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Thursday, August 14, 2008

St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord (obsvd)

Text: Luke 1:39-55

There are only 133 shopping days left until Christmas. If you are like most people, here in the middle of the August heat and humidity, Christmas is probably the farthest thing from your mind. It seems strange to consider at this time the narrative of the Annunciation, the Holy Family, and Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth. But there is good reason for us to do so. There is always good reason to examine the deeds of God in and among his people.

The early fathers of the Lutheran Reformation continued to faithfully observe much of the same holy calendar which had become custom in the West. Even though many Lutherans today feel uncomfortable with recognizing saint days, that was not the case for our spiritual forefathers. They knew that there were indeed certain excesses and malpractices to be avoided. But they also well understood the value and benefit of observing these special occasions in the liturgical life of the church.

One of the benefits of remembering the saints, for instance, is for our encouragement and the strengthening of our faith. How does this happen? When we recall the marvelous things which God accomplished through those earthen vessels, we respond in hearty thanks and praise. Look how God Almighty rescued the Israelites from cruel slavery in Egypt through His servants Moses and Aaron and Joshua. See again how God defended His people from the giant Goliath through a shepherd boy’s sling. These accounts along with dozens of others help us to understand the nature of God, that He protects His children and provides for them. As it was in the past, so it will be today. God is at work even now guarding you against the Evil One and He is providing for your needs of body and spirit. You and I have never seen God directly. No, God is known through His deeds. And His greatest deeds are often accomplished through men and women He chooses. No one sees God directly. But we see Him at work in our world through those whom He calls and appoints to serve us. God is active in our government officials, through public servants, through police and firefighters, through doctors and scientists, through farmers and laborers. It is by those means that He helps you, defends you, feeds you and heals you.

Furthermore, our faith can strengthened when we recall the great compassion He has shown toward sinners. David was forgiven for his adulterous affair. St. Peter was absolved for denying Christ. When we see the mercy of God at work in the lives of Christians who have gone before, we can take heart that God’s mercy will extend also to us. God is good to sinful men and women. In our corporate confession of sins we acknowledge that we deserve to be punished for our sins both now in time and forever in eternity. But God does not treat us as our sins deserve. He loves you and extends the hand of friendship to you. He invites us into His presence to enjoy table fellowship with Him.

A couple of years ago, I was a guest at a family’s house for their New Year’s Eve celebration. I’d never met them before. I was traveling for the seminary and circumstances just worked out for me to be there that night. In some ways, I felt very out of place at that meal and the celebration of the evening. This family and their group of friends were all wealthy, highly educated people, people in positions of power and authority and influence. And then there was little ol’ me. But I guess I would say that was one of the most enjoyable New Year’s Eve celebrations I have every experienced. The meal was grand and expensive. We were served delicacies and wines of the highest quality. But the main reason it was such a pleasantly memorable night for me was because of the warm welcome that I was shown. Though I was a stranger, though I am not a person of affluence and power, everyone was kind and gracious. They made me feel welcome and as though I belonged.

We are unworthy of standing in the holy awesome presence of God. Our God is a consuming fire. It is a fearful terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But we can come into His presence, not trembling with self loathing, terrified of His wrath, unsure of our standing before Him. Because of the work of Jesus Christ upon the cross, we are declared righteous in the eyes of God Almighty. Our sins have been atoned for in full by the bloody sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And it is on His account, by His merit, that we can enjoy God’s good favor and be welcomed into His festal hall.

Our faith is fortified when we understand that God so often chooses the weakest and lowliest among us to accomplish His purposes. This was never more true than in His selection of Mary of Nazareth to bear and deliver His Son. In the eyes of the world, she was nothing. She was a peasant, a nobody, a peon. But in the eyes of God, she was precious beyond measure. It was not due to any merit or virtue in her as a person that God chose her. It was purely out of God’s incredible grace that He showed His servant this unspeakable kindness, that she should become the Mother of our Lord.

It seems to me that Mary, the mother of our Lord, was one of the world’s most profound theologians. For in her beautiful song, the Magnicat, she exhibits an understanding of the ways of God which seems to escape so many wise heads both then and now. She sang, “He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away….” She understood so eloquently that God’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. For it would be the way of the world to bless the rich and curse the poor, to admire the strong and despise the weak. But God lifts up the lowly and removes the haughty. Beware all you who are confident in yourselves, for God will leave you to yourself. The God of Moses and David and Peter and Mary is the God who dines with sinners. He is the God who comes down to the lowly and then exalts them. He has come for you. God, in Christ, has chosen you in your sorrow, your fear, your failure, your unhappiness. He has chosen you in your sin, your rebellion, your disease. God Has chosen you to be the lords and ladies of His Kingdom. He will wipe your face. He will dress you in finery. He will take you proudly, a groom with his bride, into the hall where angels will bow before us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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