Advent 4c

Preached: December 20, 2009

Mary's Secret for a Merry Christmas
Luke 1:39-55

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit works humble faith in our hearts is Luke 1

Getting up at that time, Mary quickly went to the hill country, to a town, Juda. She entered the house of Zachariah and greeted Elisabeth. It happened that as Elisabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She called out with a great shout and said, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb. How has this happened to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby leaped for joy in my womb. Blessed is she who has believed. For the fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord will happen.”

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my Spirit rejoices in God my Savior, since he has looked on the lowly condition of his slave. For behold, from now on all generations will consider me blessed.

“For the mighty One has done great things for me. Holy is his name. His mercy is from generation to generation for those who fear him.

“The strength in his arm acted. He scattered those who were proud in the thinking of their hearts. He threw down the mighty from thrones and lifted up the lowly. He filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he sent away empty.

“He has come to help his servant Israel in order to remember his mercy to Abraham and to his seed forever, just as he said to our fathers.”(Luke 1:39-55)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

Are you going to have a holly, jolly Christmas? Is it the best time of the year for you? It looks as if we'll have snow and maybe a cup of cheer. So much focus goes into lifting spirits, making ourselves happy, making others happy, wishing a merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Colored lights shine into the darkness. Decorations brighten homes. The merry laughter of family and friends enlivens gatherings. The aromas of food and drink perk up the senses. Nativity scenes look so beautiful. Carols fill the air. All kinds of people gather for worship on that most holy night. Good will and cheer overflow as the needy are helped and some little child is welcomed in, warmed with a special Christmas. We're all one big, happy family. At least that's the ideal merry Christmas portrayed in Norman-Rockwellian America.

But it's all an illusion, dear friends. Let's listen, as Mary, the mother of our Lord, shares the secret of a truly merry Christmas.

A. Recognize our lowliness

1. What did Mary confess about herself?

Contrary to common sense, a truly merry Christmas does not come from trying to lift up your spirits. And it doesn't come from trying to lift up others, no matter how altruistic and unselfish your motives might be. A truly merry Christmas begins by recognizing our lowliness.

Notice how Mary confesses her lowliness. “He has been mindful of the humble state of his servant” (Luke 1:48 NIV). Mary isn't glorying in her humility as some boast of how humble they are. She means what she says. She's utterly amazed at what the Lord had done for her in her lowly position. In fact, the word translated “servant” is the Greek word for a female slave. She had no claim on God's favor. She was just a lowly slave, having nothing to her own credit, but owing everything to her Master, to her God.

She's called blessed, not because of anything in her person, not even because of her humbleness. Think of that word blessed. It means she's the recipient of divine favor. God has done great things for her despite her lowly condition. The word points us away from her actions or efforts. She's simply the receiver. God has done the actions. He's the doer.

Why did God shower such blessing on her? Was it to reward her humbleness? Was it in view of the good she would do as the Savior's mother? Was it due to your virtue and virginity? Wouldn't all those answers contradict her confession of lowliness? Before the holy God, she had no claim on his blessing. So why, then, did God bless her?

2. Why did God bless her despite her lowliness?

In a word, because of his mercy. Mary praises God's mercy. “His mercy extends to those who fear him” (Luke 1:50 NIV). “He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful” (Luke 1:54 NIV). Think of blind Bart begging outside of Jericho. He had nothing to offer Jesus, not a penny to his name. He couldn't even see Jesus. But when he hears that Jesus was in the crowd passing by, he shouts out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47 NIV). Even when others scold him and tell him to be quiet, he just shouts more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:48 NIV). He knows his lowly condition. Jesus owes him nothing. He can offer nothing payment. He simply pleads for mercy. Mercy sees the lowly condition and freely reaches out to help.

Let that picture of a true beggar sink in. In our materially wealthy America, that picture is outside our experience. Even those earning thousands of dollars a year can be under the poverty line. That's a far cry from a penniless beggar. And many feel that they are entitled to the help that's given them. It's owed to them by the government or by the wealthy, they figure.

How different the mindset of blind Bart and Mary! They relied only on God's mercy. They knew their lowly condition. They did not have a spiritual penny of their own. They were owed nothing by God. And yet his mercy blessed them.

