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Luke 1: 26-38
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her
A Blessed Advent to you! Advent, which means "the coming of the Lord," is a time when we look back and remember all that God has done, and a time that we also look forward to all that is still yet to come. The scriptures are filled with God having people remember - build this monument so every time you pass by you can remember what I have done, write this down, talk about it when you get up, pass it down, write this song about it so every time you sing it you can all remember what I have done, "Do this in remembrance of me."
God wants us to remember. We are actively to look back and remember the goodness and faithfulness of God so that we will not forget to keep on actively seeking Him and living for Him today. These few weeks before we celebrate Christmas, we can take ourselves back to the long years of waiting before the birth of our Lord - imagine what it was like to wait then!
The few in the world who remembered about the True Creator of Heaven and Earth watched and waited for something to happen. A Messiah had been promised, but what did that really mean - a prophet, a priest, a King? Some sort of huge empire that they were in charge of? It had been such a long, long time, and things were not going so great. There were a few awesome moments of victory and miracle, but a whole lot of just watching and waiting and forgetting. And that was just Israel... what about the long wait for the rest of the world?
One of my favorite books, Everlasting Man by GK Chesterton, paints a picture of mankind as far back as history goes. Chesterton brilliantly maps out the long path that mankind takes in an effort to remember what he has forgotten. The record of history and art prove that man has always had a heart tuned towards worship, and hearts that were seeking who or what it was we were made to worship. All of history tells the story of the search, from age to age and from continent to continent, and of the strange and wild mythologies that mankind developed in searching for God, in trying to make an explanation for all they saw around them.
Finally it crescendos with a fight to end all fights between Carthage and Rome. Carthage was the rich and highly advanced civilization of Molech worshippers. These were rich and busy and highly cultured people, and their worship would have been as if modern bankers and lawyers got dressed in their Sunday best and went to church to sacrifice their children. Rome was a loosely linked, ragtag bunch of pagan pastoral people with a huge and eclectic mythology. There was no way in the world Rome should have won, but they did, and the whole world realized that they had stared real evil in the face and defeated it. Rome quickly rose into her ivory towers and became a huge empire which allowed a relatively safe, accommodating, and enriching civilization - what most of the world would still say was the best that mankind can do.
But this best that man could do was almost immediately rotten from within and began to decay. And in the fullness of time, in a small nowhere at the back of the Roman Empire, in a stable surrounded by animals because there was not even room at the inn, to a young-and-not-yet-married teenage girl, a baby was born....and God says, ok now let me show you what I can do.
The end of first long wait had begun. It began in that rude stable with the birth of Jesus, who left the glory and perfect fellowship of Heaven to come here and live and walk among us, showing us the Kingdom. It culminated with the awful death and glorious resurrection of our Savior and King, who ascended Back into Heaven and then sent His blessed Holy Spirit to fill us and empower us.
The first long wait began to end that day as Mary stood face to face with God’s messenger Gabriel in the passage we read at the beginning of this post. Her answer was simple and sweet and full of faith - “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”
She went to visit Elizabeth, whose baby leapt within her womb at the coming of the Christ-bearer, and then we read the record of Mary’s beautiful song in verses 46-55:
And Mary said:“My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones, but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”
This song is a remembrance - it is called the Magnificat because of the first line, My soul magnifies the Lord,” and is one of the most beautiful songs ever sung. E.Stanley Jones also calls it the most revolutionary song ever sung. This young girl, full of faith and literally full of the Kingdom, sings the song of what God has had in mind since the beginning of time. She sings the song of His Kingdom.
And guess what - it is absolutely nothing like we thought it would be. It is nothing like the many systems and kingdoms and empires and religions that mankind had made and keeps on trying to make over the years, It is entirely other, and if you want to know what the Kingdom is, look at Jesus, listen to Jesus - born in that rude and simple way, living a sinless and selfless life, suffering and dying a sacrificial death for all of us, overcoming death, hell, and the grave.
It isn’t about wealth or power or religious systems, or even about beautiful and mighty cathedrals covered in gold. No. In God's Kingdom, to win you must lose, to be first we must be last, to find true and ultimate freedom we must bow in total obedience, to find our lives we must lose them, and to live we must die. Our simple response to Jesus and His Kingdom it is a simple and faith-filled yes to the King of Heaven and Earth, to be a bearer of the Christ with a soul that magnifies the Lord.
The second long wait began in an upper room, with a faithful group of men and women, full of the Kingdom and empowered by the Holy Spirit, and with a mandate from our King in His full authority over in Heaven and on earth - Go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them everything He has commanded us - and He will be with us, even to the very end of the age.
We, like Mary, are bearers of Christ. Today as we look back and also look forward, we bow our hearts in humility and faith, and remember that Jesus is everything we need. In Him and for Him was everything and everyone made. As E. Stanley Jones said, “Jesus and His Kingdom are the total answer for man’s total need, a head-on answer, one gospel for all men and for the total man and his total environment, a gospel relevant in every situation for all men everywhere, at any time, in any and every condition.”
From the start of this second long age of waiting, the danger has been that we will forget how tremendous and how different Jesus and His Kingdom truly are. The danger in this age of the church is that we would go back to our old tricks and just keep reverting back to our own ideas and explanations - making up our own religions and strange mythologies, only this time in the name of the church.
The danger is that we reduce the Lord and His Kingdom into something we can control and explain .... into something safe and manageable ... into something that fits on a chart ... into something that we ourselves are actually the lord over and not the true Kingdom at all.
As we wait, we remember this song of Mary and the attitude and heart behind it - “my soul will magnify the Lord!” Not reduce, Magnify! As we wait, we can work and rest and be joyful and sure in the fact that it is never going to look like what we think, and it is always going to be way more awesome than we can even imagine.
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)