Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sermon: Luke 1: 39-55 Mary's Melody of Mercy

For just over fifty years, one programme has been broadcast every year on TV on Christmas Day. Any guesses what it might be? It’s Top of the Pops. It’s a very simple programme - they show loads of bands and singers performing their songs, and then reveal the Christmas Number One. In case you want to watch it, it’s on this Friday at 2pm, if you’re waiting for the dinner to be ready.

As I was thinking about today, I realised that the early chapters of Luke’s gospel are a bit like an episode of Top of the Pops. You have Zechariah’s song (the Benedictus); the angel’s song (used in Communion); and the song of Simeon (the Nunc Dimmitus). But kicking off the show, we have the song of Mary - Mary’s Melody of Mercy. This is the song that she composed when the angel Gabriel came to her and told her that she, a virgin, would conceive and bear a son. When she gets the news, she travels three or four days to visit her cousin Elizabeth.

Let’s look at her song, her melody of mercy. In the prayer book it’s called the Magnificat, because of the opening line: ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.’ To magnify is to make bigger - so imagine that you’re going bug hunting in the garden. To see the number of legs on an ant, or what a worm really looks like, you need to get out your magnifying glass, to make it bigger, to see it more clearly. Or when you’re trying to read the newspaper and you have to hold it out further so that you’d need a longer arm, a magnifying glass will help you read it because it’s bigger.

So what does it mean for Mary to magnify the Lord? She’s making him bigger, by coming closer to him. She’s seeing him in more detail, she’s making more of him in her life. And she does that by rejoicing in ‘God my Saviour.’

Now why is she rejoicing? She tells us by the ‘for’ in verse 48. ‘For he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.’ Next week the new years honours list will be published. All over the country, people will have been receiving letters from the Queen, inviting them to receive an MBE or OBE for their community service, charity work or whatever. Now of course, the Queen doesn’t sit down with the phone book and think to herself, who will I honour? There’s a network of nominations, and an honours committee, yet it’s still a high honour to go to Buckingham Palace to receive the award.

But put yourself in Mary’s sandals for a moment. The God who is mighty, ruling over the universe, the all-powerful one, the majestic one - he has chosen and blessed Mary. God over all has noticed and known and nominated Mary. Little, insignificant Mary, the teenage girl living in a small town in the least province of Israel, the town Nathanael would later say this about: ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’

No wonder Mary is magnifying and rejoicing in God. But as she thinks through what God has called her to do, she realises just what this means. ‘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.’

God has blessed her; God has done great things for her. He has chosen her to be the mother of the Messiah, the son of David, the Son of God. It’s not just a once in a lifetime opportunity, it’s a once in the entire history of the world opportunity. No wonder Mary magnifies. She knows her own sin, yet the holy God has chosen her and saved her - she rejoices in God my Saviour.

Now you might be thinking, well, that’s nice for her. Of course Mary rejoices because she’s someone special. But what about me? I wonder can you echo Mary’s words, can you say these words for yourself: ‘for he who is mighty has done great things FOR ME’?

You see, Mary rejoices in the mercy God has shown to her. But she doesn’t stop there, because God doesn’t stop there. As she rejoices in God’s mercy to her, she recognises that God’s mercy doesn’t stop with her. ‘And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.’ God shows mercy to everyone, anyone in any every and any generation; to those who fear him, to those who revere him.

As Mary celebrates God’s mercy, she shows how God has acted in mercy. Here’s what God has done (and will do). Here’s why we too can rejoice in God our Saviour. Do you see how each verse begins? ‘He has’ - this is all about God, what God has done already (and will do - sometimes the Old Testament prophets speak about the future using the past tense because it’s so certain what God will do, they can say it is done).

‘He has shown strength with his arm.’ This isn’t just the poser in the gym who stands gazing at his reflection as he lifts the weights and shows off his biceps. God has acted, he has rolled up his sleeves to act in power. And here’s what he has done (and is doing):

‘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; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.’

It’s like a seesaw in a playground. The rich, the powerful, the proud are up top looking down on everyone else. Everyone looks up to them. Everyone wants to be them. They are secure in their success. No one can stand against them.

At the other end, you have the humble, the hungry, they’re at the bottom of the heap. But God intervenes. God turns things upside down - he brings down the mighty and exalts the humble. He fills the hungry and sends away empty the rich.

The other night on the news we had a picture of how the mighty can fall. The lead story on Thursday night’s news was how Jose Mourhino had been celebrating winning the Premier League with Chelsea in May. Just a few months later he was sacked, when the results weren’t going so well and Chelsea are near the bottom of the league.

And why does God act in this way? What’s his purpose in doing this? ‘He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring for ever.’ God is fulfilling his promise, the promise of mercy to those who fear him, to the offspring of Abraham.

Jesus came into the world to fulfil God’s mercy. It’s good news for all who will receive it, for those who fear him, for those who are of humble estate. But it’s not so good news for the proud, the rich, the powerful, who think that they can manage by themselves. When the world is turned upside down; when the seesaw is shifted, will you be up or down? My prayer is that you will echo Mary’s melody of mercy, rejoicing in God your Saviour who has done great things for you, giving you mercy and lifting you to himself. It might not be sung on Top of the Pops; it might never be Christmas Number 1; but this song will go on longer than any they'll show. Why not join in with Mary and make it your own?

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 20th December 2015.

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