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Sermon: Magnificent Mary – Luke 1:46-55, Isaiah 61:1-4,10-11
What’s your favorite Christmas movie?
There are so many! Who has seen The Santa Clause (1998)?
One of my favorite things about this movie is that the title is a pun. The Santa Clause with a “e” is the statement that Scott, played by Tim Allen, discovers on a business card. Scott had heard somebody on the roof and went outside to investigate. The noise was Santa Claus. Scott startles Santa, who then falls of the roof and then his body disappears so that all that’s left is his suit and the business card. The clause says: “If something should happen to me, put on my suit. The reindeer will know what to do.” And so Scott does. Scott and his son Charlie, prompted by the reindeer, get in the sleigh and finish delivering the presents.
Afterwards, the reindeer take Scott and Charlie to the North Pole, where Scott is informed by the head elf Bernard that he is the new Santa Claus. When Scott protests saying that he doesn’t want to be the new Santa, Bernard tells him that he accepted the contract by putting on the suit. Bernard shows Scott the fine print on the other side of the business card. It says, “In putting on the suit and entering the sleigh, the wearer waves any and all rights to any previous identity, real or implied, and fully accepts the duties and responsibilities of Santa Claus in perpetuity until such time that the wearer becomes unable to do so by either accident or design.”
When Scott accepted responsibility for what happened to the previous Santa, he also accepted a new role and identity, and all the duties and responsibilities that go with it. Kind of like Mary did when she accepted her new role as the Mother of God.
Here’s how that happened: (Read Luke 1:26-38) Mary’s acceptance was to say, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”
Legend has it that Mary was not the first person asked to be the God-bearer, but rather she was the first person to say yes. It’s only a legend, but an interesting one to consider. Mary accepts. Maybe we always thought she really had no choice but to accept. Maybe not. Like Mary, we do not always get to choose our circumstances, but we do choose how to respond. We choose whether to accept or fight against what’s happening, and whether to turn to God about what’s happening, and whether to help or hinder what God is doing.
Mary accepts, and sings her joyful response, often referred to as the Magnificat, because that is the first word of the text in Latin. “My soul magnifies the Lord” (v.46). (Read Luke 1:46-55.)
Mary accepts, despite the unfavorable circumstances. It’s a beautiful thing to have a baby. Of course she would accept, right? A baby is a blessing. But the circumstances are not always wonderful or ideal. Certainly for Mary, these were not the circumstances she would choose. Matthew, in his telling of Jesus’ birth story, says that Joseph was going to break off his betrothal to Mary quietly so that he wouldn’t disgrace her (Matthew 1:19).
I had a friend years ago who had just gotten her life all set up to go to grad school and get her master’s in education. She had waited until her both her girls were old enough to be in school. She had gotten a job at the local college in the department of education so she would have less tuition to pay and easier access. She had everything lined up just so…and then she found out she was pregnant. It turned everything upside down.
Sometimes God intervenes and turns everything upside down. Sometimes life just doesn’t go according to our plans. Though Paul in Romans tells us that God works all things together for our good (Rom. 8:28), the time of waiting for that to come to fruition can be pretty rough. The whole idea of Advent waiting is basically waiting for the outcome of God’s work. Waiting and watching and trusting and hoping, and in the midst of that finding God in moments of peace and joy.
We often hear the song during the Christmas season that says, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” In many ways it is, but there are also ways in which it is not. That is why there are plenty of Christmas songs that are not so cheery, that instead lament about the state of the world. This past week, I asked people on Facebook to share their favorite seasonal songs of lament. I got so many wonderful responses. Some of them are songs we have probably sung without noticing how poignant the lyrics are. One that surprised me is “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear.” One verse says:
“O ye, beneath life’s crushing load/ Whose forms are bending low/ Who toil along the climbing way/ With painful steps and slow/ Look now, for glad and golden hours/ Come swiftly on the wing/ O rest beside the weary road/ And hear the angels sing.”It Came Upon A Midnight Clear
What a picture that paints. Bent over beneath the heavy load of life, toiling to climb, slowly, painfully moving forward, invited to stop and rest, and hear the angels sing of hope in God’s coming salvation.
