Sunday’s Sermon: Chosen to Be Wonderful

  • There’s a great children’s book that came out in 1982 called The Do-Something Day.[1] –> basic storyline
    • Main character = little boy named Bernie
    • Bernie wants to help his mother and his father and his older brother – they’re too busy for him
      • Tries each one individually but gets the same response: Not now, Bernie … I’m busy!
    • Feeling pretty down – Bernie decides to run away!
    • As he walks down the street, he encounters a lot of different people – the baker, the car mechanic, the shoe repairman, and so on. And each of these people do need Bernie’s help with something. It doesn’t take long for Bernie to learn how needed he truly is.
    • And you know, I often wonder if Mary felt like Bernie at the beginning. Our text for today is Mary’s song – the declaration of devotion and praise she makes while she’s with Elizabeth – but these 10 verses are not all we have of Mary’s story.
      • Meet Mary back in Lk 1:26 when the gospel writer tells of her visit from angel Gabriel
        • First see signs of hesitation from Mary
          • Text: The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.[2]
          • Gabriel tells Mary she doesn’t need to be afraid and explains the amazing role for which she has been chosen
          • Mary’s initial response = doubt: How can this be?!
          • Gabriel: Nothing is impossible with God.[3]
          • Mary’s final response: “I am the Lord’s servant. … May it be as you have said.”[4] –> That doesn’t sound overly enthusiastic, does it?
            • Struggle to embrace this role
              • Striking mission
              • Inspiring mission
              • Overwhelming mission
      • But this is why the Son of God was born in the first place – to redeem our doubts, our indecisions, our fears and our sin. It wasn’t until God came to be born into humanity as a tiny baby that we were truly able to actually live into that relationship as children of the Most High God.
        • Scholar makes link with today’s passage: The song of Mary turns to the effects of the Lord’s coming for all God’s people. … These words echo the promises to Israel throughout the generations and declare their fulfillment.[5] –> That fulfillment that the scholar speaks of is Jesus Christ himself.
          • Came to save us from our sin
          • Came to redeem our relationship
          • Remember, we have been chosen as God’s own beloved children.
            • Leviticus: And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people.[6]
            • Isaiah: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, and you are mine.[7]
            • Paul in Rom: You have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.[8]
            • Even see this in Mary’s words in today’s passage:
              • [God] has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant – Gr. “looked with favor” = considered, cared about –> more hands-on than just “looked on”
                • This sounds like the kind of looking on that parents do when their child is learning something new. They watch. They hover. They let their child do whatever he or she can, but they’re always waiting there in the wings, ready to jump in and lend a hand if necessary.
            • Scholar: [Mary’s] Magnificat stops the action of the Gospel in order to celebrate the greatness and covenant faithfulness of God. … God’s demonstration of power is not merely a show of force, but is intended to remind Israel that they belong to God and can count on their God to help them. God’s power and greatness display God’s goodness.[9]
  • And through this lens – this lens of God’s power being displayed in God’s goodness, by seeing the present through a filter of redemption and grace – it is through this lens that we begin to understand and appreciate Mary’s words all the more this morning. Yes, Mary’s initial reaction at Gabriel’s announcement may have been one of disquiet and concern. But Mary chose to seek out a different understanding. In terms of Bernie’s story, as he walked through his do-something day, it became more and more clear to him just how important he truly was. And as Mary walked through her own days contemplating the words of the angel that had visited her, we can only imagine that it became more and more clear to her what a gift God was giving her.
    • Only a few short verses after Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary, we find our verses for today – words of praise and adoration and thanksgiving coming from Mary’s own lips.
      • Praise for God’s action in Mary’s life: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior … Surely from now on all generations will call me blessed.[10]
      • Praise for God’s action in community’s life: [God’s] mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. … He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;[11]
      • In voicing these words, Mary has gone full circle. At this point, not only has Mary been chosen by God for something wonderful, she’s also chosen that wonderfulness for herself. She’s decided to participate with God.
