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Luke 1:47-55 December 24, 2017

The Last Advent Song / The First Christmas Carol

Well, what do you know? It’s December 24 th today! Christmas Eve! If you came to
worship this morning to fulfill your Christmas Eve obligation – and then to take the night off –
you should be disappointed, a mite. Granted, the children have come to the front of the church
and acted out a Nativity tableau and the chancel choir has sung a Christmas carol.
But it’s not Christmas yet. Not quite. The Christ candle in the center of the Advent
wreath stands unlit, just to rub it in.
This morning is the Fourth Sunday of Advent. We are rounding third and heading for
home. We need to hear a bit from Mary today, before she gives birth to Jesus. We will spend a
few minutes with Mary’s song – The Magnificat – the song she sings to her cousin Elizabeth
when they meet, both expecting to give birth to sons.
This is a song of faith and hope, looking to the future of the Kingdom of God as if it has
already taken place. Mary is not merely a gentle, submissive servant of God, but a
spokesperson for all of the poor and oppressed, wherever they may be. Mary reminds us that
when we look back at the birth of Jesus, we are also looking forward to the coming of the
Kingdom of God that Christ makes real through his resurrection.
Everything is changed. “Behold, I make all things new!” (Revelation 21:5)
I truly believe that Christ does make all things new and that it why I find hope and joy in
all sorts of unexpected places. That is why I believe the church, as the Body of Christ,
continues to make a difference in the world in unexpected ways.
As we live into becoming Christ to the world, we can find in The Magnificat a song to
sing.
To begin with (as so insightfully pointed out by Fred Craddock) faithful Jews were used
to the tradition of God bringing forth sons to older (considered barren) couples. Abraham and
Sarah were given Isaac, Manoah and his wife were given Samson, Elkanah and Hannah were
given Samuel. But here we have a young girl who is given the privilege of bringing Christ into
the world. This is really something new!
So why not give Mary a chance to sing her song on this last morning of Advent, and
then prepare ourselves to look for God breaking into the world?
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. This is the
first time that Jesus is called Savior in Luke’s gospel and it Mary who proclaims it.
He has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. She identifies with the
poor and downtrodden, a group described by the Hebrew word anawim. Throughout her entire
life, Mary will be identified with the poor. When Jesus calls his disciples, he invites all of them
to a life of voluntary poverty, including fishermen and a tax collector. After Jesus’ death on the
cross, he is buried in a borrowed tomb. Mary’s song opens with rejoicing because God favors
the poor and outcast – the ones that the privileged would choose to ignore. No one is beyond
God’s consideration or favor.
He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. Pride of self is
considered the chief sin in the Bible, for it requires a broken relationship with God. You cannot
put yourself in first place without knocking God down from His throne. Every time we begin to
think that we have no need for God to get through the day, we run the risk of living every day
as if God does not matter. Proud Christians start believing that God automatically endorses
every idea that comes into their head. Humble Christians wait to hear the voice of God through
times of devotion and through others. Jesus spent his times of ministry seeking the Father’s
will; so should we. Mary celebrates the downfall of proud people.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. This
vision of the Kingdom of God in many ways is a foreshadowing of the reversal of fortune that
will follow the Day of Resurrection. When Mary’s son Jesus was teaching, preaching and
healing, both political and religious powers conspired to put an end to his message by putting
an end to Jesus, nailing him to a cross. But, with the resurrection, death is defeated, sin is
forgiven, all other powers are cast down, and Christ raises us up to new life with Him. There is
nothing inherently wrong with power, when used wisely. But most of us need to be reminded of
the power of God over us.
He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. While I
know that some of us struggle to make it through the week, most of us have been blessed
beyond measure, especially when compared to the rest of the world. I have never gone hungry
in my entire life; what I call “hunger” is usually just missing a meal by a few hours. But Mary’s
song reminds us of the temporary nature of wealth. If the Kingdom of God is indeed what this
song promises – and everything becomes a level playing field of equality, peace, and justice –
those of us with the most right now will have the most to lose, and the poor will have the most
to gain. Why not hold on to what we have with a lighter grasp, and practice sharing what we
have with those who will never have what we have?
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the
promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever. The last
promise is to Israel, God’s chosen people, who often missed the mark and spent time in exile
and worse. God’s covenant with Israel still stands, and that is why I do not think that Christians
need to spend time trying to convert Jews to the Christian faith. Rather, we need to give God
thanks that Christ has opened up this covenant to include all people. It is also important to
distinguish God’s servant, Israel, from the nation of Israel. Any country, including the United
States, who creates clear lines of division between the saved and the lost fails the cross of
Christ by excluding those that Jesus came to save.
Imagine Mary, a few months pregnant, being given this song to sing, anticipating
blessing upon blessing to be realized through the birth of Jesus.
We need this song of hope now more than ever. As the days get closer to Christmas,
and you begin to tick off every one of the familiar family traditions, why not pray for God to
show you the coming of Christ in a new way? Christ seeks to be born every day in our hearts;
this is the best kind of Christmas prayer.
And then, when Christ gives you a song to sing, sing out loud! You never know who
might be listening. And let’s not stop singing until the Kingdom of this world has become the
Kingdom of our God, for now and forever. Amen.