The Fourth Sunday of Advent
The Rev. George Pejakovich
Luke 1:39-55


AS WE COME TO THE END OF OUR ADVENT SEASON, WE HEAR THE STORY OF MARY’S RESPONSE TO THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE ANGEL GABRIEL THAT SHE IS TO BECOME PREGNANT BY THE HOLY SPIRIT AND GIVE BIRTH TO THE SON OF GOD. THE CHURCH HAS HAD, AND CONTINUES TO HAVE, A VARIETY OF OPINIONS ABOUT THE PERSON OF MARY. THE ORTHODOX COMMUNION CONSIDERS MARY AS “THEOTOKUS,” THE GOD BEARER, AND REVERES HER AS ONE OF THE GREAT SAINTS OF THE CHURCH. THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH PLACES MARY ON AN EVEN HIGHER PLANE AS AN INTERCESSOR BETWEEN HUMANITY AND THE CHRIST; AND ONE CAN FIND MORE STATUES OF MARY THAN JESUS IN CATHOLIC CHURCHES. IN MOST PROTESTANT FREE CHURCH DENOMINATIONS, MARY IS SELDOM MENTIONED IN REACTION TO WHAT IS CONSIDERED ALMOST IDOLOTRY BY THE CATHOLICS. EVEN MY OWN LUTHERAN CHUCH HARDLY KNOWS WHAT TO DO ABOUT MARY. ODDLY ENOUGH, I THINK THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION HAS IT ABOUT RIGHT (HAVE TO GET IT RIGHT SOMETIME); SO LET US CONSIDER MARY.

THIS FOURTEEN YEAR OLD GIRL, FROM AN ORDINARY FAMILY IN A SMALL TOWN, IS CONTRACTED IN AN ARRANGED MARRIAGE TO AN OLDER MAN. THERE IS NOTHING UNUSUAL ABOUT THIS; THE HEADS OF EACH FAMILY WOULD GET TOGETHER, DECIDE ON THE PRICE THE BRIDE WOULD BRING TO THE UNION, THE CONTRACT WOULD BE SIGNED, THEN THE GROOM WOULD GO AND PREPARE A PLACE FOR HER IN HIS FATHER’S HOUSE. THE TIME BETWEEN THE CONTRACT, THE BETROTHAL, AND THE WEDDING COULD BE A YEAR OR MORE. WHEN THE EXCITEMENT OVER THE BETROTHAL HAS SETTLED, AND LIFE RETURNS TO ITS USUAL NORMALITY, THE ANGEL OF GOD COMES TO MARY AND TELLS HER THAT NOTHING ABOUT HER LIFE WILL BE USUAL OR NORMAL AGAIN. SHE WILL BEAR THE SON OF GOD, AND AS A SIGN OF GOD’S PROMISE, HER ELDER COUSIN, ELIZABETH, WHO IS LONG PAST CHILD BEARING IS PREGNANT.

THE YOUNG GIRL KNOWS EXACTLY WHAT IT MEANS TO BE PREGNANT AND UNMARRIED IN HER CULTURE; HER LIFE IS AT RISK OF DEATH BY STONING. INSTEAD OF THE NORMAL, “WHY DOES THIS HAVE TO HAPPEN TO ME,” MARY’S RESPONSE IS “YES” TO GOD; AND AS SOON AS THE ANGEL LEAVES HER, MARY DOES THE UNUSUAL AND PACKS HER THINGS AND TRAVELS EIGHT DAYS TO VISIT HER ELDER COUSIN.

WHEN SHE ARRIVES AT THE HOME OF ZECHARIAH AND ELIZABETH, AND GREETS HER COUSIN, ELIZABETH, FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT OF GOD, SHOUTS OUT, “BLESSED ARE YOU AMOUNG WOMEN, AND BLESSED IS THE FRUIT OF YOUR WOMB.AND WHY HAS THIS HAPPENED TO ME, THAT THE MOTHER OF MY LORD COMES TO ME? FOR AS SOON AS I HEARD THE SOUND OF YOUR GREETING, THE CHILD IN MY WOMB LEPT FOR JOY. AND BLESSED IS SHE WHO BELIEVED THAT THERE WOULD BE A FULFILLMENT OF WHAT WAS SPOKEN TO HER BY THE LORD.” ELIZABETH CALLS MARY “BLESSED” BECAUSE MARY BELIEVED IN THE PROMISE OF GOD, AND SAID “YES” TO GOD’S WORD DESPITE THE POSSIBLE DIRE CONSEQUENCES AND COST TO HERSELF; AND ELIZABETH SEES THAT THE CHILD IN MARY’S WOMB IS NOT A NORMAL BABY, BUT THE LORD, HER LORD AND GOD, AND THE LORD AND GOD OF THE ENTIRE WORLD.

TO THIS GREETING, MARY RESPONDS WITH WHAT HAS BECOME KNOWN AS “MARY’S SONG,” OR THE MAGNIFICAT, BASED ON THE OPENING WORDS IN LATIN. C.S. LEWIS CALLED THIS A “TERRIBLE SONG;” NOT BECAUSE OF ITS POETRY, BUT BECAUSE OF WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT THE NORMAL, THE USUAL, OF HUMAN EXISTENCE. ONE COMMENTATOR HAS PROPOSED THAT THE ENTIRE GOSPEL OF LUKE IS AN EXPLICATION OF MARY’S SONG. IT IS IF THE SPARK OF LIFE IN THE WOMB OF MARY IS ALREADY FORECASTING THE BREAKING OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD INTO THIS WORLD. IN HER SONG, WE CAN HEAR THE OPENING STRAINS OF WHAT HER SON, THE LORD, WILL PROCLAIM IN THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT, AND WHAT HE WILL BRING TO PASS WHEN HE RESTORES ALL THINGS TO HIMSELF.

