Thursday, December 16, 2010

Have Yourself a Lowly Little Christmass

+ Wednesday of the 3rd week of Advent +
Text: 1 Samuel 2:1-10; Luke 1:46-55
Theme: Lowliness and Exaltation

In the Name of Jesus + Amen.

In the wilderness John points us to Christ through repentance and forgiveness.  On the mountain, the Lord’s promise to Moses is fulfilled by the Son of God called out of Egypt to lead His people into a new Eden.  Tonight, in the hallowed lowliness of Scripture’s liturgy, Mary sings of the Lord who humbles and exalts.  Bonhoeffer calls the Magnificat the oldest Advent hymn. 
But there’s nothing original about Mary’s song.  She samples the work of Hannah awaiting the birth of Samuel; she echoes Miriam and Deborah praising the Lord’s victory over the Egyptians and Canaanites.  Her heart is the recording studio for the Holy Spirit, and her mouth is our Lord’s phonograph; O Lord, open my lips and my mouth will declare a divine cover song of His handiwork.   
In this way Bonhoeffer is right.  You see, Mary is greater than Hannah, promised gift of God though Samuel was.  Out of the flesh and bone of Mary God takes on human flesh and bone.  She is rightly called Mother of God.  From her womb came forth a priestly gift to the nations; a sacrificial lamb, whose final victory releases us from enslavement to the Pharaoh of hell and puts an end to eternal Canaanite occupation.
So, Mary doesn’t just sing, she chants.  She rejoices in God her Savior even as her Savior rejoices in dwelling in her womb.  This is what the angel foretold:  “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you and the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God.” 
In this lowly holy way, Mary is most blessed among women.  Perhaps not by worldly appearances.  She is not Hallmark card Mary– aged and wise, piously dressed in blue – but 14-15 year old, unwed, stump of David’s royal family tree, holy and blessed Mary.  The fact that she is pregnant with God, by God only adds to her lowliness.  And yet there, “In her own body she is experiencing the wonderfully holy ways of God with mankind: that God does not arrange matters to suit our opinions or our views; He does not follow the rules we like to prescribe for Him.” (Bonhoeffer, DBW 13:343).

Mary’s song sounds so glorious and triumphant; it’s biblical class warfare – the rich made poor, the fat and satisfied go away hungry, the powerful brought to ruin – that is until you find out she’s singing about a weak little baby God-man, Jesus. 
Jesus is born the same way you were.  God puts Himself in a box – or better yet – God puts Himself in a womb.  Behind the veil of Mary’s flesh, the fullness of the infinite God and the fullness of finite man all in one divinely fertilized ovum.    Begotten of the Father before all words and born of Mary in Bethlehem.  Perfect God and perfect zygote – true God and yet true human embryo.  Think about that next time you look at a baby.  God takes everything human – body and soul, eyes, ears and all our members – and pulls it into God, not by the conversion of the God-head into flesh, but by the assumption – the taking on – of the humanity into God (as we confess in the Athanasian Creed). 
So, contrary to the hymn, little baby Jesus did cry.  God cried.  God dirtied His diapers.  God learned His ABC’s; God walked and talked and ate; God played in the wood shavings of Joseph’s workshop.  God suffered for you.  God bled for you.  God died for you. 
Truly, the dwelling place of God is with man.  Not in a temple built by human hands, but in a new, fleshly Holy of Holies where a new and greater Temple is woven and knit by the Lord and Giver of Life. 

“And this,” says Bonhoeffer, “is the miracle of all miracles, that God loves the lowly.”  The Lord of heaven and earth loves us enough to come into the midst of our frail, weak and humble lowliness to take on human form and suffer in utter foolish weakness for us; to save us from our captivity and death.  What revolutionary reversal - the Creator of the stars of night wraps Himself in the stuff of His own creation.  In His weakness we are exalted.  Through His lowliness we are made holy.  And when God calls a thing holy; He really means it.
So, do not think that this is beneath God to work this way.  “God is not ashamed of human lowliness  [quite the opposite in fact] …He goes right into the middle of it chooses someone as instrument, and performs the miracles right where they least expected it” (Bonhoeffer, DBW 13:344).  God does not work in mysterious ways; He works in hidden, seemingly weak and foolish ways.

And if God does not work this way – if God did not come in the flesh, if Mary is not His mother - then you are still in need of a Savior to be your perfect substitute.  That is why Mary sings.  She knows better than anyone else what it means to wait for Christ’s coming.

That’s why the question of Advent is not: will you prepare?  Will you repent?  Will you wait patiently?  Will you bend the knee at the crib of your Savior?  Either way we stand condemned – if you say, “no,” you have rejected Him.  If you say, “yes” you are a hypocrite.  You can’t play reindeer games with the Law.  God’s Law will not give you a Merry Christmas no matter how you spell it.  Christ comes to scatter the proud and humble those who have exalted themselves; He comes to kill those who are comfortable in their sin and to make alive those who have been terrified by the Law.  For the throne of God in this world is not found in the thrones of mankind but in humanity’s deepest abyss, the manger and the cross. 

These are the two places in this world where the courage of the great and powerful fails.  “For no one who holds power dares come near the manger; King Herod would not.  For here thrones begin to sway, the powerful fall prostrate in fear for God is there with the lowly.” (Bonhoeffer, DBW 13:345) 
God in the midst of lowliness – that is the joyous Word of Advent.  It begins with Mary, a poor soon to be carpenter’s wife – and it ends…with the lowliness of her Son on the cross. 
There, the judge of all creation becomes the substitute for all mankind. He is the Mighty One with power not only to perform miracles, not only for vengeance and justice, but also with power to stop Hell's claim, to stand in the gap, to stick His foot in the door that Satan seeks to slam shut on us, that we might all escape, even if it kills Him.
But He wields that power in the most unexpected and unusual of ways: in weakness, sorrow, suffering, and death. He will not bend for Hell. He will not go away and be God someplace else and abandon us in our selfish desires, what we lusted for, what we deserve.
God will have none of that.  He comes to do great things for you who have done nothing but great things against Him. The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.  Where Christ hangs in foolish shame and the weakness of guilt – there is your exaltation, there is your promised Savior. 

Still He comes to exalt us in the lowly waters of Baptism – where the Holy Spirit overshadows you in water and Word.  He comes with His body and blood to fill the hungry with Himself.  He comes with strength in His arms to lift His absolution and benediction from the weak mouths of His shepherds.  He comes to you - just as He spoke to Abraham and to Hannah and Mary – in lowliness and exalts you, on Christmass and from generation to generation.

No wonder Mary sings.  Yet Mary is no soloist.  In Advent, we join her in lowly, jubilant chorus:  “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God with us – gloriously, as a baby in a manger and a body on the cross.  Indeed, the Mighty One has done great things for you.

In the Name of Jesus + Amen.

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