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Mary: A Favored, Blessed, Believing Servant

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Sermon on Luke 1:26-38 for the Fourth Sunday in Advent, December 21 & 24, 2017

  1. We Lutherans don’t usually say too much about Mary, and I’m sure that it is because there is another Christian denomination that has a habit of saying way too much about her—even praying to her and calling her the queen of heaven. But the extreme of saying nothing about her isn’t good either. The Bible does tell us, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Carefully consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7). Mary is certainly someone who “spoke the word of God to us.” She said, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior,… He has brought down rulers from their thrones. He has lifted up the lowly. … He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his offspring forever” (Luke 1:46-55). Her song was the basis for our devotions at our Advent service in Juneau a few weeks ago. And what she does and says in today’s Gospel is also very important—a big deal. She is someone for us to take note of and an example for us to follow.
  2. First, we note how the angel greets her. “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” If you remember your English grammar, you’d recognize favored as a passive verb. That means that it is not talking about something the subject is doing, but about something that is being done to the subject. “You are favored” means someone else is doing the favoring. The translation “full of grace” is an unfortunate one. The Greek word is κεχαριτωμένη, does have the root word of grace in it, but someone else is doing the favoring. Someone else is pouring out the grace. God is the One who is favoring. God is the One who is pouring out grace. What do we know about grace? What definition have we learned? Undeserved This is something Mary also knew. She said, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” When God calls someone to follow—the reason is his grace. When God calls someone to do a special task—the reason for that is his grace, too. St. Paul remarks on that many times in his letters when he says “By the grace of God given to me.” “By the grace of God given to you.” (See Romans 12:3, Romans 15:15, 1 Corinthians 1:4, 1 Corinthians 3:10, 2 Corinthians 8:1, 2 Corinthians 9:14, Ephesians 3:2, Ephesians 3:7) Those God calls with his gospel have God’s grace poured out on them. Those God calls to do special work have even more grace poured out on them. God doesn’t choose us or choose us to do his work because of anything in us, but because of everything in him. That was true of Mary, a sinful, mortal, great-great-granddaughter of Adam and Eve who also needed God to be her gracious Savior.
  3. “Blessed are you among women.” “Blessed” is a word much like favored. It also is passive. It also means Someone else is doing the blessing. “Blessed” means that you are receiving some gift from God. Mary was blessed in many ways. She was given special work to do, to bear Immanuel, Jesus Christ, who would be the Savior of the world. Everything we read in the gospels, she saw. The gospel of Luke is based on many of the things Mary “pondered in her heart” (Luke 2:19, 51) Jesus did turn that thought around, though. Once, when he was teaching, someone in the crowd shouted, “Blessed is the womb that carried you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” And he replied, “Even more blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:27-29). By that he was saying that a family connection is good, but taking his Word to heart is even better. Because we read and hear the same things Mary saw and pondered in her heart, we are blessed, too.
  4. And we know that Mary did take the word of God to heart. The angel told her this: “Do not be afraid, Mary, because you have found favor with God. Listen, you will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will never end.” The fullness of time has come (Galatians 4:4), and Mary sees that she is at the center of it all. How would you respond when given a job like this? (And no one else has been given a job like this!) Earlier in Luke chapter 1, Zechariah was told that he and his wife would be the parents of the forerunner, John the Baptist, and Zechariah responded, “How can I be sure of this, because I am an old man, and my wife is well along in years?” (Luke 1:18) For Mary, it would be even more impossible because she was an unmarried virgin. But Mary’s response was not like Zechariah’s. She didn’t say “I’m not sure of this,” but instead she responded in faith. “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” “How will this be” means, “I know this will be… tell me how.” “I know how biology works. How is God going to work his way around it?”
  5. The angel’s answer focuses on one thing: the power of God. He doesn’t get technical. He simply points her to the power of God. “The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Listen, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age even though she was called barren, and this is her sixth month. 37 For nothing will be impossible for God.” The power of God. Nothing in you. Everything in him. And that’s our answer, too. Because we are called by the grace of God, we are upheld by the power of God. How will you do what you need to do? How will you remain faithful in my calling, whatever it may be? The answer is ‘the power of God.’ When you are sick—laying on your back in a hospital bed—the thoughts fill your mind, “Will I get better? And what if I don’t?” If you get better, that will be by the power of God, and if you don’t, the power of God will bring you home to heaven. When you are dragging, and even stumbling in your life of faith—the thoughts fill your mind, “Should I just give up? How can I get out of this dead end?” The answer is ‘The power of God.’ Specifically the power of his Word that assures you and empowers you as a child of God. It empowers you by showing you the same power of God that brought the infinite God to be a six pound, eight-ounce bundle of joy wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a donkey’s feeding trough. It shows you the same power of God that bore the sins of the whole world on a wooden cross and was held there, not by nails, but by the love that wanted you to be his own. This power of God, this gospel power of God is what opened Mary’s heart and empowered her. And it is what opens our hearts and empowers us.
  6. Empowers us for what? Empower sounds like putting gas in the tank, and that’s exactly what it is. The gospel is our fuel. Without it, we sputter and stop. With it, we go. And we see Mary ready to go. What does she say at the end of the angel’s visit? “I am the Lord’s servant. May it happen to me as you have said.” Servant is a loaded word. It’s a word that describes a person who has a purpose, ready to serve, ready to work. “I am the Lord’s servant.” That means, “It’s not about me. It’s all about what God and what he wants me to do.” Don’t we get that turned around? Especially in our prayer life? God is not like “the Force” in the Star Wars movies, there when you need it, ready to respond to your command, but not really caring about good or evil. No. God is the King, the Sovereign, the Savior, the one you are dependent on, and the one you are here to serve. Being a servant of the Lord gives your life purpose. Serving yourself always leaves you empty. King Solomon learned that, and that’s what his book of Ecclesiastes is all about. “Meaningless, chasing after the wind.” But as a favored, blessed, believing servant, Mary had a purpose, a great purpose. Connected to Christ, favored and blessed by him, we have a great purpose, too. To glorify God and to serve one another in love. And instead of thinking, “What about me? When will someone serve me?” We will find ourselves even more blessed when we reflect and give what we have been given by our gracious, favoring, forgiving God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
  7. Amen.

     

    Luke 1:26-38

    In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee named Nazareth, 27to a virgin pledged in marriage to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women.”  29But she was greatly troubled by the statement and was wondering what kind of greeting this could be. 30The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, because you have found favor with God. 31Listen, you will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will never end.”  34Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”  35The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36Listen, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age even though she was called barren, and this is her sixth month. 37For nothing will be impossible for God.”  38Then Mary said, “See, I am the Lord’s servant. May it happen to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her. (EHV)

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