Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Second Midweek Advent Sermon: "Seven Great Works of God"

+ Advent Midweek 2 – December 12th, 2012 +

The Magnificat: 1 Samuel 2:1-10; Luke 1:46-56

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

            You may not be able to judge a book by its cover. But you can sure tell a lot about a book by its title. Now, if Mary was a book, we’d most likely pass her by on the shelf at Barnes & Noble.           
             It didn’t seem like Mary had a whole lot going for her at all, a poor country girl from Nazareth in the boonies of Galilee, unwed and pregnant and the child wasn’t Joseph’s, her fiancé. And yet she had this going for her, the Lord looked on her with favor. Her glory is found neither in her humility nor her pride, neither in her worthiness nor her unworthiness, but solely in the Lord’s mercy. God has regarded me. And that is why she sings.
            Mary isn’t just another book on the shelf, but a hymnal replete with God’s Word set to music – yet another handmaiden of the gospel. She too is a vehicle, carrying the Divine Word upon her lips. She sings. She praises. She rejoices. She magnifies the Lord.

            That’s tonight’s song of Advent: the Magnificat. Like the Benedictus last week, its title comes from the first word of the canticle in Latin: Magnificat. My soul magnifies the Lord. With that little word, “magnifies,” Mary gives us a divine music lesson on the great works of God; for she sang it not for herself alone, but for us to sing after her.
            Think of Mary’s song like a seven verse hymn, each proclaiming the great works of God (although there certainly could be more!). [1]

Verse 1His mercy is on those who fear Him, from generation to generation.

            Mercy – let alone God’s mercy - is an unknown song to the world’s ears; it’s laughable and hated by the devil, the world and our own sinful nature. To receive mercy is to admit defeat – that we’re powerless and incapable of saving ourselves. “Oh, poor thing,” we’re tempted to say, “so weak and foolish; what a pity…you know, God only helps those who helps themselves.”
            But God’s mercy isn’t found in your restless work for God, but in Christ’s restless mercy for you. Where man’s strength ends, Christ’s begins. God’s mercy isn’t bound by our definition of mercy; he’s not a tame God. His mercy is wild and free and he seeks out the poor and downcast. God hides his great strength and mercy in the weakness and foolishness of His suffering Son, on the cross. Jesus is mocked, jeered, hated by the world, and clothed in all the un-mercy of man. Jesus receives no mercy to ensure His mercy rests upon you from generation to generation.

Verse 2 He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

            In the Scriptures God’s arm is his power. Might. Strength. God’s power and might are evident in creation and the shape of history, those secret works known only to hindsight and fulfillment. But we dare not search the invisible, naked power of God; it will only bring terror and despair. The world seeks after such hidden power. But such worldly wisdom is scattered as Christ stretches out his arms from the manger to the cross. For He replaces our selfish pride with joyful boasting in his self-sacrifice for our salvation.
            For just like God’s mercy, God’s power and majesty are found in the exact opposite of what we would expect.  For when Christ was powerless on the cross, there He performed His mightiest work for you, conquering sin, death, world, hell, devil, and all evil.

Verses 3 and 4He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and has exalted the lowly.
            God is a God of great reversal. Luther says, “He breaks what is whole and makes whole what is broken.”
            He’s done it before; He brought down Pharaoh and lifted up broken Israel. God pulls one earthly kingdom down and raises another to serve His Kingdom which has no end.
            For the heart has room enough for one King. And so, Christ leads a cosmic coup against the prince of this world.  Satan’s reign of deception is over. Sin’s oppression is halted and death’s tyranny is ended. Christ’s death on the cross delivered a crushing blow to our enemies. And Holy Baptism is your regime change. Christ dethrones our old and man makes you a throne room fit for the Holy Spirit.
            Mary’s song reveals that the throne of God is now set “in humanity’s deepest abyss, in the manger” (DBW 13:345). Here’s the greatest reversal of all: Christ comes as a lowly King for lowly sinners. Christ is pulled from his heavenly throne to suffer torture and hell, sin and death for you. Christ is crowned with thorns and you receive the crown of life. Christ is brought low. You are exalted. Christ dies your death and you receive his life. Jesus is your King and kingdom. And of the peace of his government there will be no end. From heaven above to earth the King comes in his flesh, enthroned in bread and wine, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.

Verses 5 and 6He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.
            There’s a reason the Scriptures talk so much about food and riches and the lurking danger of earthly possessions. It’s not because Jesus was against earthly possessions – after all, they are His gifts. But Jesus knows that man is an expert idol craftsman. Mary’s words foreshadow her Son’s: “You cannot serve God and mammon.”
            And though we have failed to fear, love and trust in God above all things, His Son, Jesus, hasn’t. He loves. Fears and trusts God for you. You are his greatest treasure. He stopped at nothing to possess you for his own forever. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:8).
            God gives of his abundance to we who lack everything. “Open your mouth wide and I will fill it,” says the Lord (Ps 81:10), “fill it with good things: Daily bread…and the daily bread of My flesh and blood.”

Verse 7
            Mary concludes the Magnificat by praising the very greatest of all God’s works – the incarnation of the Son of God: God’s mercy en-fleshed; the Holy one in human form; the mighty arm of God twitches with infant exuberance. The King of heaven enthrones himself as flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. Emmanuel – God with us. God for us. God who is one of us.
            Upon a manger filled with hay
            In poverty, content He lay
            With milk was fed the Lord of all
            Who feeds the ravens when they call.  TLH 104:5

            So it had to be. Nothing less than true God and true man would do. If Mary gave birth to someone less than God, then more is needed. Jesus becomes like us in all things and remains like His Father in all things, that in all things he might redeem us. Christ is your perfect substitute in the flesh and your perfect mediator before the Father.
            Jesus is born of a woman, born under the Law to redeem us who were under the Law that we might receive the adoption of sons. Christ triumphed where Adam – and we, his descendants - failed. Jesus fulfilled the Law for you, suffered for you, overcame sin, death and the devil for you, rose from the dead for you, and will come again for you.
            All so that tonight, through the voice of His mother, Mary, He proclaims His mercy and love, His promise and faithful Word, His grace and peace delivered through her mouth and from her womb to you.
            Come; let us join in Mary’s song: “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” 

            In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

[1] Luther identifies seven great works of God in the Magnificat in his commentary on the same.  The outline follows his seven works. For further commentary, check out Luther's Works, vol. 21:332-355.

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