As you listen to and sing seasonal songs over the next few weeks, notice the lyrics. Many of our traditional songs lament about the state of the world. Mary, in her song, doesn’t lament, but she does allude to the state of the world and the need for God’s salvation to scatter the proud and haughty, to bring down princes and lift up the humble, and to feed the hungry.
Mary accepts her new role as the bearer of the Son of God, despite the unfavorable circumstances, because of who God is. She sings, “He who promised is mighty and holy, and he has done great things.”
Mary accepts, and is blessed. This is what her cousin Elizabeth has just said to her when she went to visit. (Here’s that piece of the story. Read Luke 1:39-45.) Mary sings, “From now on all generations will call me blessed.”
Mary accepts, and sees the greater implications, because God promised salvation from the beginning. Her song connects with Old Testament promises and prophecies. Israel had been waiting for centuries for the messiah. During Advent we read some of these prophecies, many from Isaiah. It’s hard for us to appreciate the depth of their longing and anticipation because we know what happened – Jesus happened – but when the angel came to tell Mary that she would be the mother of the messiah, she was hearing for the first time about the fulfillment of Israel’s greatest hope.
In her song, Mary rejoices that she is the one who has been chosen for this unimaginably great honor. “For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed.” (v48)
She remembers in her song God’s promise to Abraham that we find in Genesis 12:2-3: “I will make of you a great nation . . . and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
And in her words, we see that she knows what God has done and will do again.
Mary accepts, and sings for joy, because God has revealed himself and his salvation, and she will be a part of it. It’s the original Christmas miracle that changes everything.
Isn’t that what happens in Christmas movies? A Christmas miracle. Something that has a one-in-a-million chance of happening and that changes everything. Maybe the most well-known example is the total transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge after his night with the three ghosts. He goes from being impossibly grumpy, stingy and heard-hearted to someone who is joyful and generous.
Joy comes to Ebenezer and to Mary and to us, not because the world is suddenly a problem-free place, but because our hearts are changed and our hope in God is renewed.
Mary sings for joy that she has been chosen to receive God’s blessing. She accepts and becomes a part of God’s work.
We think of the innocent young girl, the beloved mother, but there’s another image of Mary that many of us do not think of. In the book of Acts we see Mary praying with the disciples just before Pentecost (Acts 1:14). On the day of Pentecost, she most likely also received the Holy Spirit. Mary’s life was filled with pain and wonder, heartache and miracles; yet she was blessed among women.
We too are blessed when we accept what God is doing and join in God’s work. Isaiah describes this in our Old Testament reading for today. Isaiah says, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me” (Isaiah 61:1). When we are motivated and equipped to do God’s will we also “greatly rejoice in the LORD” (Isa. 61:10). We find joy in our participation in the fulfillment of God’s purposes for human life—in sharing God’s love and grace, God’s justice and righteousness (Isa. 61:3, 10–11).
When we say yes to Jesus, we get to be “clothed … with the garments of salvation” and “covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10). With this robe comes a new role and God’s beloved child, and a new life as Jesus’ disciple and ambassadors of reconciliation. This role comes with blessings and opportunities and responsibilities, much like when Scott Calvin became Santa, and when Mary became the Mother of God.
Let me ask you a question:
When has God caught you by surprise?
What do you do when the unexpected happens?
I know it’s a funny question to be asking when we’re in the middle of a pandemic that has changed so much of our lives.
What might God be doing in the midst of this that is helping us to grow in our faith?
When God catches us by surprise, how do we respond?
Let’s say yes to God and be a part of all that God is doing in this place and time.
 Feasting on the Gospels–Luke, Volume 1: A Feasting on the Word Commentary . Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.
 Joel B Green. Connections: Year B, Volume 1 (Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship) (pp. 95-96). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.