3. How alone can we receive God's mercy?

A truly merry Christmas depends entirely on God's mercy. And you can only know God's mercy when, like Mary, you recognize your lowliness. For “his mercy extends to those who fear him” (Luke 1:50 NIV). That proper fear of the Lord recognizes our true relationship with him. He is God, the holy One, the Almighty. We are lowly creatures, sinners, powerless to do anything without him. His power, majesty, and holiness strike us with awe so that we obey his word and command above all else. His mercy, love, and grace move us to honor him with childlike reverence. Only such fear of the Lord can receive his mercy.

So dear friends, confess with Mary your utter lowliness. Come to the manger with empty hands. Don't come playing your drum or with a little box of your humble treasures. Come recognizing your true lowliness, that nothing you offer, no matter how heartfelt or sincere, merits anything. Come with empty hands, begging for his mercy.

B. Rejoice in his greatness

1. What's so great about this Child and his work?

Only then will you see his true greatness. This lowly babe in a humble manger is the Lord God, even as Elisabeth confessed by the Holy Spirit when she said, “Why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43 NIV). He holds the stars in his infant hands. His infant breath commands the wind and waves. He is the Almighty God in human flesh.

What great things God has done! That's why Mary glorifies and magnifies the Lord. Just as a magnifying glass helps us see what is hidden to the naked eye, so the words of Scripture show us that this lowly child is the Almighty God, hidden in flesh and blood. He is the Almighty God, worthy of all our honor and praise, the source of all our joy, for he has come as our Savior, our Savior from sin and death. “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:47 NIV).

He came into our low estate, into our humble condition, to raise us up. “He has brought down rulers from their thrones and has lifted up the humble” (Luke 1:52 NIV). Do you see why a merry Christmas begins by recognizing our lowliness? Otherwise we would never see his true greatness. For he has come to lift you up, dear friend.

Lift us up out of what? Out of the depths of our sin, out of the pit of death, out of the darkness of our doubt. That's why we rejoice in his greatness. It's not only the great person who he is but also the great work he has done. That's what Mary confessed, calling him, “God my Savior” (Luke 1:52 NIV). That sums up who he is and what he came to do. So great is this Child and his work!

2. How does he fills us so with good things so that we can see his greatness?

And that alone, dear friends, is what truly makes it a merry Christmas. All other merriment and joys disappoint or fade. Approaching Christmas trying to puff up our spirits only sets ourselves up to be brought down like those rulers from their thrones. Thinking ourselves rich because we've filled up on the good feelings of the season will send us away empty when the season fades into the troubles of a new year. Rather come hungry, hungry to rejoice in the greatness of your Savior. “He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:53 NIV).

What good things does he fill you with? The good things he came to do for you. The good things that flow from his mercy to lift you up out of your lowliness. The good things that he has promised. “He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers” (Luke 1:54, 55).

Be filled with what God your Savior has said to our fathers, to those who have gone before us in the faith and recorded his word in the Scriptures. He promised Abraham that all nations would be blessed through him. And that includes you, dear friend, for it includes all who walk by faith as Abraham did, faith that trusts in God's promises despite what our senses or reason tell us.

Such faith, filled with God's promises, rejoices in his greatness. Like Mary, your faith confesses that the Babe of Bethlehem is your God and your Savior. That was Mary's secret for a merry Christmas and you know that secret as well. For it is not a secret to be hidden, but a secret to be shared. For no one can figure it out unless they are told.

And as that secret shines in your heart, the Christmas joy remains even after the food is gone and the decorations packed away. For you know that the Baby of Bethlehem has not failed you. Nails and spear pierced him as on the cross he ransomed you. So even though sorrows and sadness attack us, our Christmas joy continues, for the crucified One has risen. Just as Mary rejoiced in the risen Savior, for here was God's verdict that even her sins were forgiven, so also our Christmas joy and Easter joy combine. No matter what this earthly life throws at us, it cannot change what Jesus has accomplished for you.

So come to the manger with empty hands, recognizing your lowliness, and leave rejoicing in that Baby's greatness. For you leave with the richness of forgiveness, life, and salvation. That is what God's word of promise brings you. For that Baby is your God and Savior. Sing with Mary: “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:47 NIV). Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313