18 December 2016

Fine, fine homily...

...this morning from Pr. Gleason.

Sermon for Advent IV, 2016
Luke 1:39-45 (46-56)
Last Sunday, the Apostle Paul invited us to rejoice in the Lord with his words from Philippians 4, which were part of the introit. Today that invitation became instruction as we heard, again, that passage from his epistle. But, today also tells us why we ought to rejoice. The Blessed Virgin Mary tells us in her hymn of praise to God: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation." The cause of this joyful song is because she carries in her womb the very Lord and Savior whom she praises, the holy One who has done great things for her and whose mercy shall be upon all those who call her "blessed."

The occasion for this song highlights one of the most amazing themes in the Scriptures: that God unites His promise of salvation to child bearing. In Genesis, God promised a Savior from the seed of the woman. That promise runs through the whole Old Testament with names like Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David; as well as through a line of Israelite mothers such as Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel, and Gentiles like Rahab and Ruth. The promise is found in the prophets. Isaiah: "A Virgin will conceive and give birth to a son." Micah: "Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth." The Old Testament Word is clear. God would save the world from sin and death through the birth of a Child from God.

So, our Gospel for this fourth Sunday of Advent tells of the meeting of two pregnant women. They are cousins, and both are miraculously with child. Elizabeth was an elderly woman well past child-bearing age. She was six months along with John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ. Mary was a very young woman, certainly no older than eighteen. She had conceived a child in her virginity by the Holy Spirit. Both of them were pregnant by the power of God's Word. They were living testimony that "with God nothing is impossible."

Mary had heard from the angel that "she who was barren is in her sixth month," so she hurried off to the hill country of Judea to visit her cousin and share her joy. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, John jumped for joy in her womb.

Consider the wonder of that moment. The sound of Mary's voice caused John to leap for joy. There he was, a fetus barely six months old in his mother's womb, and already he was exalting Christ! Who says that babies can't believe? And who would argue that even unborn children cannot benefit by being in church and hearing the Word? Being in the Liturgy, hearing God's Word, eating and drinking the Sacrament are vital parts of every Christian woman's pre-natal care. Can anyone say that an unborn child does not benefit from God's Word?

The same is true for all our little ones. They need to hear God's Word even before they know what those words mean. Our children need to rejoice in the sound of the forgiveness of sins, of salvation and eternal life. They need to be filled with the sound of God's Word, with the historic hymns of the faith, with the ancient creeds and confessions that have been handed down to us. They need to grow into the vocabulary of eternal life. They will have all eternity to master it, but the earlier they start, the better.

Now, though older than Mary, Elizabeth considered it an honor that Mary should come and visit her. She honored her younger cousin as "the mother of my Lord." And so she is. That's why the church calls Mary "the Theotokos—the bearer of God" or "the mother of God." She was the bearer of the eternal Word, the mother of the Christ, God's Son. She was the chosen and honored instrument of the Lord's Incarnation, through whom God's Son received a body to offer for the life of the world. Mary is rightly to be blessed among women and blessed by all generations to come.

I know some people have difficulty in blessing Mary. I wonder if it's because we have difficulty with holy things in general. We've almost lost the idea of the sacred—sacred time, sacred space, sacred people and sacred things. Everything tends to be ordinary for our culture, the same, generic, interchangeable…ordinary. Our age wants churches to be comfortably unadorned. Pastors to be "just plain guys." Worship to be indistinguishable from the latest entertainment. The world would be thrilled to treat the Lord's Supper as just another fast food Happy Meal, Baptism as a religious bath, and Mary as just another pregnant teenager.

But, we treat a church building as a holy space. We don't just stomp in here as though we were entering a stadium or an auditorium. It's not because the flooring is holy, or the plaster or the upholstery. It's because the holy Word of God is preached and heard here. The Word makes this space holy and blessed. And we regard the pastor as a holy man, not because he is holy (to which I may personally attest), but because the Word he is ordered to preach is holy.

And so it is with Mary. She is blessed and holy not because of her own holiness or purity. She is holy because of the holy Child that was conceived in her by the Holy Spirit. She was the instrument of our Lord's incarnation, and for that reason she is holy and to be blessed by all who believe in her Son for their salvation.

Mary's song teaches us not to take our place with the proud and the powerful, the ruling and the rich of this world, for the Lord is a toppler of thrones. There is nothing in this world that can withstand the strength of God's arm. And, He destroys everything that competes for our trust in Him.

And yet God is merciful. His arm is mighty to save us from sin. His arm lifts up those who are humbled and bowed down with guilt. His arm reaches out to fill the hungry with good things—those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. His arm extended from the heights of heaven to embrace the world, to join Himself with us. He extended His arms on a cross to save us. He extends His arm to us now, as we hear His Word and receive His gifts.

Mary and Elizabeth teach us to receive those gifts in the way of faith. They reminds us that God is One who keeps His Word. He remembers "to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as He spoke to our fathers." God keeps His promises. The promise He made to Adam and Eve. The promise He made to the patriarchs and prophets of Israel. The promise He made to you when you were baptized. The promise He renews whenever you hear His Word of forgiveness.

So, then, let us rejoice today, and every day. Our Lord and Savior has looked on the humble estate of His servants; and the Mighty One has done great things for us. Holy is His Name, indeed. Amen.

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