Remembering Mercy

The Greek church gives Mary the title of Theotokos. Theotokos, literally translated, means the God-bearer and it serves as a wonderful reminder of the magnitude of Mary’s role. The child conceived and carried in her womb is not just some better or more perfect man. This is not a heavenly messenger or divine prophet. No, this is “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.” This is the great Immanuel, God with us. Mary is the God-bearer. She is the vessel which ushers in the Creator of the heavens and the earth, as he takes on our flesh to redeem and save the lost. There is a reason why Elizabeth greets her by saying, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” And blessed she was for the child she carried within her would change the world. All of human history was focusing down to this moment. All the promises of God are fulfilled by the Son she bears. And all life since the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord looks back to this moment for hope and meaning and promise.

In addition to the incredible role she plays as the mother of our Lord, Mary serves us all as a great example of faithfulness. In fact, her confession of faith is simply stunning. Think it through. Mary is a young girl betrothed to a man named Joseph. She is not powerful or prestigious in any way, but she has found favor in the eyes of the Lord. The angel Gabriel appears to her and announces she will conceive and bear a son and call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. You think Moses had a shock when God told him he would go to Pharaoh to let his people go? Or Isaiah had a shock when he was sent into king’s courts to proclaim the judgement of God? Mary was to care for and nurture and raise the Word of God made flesh, the great stumbling block who would turn the world upside down. And do you remember how she responded? Do you remember what she said to Gabriel? She says, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” I mean, this was not some promise of God out on the horizon. This is a promise she would feel growing inside of her and she simply submits to the Word of God. What an incredible testimony of faithfulness.

Today, as we get ever so close to the celebration of Christmas, we are given a chance to sit at the feet of Mary. To learn from her what this great working of God means. We heard about the joy of John the Baptist leaping in the womb of Elizabeth at the voice of Mary and then we hear her voice for ourselves as she sings her great song of faith. Luke 1:46-55 contains what we now call the Magnificat, a song we still sing in the Church today. If you have ever been to a vespers service, you have sung this song. It is, in many ways, the song of the faithful, the song of the Church. To this day this song continues to teach us about our God and our inclusion in His Kingdom, about hope and salvation and the powerful working of God in our midst.

She sings, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Her whole being seems to radiate the praises of God. And this makes sense for the very next line is, “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” (Luke 1:48-49). You know, now that I think about it, it seems it is probably at this point that we would feel a great disconnect between Mary and ourselves. I mean, it must be easy to praise God with your whole being when you are the one who He has directly impacted in such a profound and life altering way. The words of Elizabeth confirm her own thoughts and desires. She is blessed among women. She heard the voice of Gabriel. She feels the fruit of the Word growing in her own body. But what about you?

How many of our brothers and sisters have prayed for some bold sign of the presence of God? How many of you have felt the terrifying oppression of the silence of God, as you search for answers or guidance or some reassurance? There is a point where we grow beyond the childlike faith which rejoices in the simple confession we were raised in. As a child we sing, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” But as we grow older, we desperately need something more. We need a promise that is felt in the realities of our life. We need to know His presence, to experience His advent with us. I am not saying we all want to be God-bearers like Mary, but something tangible, something powerful, something glorifying that the world would witness. That is what we long for. It can often feel like we are the forgotten children of God, that we have no place, no purpose, no direction in the work He is doing.

The thing is, we know we do not deserve such things; at least I think we do. You have heard over and again the Law of God. You know you have fallen short of His glory and have nothing to barter with, nothing to offer God so He might give some glory or honor to you. You are emptyhanded sinners. You have sinned in your thoughts, your words, and your deeds. Truly, such broken lives are not worthy of God’s greatness. We are too lowly for such honors, too weak and foolish for such glory. So, we might find it difficult to magnify the Lord with our soul or rejoice in God with our spirit.

But as we continue to listen to Mary song, she paints for us all a powerful picture of hope and comfort. She says God, “…has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.” The strength of God is turning the order of things upside down. The mighty and the exalted are brought low, they are turned away, they are humbled. It is the lowly, the humble, the weak, the foolish, the sinners who are exalted. Think about it. God does not come to you because you have something to offer Him. He comes because you have nothing. He comes to do what you could not do yourself. And His glory and power and prestige, look weak and foolish to this world. It is suffering and a cross. It is blood and death and a broken body for the sins of the world. It looks like defeat and shame and a curse. Yet, this is His great work. This is His glory.

Mary continues singing, “He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” The hungry are filled with good things. You, then, are filled with good things. Again, it may not look like much to this world, which is what Mary is reminding us of. It may look like some water poured over the head of a child with the simple words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and Holy Spirit.” It may look like a little piece of stale bread and a sip of some sweet wine, but we hear the words, “Take, eat, this is my body, take, drink, this is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins.” Forgiveness is given here. Hope is renewed here, through these lowly things. If this was not enough, He continues to do His work through the Word that is proclaimed through the absolution spoken when your ears hear again the good news, “You are forgiven all of your sins.” Yes you, this day, here and now, you are forgiven.

Mary’s song is the song of the Church, the song of the faithful. It is the song of those who receive the Word of the Lord as it continues to come to us. And that is perhaps the great lesson we are to learn from her words. God continues to come to you. He still advents with His people. As we move from our childlike faith to the struggles of our present day to the hope of the second coming, He continues to come. These seemingly lowly things, the Word and Sacraments which stand at the heart of our fellowship, these are the remembrance of His mercy for you!