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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Advent Midweek 2: Song of Mary

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.
            Last week we began our journey alongside people who were part of the Christmas story.  First, we encountered Zechariah as Gabriel appeared before him in the temple, bringing him the news that Elizabeth would conceive and bear a son, and that son would be named John.  He would be the prophet of the Most High and prepare the way for the Lord.  Tonight, we encounter another person, a well-known person, Mary, the mother of our Lord.
            We aren’t told much about Mary.  We are only told that she was a virgin and was engaged to a man named Joseph of the House of David.  While these details seem insignificant, they actually are quite important, for they fulfill prophecies concerning the coming Messiah.  Yet when Gabriel appeared to Mary and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” she was troubled and unsure what his presence and greeting had meant.  So Gabriel assured her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”  Gabriel told her that she would conceive and give birth to a son, and His name would be Jesus.
While Gabriel told Zechariah that John would be great before the Lord and called the prophet of the Most High, he told Mary that Jesus would be great and called the Son of the Most High.  While John made for the Lord a people prepared, the Lord was going to give to Jesus the throne of David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.  Like Zechariah, this was a tall order for Mary to take in, but unlike Zechariah who responded in disbelief, Mary responded in faith and trust.
            She asked Gabriel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”  Her question was not of doubt, but one that desired to know the will and work of God.  Gabriel responded by saying, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.  And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.  For nothing will be impossible with God.”   This was enough for Mary, she was satisfied with all Gabriel told her, “And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”” And Gabriel departed from her.
            Could you imagine?  You’re sitting there, going about your business, when an angel appears and tells you that you are going to be the mother of God.  How do you respond?  How do you react?  Add on top of that, Mary wasn’t even married yet.  She was a virgin!  The possibility of conceiving a child is absolutely absurd!  And what would this do to her?  People would talk, adultery would be assumed.  We know that when Joseph found out, he went to go and break off their engagement.  This was a major inconvenience in her life and she had every right to protest and say, “Not me, God!  Find someone else!”  …But that’s not what Mary did.  She accepted all of this by faith.
            In fact, soon as she got the chance she rushed to visit Elizabeth out in the hill country.  When Elizabeth heard her greeting she said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”…And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”  Elizabeth did not pity Mary, but called her blessed!  Mary herself responded by saying, “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.”  There it is again.  Blessed.  But what does this word mean?
            If you aren’t aware of it, in this age of communication there is a trend sweeping through social media and networking sites.  This trend, is called “the hashtag.”  A hashtag is a word or phrase prefixed with a hash mark, also known as the number sign, to form a label.  In order to see what I mean, look down at your bulletin and there you will see as the sermon title, “Song of Mary: #Blessed.”  No, that is not a typo; that is a hashtag.  Hashtags are often used to categorize posts so they can easily be referenced later.  Hashtags are used in advertising, marketing, campaigning, researching trends and so on, but it has also become popular to informally use a hashtag to add some kind of emotion or sentiment to post.  Some of these popular hashtags include #love, #happy, #bored, and as our sermon title tonight shows, #blessed.
            If you search for the hashtag blessed, you will discover all kinds of things that our culture considers as being “blessed.”  Social media sites are full of people who feel blessed because they were accepted into college or were nominated for some kind of award or went on an exotic getaway or met a celebrity or received a job promotion and so on.  While many of these things are good things, are they really blessings?  Do they really make someone “blessed?”
            What did Mary mean when she said that “from now on all generations will call me blessed?”  What would make her so special that all generations would turn to her and recognize her as blessed?  We know, of course, that Mary was blessed because she was chosen by God for a very special duty.  She was given the honor of being the mother of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the world.  Though she was not chosen because of any merit or worthiness in her, but as she sings, “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 definition of “blessed” is “to be made holy, to be consecrated.”  To be set apart.  Mary was set apart for this very act because God looked upon the humble estate of His servant, and out of His mercy He exalted her.  But even more so, Marry was not only blessed because she was chosen by God to be the one to carry Christ in her womb, but because Christ carried her from death to life.  It is out of His mercy that God sent His Son into this world to redeem His children.  It is out of His mercy that God has shown the strength of His arm by overcoming sin and death.  It is out of His mercy that He blessed not only Mary, but all of His people.  For “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.
            We too are blessed.  We too are set apart.  God has called us by the Gospel, not out of any worthiness or merit in us, but out of His divine love and mercy.  He has set us apart as a people prepared for Himself because just as Mary bore Christ within herself, Christ bore our sins within Himself upon the cross.  We are blessed, because we are baptized.  We are blessed because we are set apart, we are consecrated, made holy by the sufferings and death of Christ, and called to lead a holy life in our own sufferings and death.  We are blessed because Christ humbled Himself to come to us in our lowly estate of sin and death and exalt us into His righteousness and life.  He paid the ransom so that we could be born again into this new life, one full of righteousness and free of the guilt of sin.  This, dear Christians, is what truly makes us blessed.  So as we continue in this Advent season, we recognize our blessings through Christ and join Mary in magnifying the Lord and rejoicing in God our Savior.

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