  • So what brought about such a switch? What inspired today’s declaration of praise? One simple word: faith.
    • Remember the final words of Elizabeth’s song last week?: And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.[12] –> Blessed is she who believed … blessed is she who had confidence … Blessed is she who had enough faith to trust in this crazy plan of God’s! Blessed is she who had enough faith to offer up her whole self – her life, her future, even her body itself – for God’s work of redemption!
    • One especially important element of Mary’s faith that brings everything together = humility
      • See in text: For [God] has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. … [God] has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.[13]
        • First part = Mary’s own humility (calling herself lowly)
        • Second part speaks to general humility desired by God
          • Gr. “empty” = without any basis or power, without effect –> This “sending the rich away empty” applies to more than just how much is in someone’s wallet. God is reminding those who think they have it all figured out – those who view themselves as rich in power or rich in influence – that they are, in fact, not God. Only when they come to this realization can they offer themselves up to God as Mary did.
  • Once this humble realization has been reached à God can work wonderful things through us
    • Who knows … you may even already have that task. – not always recognizable right away 
      • Do-Something Day – Bernie is given gifts as he helps others with their tasks, doesn’t know at first how important these gifts will be later on
      • In today’s text, we see that Mary had at least some sort of grasp on the significance of the role she was about to play. – text: Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.[14] But at the same time, I wonder if Mary had any idea what she would become to so many people throughout history.
        • E.g.s from today’s hymn[15]:
          • Woman of the promise
          • Vessel of people’s dreams
          • Morning star of justice
          • Model of compassion
          • And there are so many others she’s collected through the years.[16]
            • Mother of mercy
            • Queen of Heaven
            • God-Bearer
            • Seat of Wisdom
          • I can only imagine what she would think of all that – she who called herself simply one of God’s lowly servants.
      • Do-Something Day: As it turns out, all of the things that were given to Bernie in return for his help around the neighborhood were things that his family needed back at home. So even though he didn’t know it throughout the day, Bernie was helping the people he loved most.
    • And we are not so different. God has already chosen each and every one of us as God’s own blessed and cherished children. But it doesn’t end there. Like Mary, like Bernie, we are also each chosen not just to be but to be wonderful.
      • Could be church-related: filling goody bags, caroling, unlocking the church and warming it up on Sun. morning
      • Could be hobby-related: knitting scarves to donate to schools and other organizations around the state and around the world, [playing trumpet for the enjoyment of others], building something for someone else
      • Could be community-related: working at or restocking Food shelf, birthday parties at the nursing home, delivering Meals on Wheels
      • Could be work-related: bringing a smile of joy or understanding to the face of a child in your classroom, easing someone’s stress by helping them navigate their taxes, easing someone’s pain with the gentleness of a nurse’s touch
      • Could be personal: being that shoulder to cry on or that ear to listen for a friend, offering support to a family member in need
      • Might not even be something you recognize but it’s there 
  • You see, when we open ourselves up like Mary to being used by God for good in this world, it’s going to happen. We’re going to brighten someone’s day. We’re going to touch someone’s life. We’re going to create that opportunity for joy and praise because God has chosen us to be wonderful. Amen.

[1] Joe Lasker. The Do-Something Day. (New York, NY: Viking Press), 1982.

[2] Lk 1:28-29.

[3] Lk 1:37.

[4] Lk 1:38.

[5] R. Alan Culpepper. “The Gospel of Luke: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 9. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), 55.

[6] Lev 26:12.

[7] Is 43:1.

[8] Rom 8:15-16.

[9] Robert Redman. “Fourth Sunday of Advent – Luke 1:39-45 (46-55) – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 1. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 94, 96.

[10] Lk 1:46-48.

[11] Lk 1:50, 52.

[12] Lk 1:45.

[13] Lk 1:48a, 53.

[14] Lk 1:48b.

[15] Mary Frances Fleischaker. “Mary, Woman of the Promise” in The New Century Hymnal. (Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press, 1995), #123.

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