coming!  A Kingdom where humanity will finally be rightly ordered before him.”

She closes her song, 1:54 – “he has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”  He is going to come and remember all of what he has spoken to the fathers of Israel.  Here Mary is reflecting on all the biblical history that has led up to this point.  Perhaps Mary is really allowing herself to feel the weightiness of what has come upon her.  Of all people in all of history who has lived, she, by the sheer grace and mercy of God, has been elected to carry the Son of God in her womb.  This is something graced to her, given to her as an act of God, and she thinks of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses and Joshua, Gideon and David, Hezekiah and Isaiah, Daniel and so many others who longed for this coming day, even if they did not quite understand the new ways in which God was going to work in this world.  Mary sees Elizabeth, knows the work that is happening even in her own womb, and she says, “it’s happening.  It’s coming true.  God’s word to Israel is finally coming true.”  The Good News is coming, and this song known as the Magnificat is Mary’s hope, expressed, and we can call it the Gospel. 

Luke is setting the reader up very early in his Gospel to see and to catch the big picture of what God was up to.  The Good News, according to Mary, was God giving grace to the humble, working mightily through ordinary people, a God who was going to install a Kingdom that would subvert worldly authorities by the strength of his arm – and this strength would be by not matching it with equal worldly strength, but by exalting the weak in this world over and against the powerful.  This God of the universe has on his mind the hungry who needs food, and he has in mind judging the arrogant who think they can live as if they do not need him.  In the Gospel according to Mary, it is in this way God will fulfill his covenant and promises given to Abraham and his children – her, and Elizabeth, and the rest of Israel.  Jesus was coming to flip the script. 

And I want to trace all of what we know of Mary, including her last mention, in the Scriptures.  Journey with me past the resurrection of Jesus, or when Mary was observed at the foot of the cross, to the day of Pentecost, the last time we hear anything about Mary:

Acts 1:12–14

[12] Then they [the disciples] returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. [13] And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. [14] All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. (ESV)

It was in this room that the Holy Spirit fell, it is in this room that Peter walked out of and preached on the morning of Pentecost and saw thousands become Christians, and Mary was sitting among the first 120 to receive the Holy Spirit.  She also was among the early church, in which it was said,

Acts 2:42–47

[42] And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. [43] And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. [44] And all who believed were together and had all things in common. [45] And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. [46] And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, [47] praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (ESV)

Mary’s song was shown to find the beginning of its fulfillment.  A group of people beneath the new Kingship of Jesus Christ, these new Christians, were living in just the manner in which Mary had foreseen.  God’s mercy was lavished upon these early Christians, he had granted humility to them, and there was not a hungry or needy person among them. 

This is a glimpse of how the world should have been, and how it will be.  The Church is to be a glimpse of this now, and yes, all throughout history, we’ve screwed this up time and time again.  Yet the extraordinary words from this 13 year old girl direct us today to embrace this manner of living.  And this pandemic presents for us this opportunity.  Not an opportunity to wield political swords to free ourselves from restrictions, rather to serve and love those around us, caring for them, loving them, knowing that God desires and wants to lavish his grace on the needy around us, which right now, in many ways, is all of us. 

I’ll close with words from Pastor Grimke.  In Washington DC, on Sunday November 2, 1918, he delivered a sermon entitled “Some reflections, growing out of the recent epidemic of influenza that effected our city” at Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church.  All of the churches in DC had been closed for many weeks due to the Spanish flue, and they just opened up again, and this was his first sermon since.  This is what he had to say:

God knows what he is doing. His work is not going to suffer. It will rather be a help to it in the end. Out of it, I believe, great good is coming. All the churches, as well as the community at large, are going to be the stronger and better for this season of distress through which we have been passing.”

The only way we will be stronger as a church is if we embrace humble ways of God as shown in this Advent season, if we embrace the kind of Kingdom that Mary hoped for – the kind the early church lived out.  The incarnation of Jesus and the manger is all the proof we need concerning the way in which we are to also work in this world.  We participate in the Good News of Jesus by joining Jesus in the kind of work he did while he was here. Here are a few practical ways in which I believe this work of God, being brought about through US, can be lived in this Advent season:

1) Pursue Humility.  Think of the manger next time you imagine yourself to be a big deal.  God brought about his SON and the redemption of the world through a young, very poor teenage girl, and also was born in a barn and laid down in a feeding trough. 

 

2) A word to teenagers:  if God used a 13 year old girl to bring about the saving of the world, I encourage you: be open to Jesus using you, pray that prayer, “Spirit, I’m open to you using me.”  Apparently God does not discriminate against using teenagers for very important work.  Young people, are you open to God using you right now?

 

3)  Christmas full of kind, simple, ordinary loving acts for neighbors and friends.  Christmas cards, baking bread, learning their names, getting to know them, praying for them, if we all did this, imagine how many hundreds of people who receive an ordinary act of kindness in the name of Jesus. 

 

 Lastly, meet one another’s needs.  Care for one another, pray for one another, in this way we can give good things as Jesus did.