YOU HAVE HEARD MARY’S SONG ALREADY THIS MORNING; BUT LET US LOOK AT IT IN DETAIL. (MY SOUL MAGNIFIES THE LORD, AND MY SPIRIT REJOICES IN GOD MY SAVIOR)  MY SOUL, MARY SINGS, MAKES THE LORD GREAT, NOT MYSELF, AND MY HAPPINESS IS FOUND ONLY IN MY GOD WHO RESTORES ME TO HIMSELF. (HE HAS LOOKED WITH FAVOR ON THE LOWLINESS OF HIS SERVANT. SURELY, FROM NOW ON ALL GENERATIONS WILL CALL ME BLESSED; FOR THE MIGHTY ONE HAS DONE GREAT THINGS FOR ME, AND HOLY IS HIS NAME.) MARY KNOWS SHE IS A SINNER, BUT GOD HAS SHOWN TO HER HIS AWESOME GRACE, AND HER BLESSEDNESS IS NOT FROM WHAT SHE HAS DONE, BUT FROM WHAT GOD HAS DONE FOR HER. IN SAYING “YES” TO THE PROMISE OF GOD, MARY SEES THE PROMISES OF GOD AS SO CERTAIN, SO SURE, IT IS AS IF THEY WERE ALREADY FULFILLED. THAT IS BECAUSE GOD IS HOLY; TOTALLY DIFFERENCE FROM THE NORMAL, THE USUAL, AND IN HIS HOLINESS IS THE ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY OF HIS WORD.
(HIS MERCY IS FOR THOSE WHO FEAR HIM FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION) THE FEAR OF THE LORD IS THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM; BUT THIS IS NOT THE FEAR OF TERROR. RATHER, IT IS THE AWARENESS OF THE AWSOMENESS OF GOD. IT IS ONLY FROM THE HOLY, THE MIGHTY, THE IMMORTAL ONE THAT GRACE AND MERCY WILL COME.

AFTER SINGING THE PRAISES OF HER GOD, MARY’S SONG SOARS INTO THE ESCHATON, THE END OF DAYS; AND SHE SEES THE FULFILLMENT OF THE PROMISE OF GOD IN THE PROMISE ITSELF. THE PROMISE OF GOD TURNS THE WORLD UPSIDE DOWN; THE USUAL, THE NORMAL, IS CAST DOWN, AND THE WORLD IS MADE NEW IN THE PROMISE OF GOD.
(HE HAS SHOWN STRENGTH WITH HIS ARM; HE HAS SCATTERED THE PROUD IN THE THOUGHTS OF THEIR HEARTS. HE HAS BROUGHT DOWN THE POWERFUL FROM THEIR THONES, AND LIFTED UP THE LOWLY; HE HAS FILLED THE HUNGRY WITH GOOD THINGS, AND SENT THE RICH AWAY EMPTY) HERE WE SEE THE GOAL OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD; THE OVERTURNING OF THE USUAL WAY OF THIS WORLD AND ITS RESTORATION TO THE WILL AND PURPOSE OF GOD.

THE SONG OF MARY ENDS WITH HER REAFFIRMING GOD’S COVENANT WITH HIS PEOPLE. ( HE HAS HELPED HIS SERVANT ISRAEL, IN REMEMBRANCE OF HIS MERCY, ACCORDING TO THE PROMISE HE MADE TO OUR ANCESTORS, TO ABRAHAM AND HIS DESCENDANTS FOREVER) ABRAHAM WAS CONSIDERED RIGHTEOUS BECAUSE OF HIS FAITH, HIS TRUST IN GOD, AND THIS TRUST IN GOD IS PRECISELY THE CALL TO BELIEF THAT WILL BE PROCLAIMED BY THE CHILD IN THE WOMB OF MARY. BY HIS GRACE, GOD DOES NOT ALLOW MARY TO SEE THE COST HER SON WILL PAY TO BRING THE KINGDOM OF GOD INTO THIS WORLD; BUT THIS, WITH TIME, SHE WILL COME TO KNOW AT THE FOOT OF THE CROSS.

MARY IS CALLED BLESSED BECAUSE SHE BELIEVED IN THE PROMISE OF GOD; AND SO SHE IS A SAINT OF THE CHURCH AND IS REVERED AS THE MOTHER OF THE LORD. ALL WHO TRUST IN THE PROMISE OF GOD ARE THE SAINTS OF THE CHURCH, AND SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF GOD. TRUST IN GOD MEANS TO SEE THE FULFILLMENT OF THE PROMISE OF GOD IN THE PROMISE ITSELF. IT MEANS TO TRUST THAT IN THE BIRTH OF A CHILD TO AN APPARENTLY NORMAL YOUNG WOMAN IS THE BEGINNING OF THE END OF ALL THINGS AS WE KNOW THEM. IT MEANS TO TRUST THAT, IN SPITE OF THE NORMAL, THE USUAL DAY TO DAY STRUGGLE, THE BURDENS, AND EVEN THE SOMETIMES SENSELESS PAIN OF THIS LIFE, THE VICTORY OF ALMIGHTY GOD IS IN THE SPARK OF LIFE THAT MARY CRADELS IN HER WOMB. THIS IS THE ADVENT FAITH TO WHICH WE ARE CALLED, AND THIS IS THE ADVENT FAITH IN WHICH WE MUST LIVE.

COME, LORD JESUS; IN WHOSE BIRTH WE, LIKE ELIZABETH, CAN SEE THE EVERLASTING KING OF GLORY.
AMEM

 

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