In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
God does everything the opposite of what we expect Him to do; God does nothing new. Mary sings her praise of God for what He has done in the past, as well as what He has done for her. And yet it is totally unexpected. This is the strange truth. Everything is unexpected, but everything is along the lines of what God always does. Go back to the Garden and see if you can imagine how God is going to fix and restore His broken creation. Adam and Eve have refused to believe the Word of God, instead believing the word of another creature, and so they have put themselves outside of their original relationships with both God and each other. What do you think God’s going to do? Destroy it all and start over? Scrap it as a failed experiment? Live with people as they are? Invade with armies of angels and conquer His enemies? All of those are probably imaginable. But I highly doubt Adam or Eve or Seth or Abraham, Isaac or Jacob or David or anyone else was thinking: maybe He’ll wait thousands of years, and then cause the eternal Son to be born from a virgin who lives in Nazareth, and then wait 30-some years and have Him die on a cross and be raised three days later. Unexpected, I imagine.
On the other hand, go back to the Garden and see how God actually works in time and space. He curses the serpent, but He wraps up in that curse the promise that the Seed of the woman would come to bruise the serpent’s head. He drives Adam and Eve out of the Garden as the punishment for their sin, but it is actually the mercy of not allowing them to eat of the Tree of Life and live forever in their sin and separation. He destroys the earth with the flood, but He restores it through the man Noah, whom He has chosen. He doesn’t choose Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Rome. He chooses the 12 sons of a liar and schemer named Jacob. He doesn’t fight Jericho; He has His people march around the city and shout. He doesn’t overwhelm the people oppressing Israel; He has Gideon take along 300 people, who carry torches and shout (again). And then, with the whisper of an angel’s words, He chooses an engaged virgin from a town whose name was part of a joke: Can anything good come from Nazareth? See, this is nothing new: God always turns upside down human expectations, thoughts, and opinions.
Blessed are the healthy, wealthy, and wise? No. He frustrates the wisdom of the wise and tears down the pride of the arrogant. He has mercy on the poor, who come with empty hands. Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? Jesus Himself rejoices in the Holy Spirit, that His Father has hidden these things from the wise and understanding, and revealed them to little children. The logic of God’s salvation makes no sense in the economy of this world’s priorities, but what He does through His Son in flesh makes perfect sense in the logic of the Trinity’s saving action. God’s mighty arm is His salvation, and there is no change in the fifteen hundred years between the Exodus and the Incarnation. He delivered His people then, and He delivers them now. The Son of God born from Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High and holy, the Son of God, not because He will have a lot of money and eat the best food and drink the best wine and wear the nicest clothes, but because they will call His Name Yahshua: The Salvation of Yahweh. He is God’s saving arm. He will go hungry so that He can feed the hungry with good things; He humbles Himself all the way to death and the grave so that He can scatter the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He is enthroned in weakness on the cross so that He can pull down the mighty from their thrones; after the resurrection, He is exalted to the Right Hand of God’s power, so that He can raise up those who have nothing to give Him in return; He remembers His mercy when no one else does.
On the other hand, we sinners love to magnify ourselves. Even at the lowest points of our lives, when everything has gone wrong, we still cannot give up: we’ll get through this somehow! We’ll survive. We’ll save our own lives, because we cannot bear to lose them, taking every last step, grasping at every last straw, holding on by our fingernails to life in this world because we think it’s all we have. Somehow, in our minds, the good things that satisfy the hungry become limited to the wealth of this world, the justice of this world, the government of this world. All of which are good, but all of which are incomplete, inadequate, temporary. Somehow, in our minds, the great things He has done for me become centered in the “me,” instead of in the “He.” We end up removing salvation from Israel and the billions of descendants of Abraham by faith, and making it only about individuals dying and going to heaven. So Mary reminds us of the true magnitude of God’s mighty works in her Son; she sings with a humility that is suspect to us because we know that the humility of sinners is always tainted with hidden self-importance and the desire for praise. But Mary’s humility is genuine because it is produced by the sudden and unexpected announcement that God has graced her with His undeserved favor. He has given her His salvation, His Jesus.
So it is for you this night, this Advent, this Nativity season: He comes unasked, unseen, with a whisper in the neverending noise. He comes for you unexpectedly: while everyone is scrambling to grab hold of some Christmas nostalgia, some memory, some meaningful tradition; while the world eats and celebrates and decorates and buys itself into disappointment and debt; while your flesh holds out its generosity and charity and goodwill as evidence that it is not completely self-centered; in the middle of it all, Jesus comes the same old way He always has, to the same old sinners: not any more in the manger, not any more on the cross, not even as the little Lord Jesus looking down from the sky; but washing you with water and His Word; putting His Body and Blood into your mouth; and His Words into your ears. He speaks, He baptizes, He feeds. These are the great works of His crucified and resurrected mercy delivered to you in your flesh, as certainly and as physically as Mary’s pregnancy. Holy is His Name! Blessed are you, along with all the generations who have received His mercy, from Abraham to Mary, and into eternity.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 12/16/14