Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Text: Luke 1:46-47, 54-55
Mary said, “My heart praises the Lord; my soul is glad because of God my Saviour. … He has kept the promise he made to our ancestors, and has come to the help of his servant Israel. He has remembered to show mercy to Abraham and to all his descendants forever!”


When I was a seminary student I spent this time of the year at one of the big department stores.  The store converted the floor with the toy department into Santa’s Magic Cave and this is where children could visit Santa and pass on their Christmas wish-list.  In the Magic Cave there were all kinds of things for kids to see and do.  There were two huge rocking horses in the Magic Cave and my job was to lift children on to one of these rocking horses, rock it making sure the child stayed in the saddle and then lift them off again.  You might think that a bit mindless but the kids were good and chatted excitedly about Christmas and seeing Santa. 

All day the store’s sound system played the same three songs, “Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer”, “Jingle bells”, and “The Jingle bell rock” and I think “The Jingle bell rock” was played twice as many times as the others.  As I walked back to the Seminary in the evenings I had this song swirling around in my head.  When I went to bed it was still there.  When I got up in the morning it was there.  When I went back to the store the first thing I heard was ….. “Jingle bell rock”.  It’s really annoying to get a song stuck in your head, especially a song that you don’t particularly like. 

Music is a way of expressing our feelings.  If you look through music and songs that have been composed over the centuries, including those in the Bible, you soon see that some of the most beautiful lyrics and music express the full range of human feelings and a whole variety of spiritual experiences – sadness, guilt, despair, loneliness, repentance and, of course, love and hope and comfort.  Listen to some of the beautiful Requiems – music and words written especially for funerals.

What are we to make of Mary’s song in today’s reading from Luke’s Gospel?  As I said, music comes from the heart and expresses what we are feeling.  Why did Mary break into a song? 

Luke tells us that she had been visited by the angel Gabriel and told her that she was about to become pregnant.  That was hardly something to sing about especially since she was very young and a virgin?

She was engaged to Joseph and well on the way to being married.  She was very faithful to Joseph who was a honourable man and well respected.  But now being pregnant – how was that going to go down with Joseph and the rest of the town?  That was nothing to be happy about?

The angel said her baby was the son of the Most High God and that God made her pregnant.  Yeh right, as if anyone including Joseph was going to believe that.  She truly believed that God was doing amazing things through her but as far as anyone else was concerned she was an outcast.  Was that something to sing about?

Mary leaves town for the next few months and visits her relative Elizabeth, already 6 months pregnant, and I think her reason for doing this is because both women had similar experiences. 
The one woman is old and her son will bring an age to a close.  Her son will be the last of the Old Testament prophets and bring a message about the Messiah from God. 
The other woman is young and her son will usher in a new age.  Her son is the one who will be named Jesus because he will save people from their sins and bring the Kingdom of God to earth.  Even the unborn John knows that he is in the presence of the Saviour of the world and leaps in the womb when Mary enters.  Later John will express in words this in uterine leap saying, “There is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!  This is the one I was talking about when I said, "A man is coming after me, but he is greater than I am, because he existed before I was born.’” (John 1:29-30). 

Now we are beginning to feel something of the excitement.  The two women meet.  At hearing Mary’s voice the baby in Elizabeth acknowledges Mary’s baby and confirms for Mary that what Gabriel had said was really happening.  Her child is the Son of the most high God and Elizabeth filled with the Holy Spirit blesses Mary saying, “You are blessed by God above all other women, and your child is blessed.  …. “You are blessed, because you believed that the Lord would do what he said”.

Elizabeth is excited and praises God and now we come to Mary’s song.  Well the Bible doesn’t actually say she sang it but because of its poetic style much like the psalms, it has come to be considered a song.  It doesn’t matter whether she said it or sang it, these are words that express the joy that is in Mary’s heart as she realises not only what God is unfolding through her but also through the whole of history. 

We call it the Magnificat – a Latin word which means he or she glorifies or magnifies or gives praise.  In this case “She glorifies” is a wonderful name for this song of praise from Mary.

Even though the song starts “My heart praises” this is not a song about Mary; it’s all about God; it’s all about the Saviour.  The reason all generations will call her blessed is because God has been faithful to his promises and in her womb is the fulfilment of all that has been spoken about throughout the generations before her.  She says, “He has kept the promises he made to our ancestors and has come to the help of his servant Israel.  He has remembered to show mercy to Abraham and to all his descendants forever” (and that includes us today). 

I don’t believe for one minute that Mary understood everything about the child she was carrying.  I suppose it’s like that for any new parent.  As you wait for your new child to arrive you wonder what the future will hold for your little one; where will life take him/her, what joys, what troubles.  You don’t know but that doesn’t diminish the joy of finally holding that little one in your arms.  

It was no different for Mary.  There was a lot of mystery about her son, Jesus.  There was the old man who told her that because of her son she will be deeply saddened. 
There were family tensions over Jesus because we know Jesus’ brothers thought that he had gone out of his mind (Mark 3:21). 
We can only guess what was going through Mary’s mind as the events leading to Good Friday and the crucifixion of her first born son unfolded.

But that day meeting with Elizabeth her only thought was
to praise God for the mighty things he has done for her, the lowliest and most ordinary person you could ever find in the world;
to praise God for what he has done in the past and
to praise God for the way he is fulfilling his promise to rescue all people in the future.

I’m glad that we have better songs at Christmas than “Jingle bell rock” or “Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer” or “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas”.  These are fun Christmas songs but they miss the point completely about what Christmas is all about. 

Mary’s song wasn’t what we would call a Christmas carol but it set the tone and the theme of what a true Christian song about Christmas ought to be. 
It’s about God and what he has done for humanity through Mary’s child. 
It’s about God becoming human in the womb of a young woman for you and me.
It’s about the reason why God has done this – he has promised to send a Saviour because of his extreme love for every one of us.
It’s about the peace and hope and joy that comes from God.  Mary talks about how God has brought these things to his people in the past as he cared for his people when they were persecuted, poor, and hungry and now through his Son he will again bring peace and hope and joy that will enrich and strengthen his people in the worst circumstances that might come their way.
It’s about God's mercy shown to us through Mary’s child who dies on a cross for us.  He dies to give forgiveness; to break down the barriers between God and us and to enable us to reach out to one another and be peacemakers.  He rises again to ensure that we too will rise to eternal life in heaven.

Mary’s song was a song of praise; a song of praise for the salvation that God had brought to her and to all people.  Mary considered herself blessed because of what God had done for her and the faith that enabled her to be God's servant. 

We too are blessed.  Christ dwells in us. He has given us faith to believe in him.  He has done everything necessary for our salvation. 
He has blessed us with his Word and feeds us with his body and blood. 
He blesses us daily with his love and presence in every situation in life. 
He is truly Immanuel – our God who is with us.

We have every reason to raise our voices with Mary, the heavenly choir of angels, the shepherds who praised God after visiting the stable and sing because of “the great things the Mighty God has done for (you and) me” (Luke 1:49).


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
23rd December 2012

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