Midweek Advent 4, December 21st 2011
Jesus the Son of Mary and Son of God
We've heard from 3 of the 4 Gospels already in this Advent series, on the beginnings of the Jesus story. Mark begins abruptly, and emphasizes repentance. John begins profoundly, showing Jesus the Word made flesh. Matthew gives attention to prophecy – and Jesus as its fulfillment. Now finally, Luke. The most “Christmas-y” of the Gospels. We'll actually wait until Christmas Eve to hear Luke's nativity account, that well-loved text that tells of the census, the manger, the angels, the shepherds, and the birth of God's own Son in Bethlehem.
Today, we look more closely at what happens right before this in Luke's Gospel. Luke, a physician, tells us in Chapter 1 that he undertook to carefully write an orderly account based on the eyewitness testimony from the beginning. He has a historian's sense, and you get the impression this was all very thorough and diligent of Luke. So in this Gospel we hear the most detail about Christ's birth and what led up to it. And especially important in this is a virgin from Nazareth named Mary.
In the three episodes from our reading today, we have the Annunciation, the Visitation, and the Magnificat. Each points us to Christ, tells who he is and will be. Each is an important part of the orderly account Luke writes. Each lays the groundwork for Christ's birth. So let's briefly survey these as we prepare to celebrate that blessed event.
The Annuciation was this past Sunday's Gospel reading. Pastor Poppe highlighted those words from the Angel Gabriel – that Mary, highly favored, would bear the savior, and that David's kingdom would be restored through his eternal reign. Yes, with God all things are possible. A virgin giving birth. The eternal, omnipotent God becoming a finite human being. That one man could die and save all people, that his life could count for theirs. It's even possible for Jesus to promise resurrection and then deliver. Not just possible, it all happened.
The Annuciation reminds us that God alone takes the initiative in our salvation. No man can claim the credit. God chooses Mary, God grants his favor. God establishes his kingdom. God brings salvation. And faith responds, “let it be to me as you have said”.
Jesus comes, without our asking, and he brings salvation. He takes it upon himself, takes our sin upon himself, and he dies, not asking our permission. He does the work, finishes the job, and proclaims “it is finished”. Let it be to us all as he has said.
The Visitation – when Mary then went to visit Elizabeth, herself pregnant with John the Baptist. And at Mary's greeting, the unborn John leapt for joy. Elizabeth, too, confesses faith – that the “mother of her Lord” should come and visit her. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” We can learn from Elizabeth and John – to confess in words and actions our faith in the Son of Mary, and the Son of God. Jesus comes to visit us still, today, brought not in a womb, but by our mother the church – through the vehicles of word and sacrament. This brings us undeserving sinners great joy! This good news compels us to confess all he has done for us.
And for Mary's part, she sings a song. We call it the Magnificat, from the first word in Latin, “Magnify”. “My soul magnifies the Lord...”. Mary's song is worthy of repetition, and so the church echos it forth to this day, just as all generations call her blessed. In this song, she confesses her lowly standing, her humble estate. Mary knew she was a sinner. She needed a savior, too. But lowly Mary believed in the God who spoke to her through the angel and through the prophets of old. She believed the promise of her savior, her son yet unborn. He who is mighty and does great things for his people.
Luke's Gospel, all throughout, takes great care to show Jesus as savior of the whole world, and especially the lowly. Old barren Elizabeth. Humble Mary. Even unborn John the Baptist. The women, the poor, the widow and orphan, the leper and the Samaritan and Roman. All have a place in the kingdom of Christ, this Son of Mary and Son of God.
We are lowly, too. Oh maybe we're better off than others financially. And maybe our health is in better shape. Maybe we've been around the block enough to know many things in this world. But we're all, still, lowly. We are humble beggars who deserve nothing of God's goodness. Our best works are filthy rags. Our good deeds are tarnished and tainted. Our holiness is a thing of the past – we humans are born into sin and death. We can't reach up and grasp God, even if we wanted to. We are lowly. Poor. Humble. Pathetic. We are sinners. And we need a savior.
From his humble beginnings, we can see that he comes down to be lowly and save the lowly. Laid in a manger, no crib for a bed. He becomes sin to save the sinners. He bears God's wrath to save us from God's wrath. The Story of Jesus beginnings is the story of our beginning, in a way. The beginning of our salvation, and reunion with God.
The Annunciaiton – the Visitation – the Magnificat. In these short episodes Luke begins to tell the story of Jesus our savior. With Mary, we too confess faith in our magnificent God, who has done great things for us in Christ – Mary's Son, and Son of God, our savior.
And now with Advent coming to a close, and Christmas Eve just a couple days away, we take a breath and anticipate the celebration of his birth for us lowly sinners. May your soul also magnify the Lord this Christmas and always. In Jesus' holy name.