This week in worship, we continue our Advent Series, “What God Does for Us at Christmas” with Pastor Doug sharing about Elizabeth and Mary and their example of great faith as they faced the unexpected changes in their lives and waited prayerfully for God’s future to be revealed.
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The first video below is JUST THE SERMON.
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This video is the WHOLE SERVICE.
God Turns Things Upside Down
Throughout 2020 we have been forced to deal with the unexpected. We’ve had to change our plans, our expectations, our goals, our hopes, the routines of our lives.
Things we wanted to do we didn’t get to do. Other things we didn’t want to do, out of necessity, we’ve done, and we’ve learned how to adapt and adjust and live, in ways we hadn’t anticipated, to adapt to a reality we didn’t expect. Does that sound about right?
One of the things I find helpful is to try and think of a story or person in the Bible who is facing a similar season or having an experience that equates with mine because if I can identify that person or story, then I can learn from their experience.
While we may not have thought about it this way before, this year especially we have a lot in common with the two most prominent women we meet in the story of Jesus’ birth, Elizabeth, and Mary.
Think about it for moment.
Elizabeth and Mary are forced to deal with the unexpected. They had to change their plans, their expectations, their goals, their hopes, the routines of their lives. Things they wanted to do they didn’t get to do. Other things they didn’t want to do, out of necessity, they did, and they learned how to adapt and adjust and live, in ways they hadn’t anticipated to adapt to a reality they didn’t expect. God turned their lives upside down, which is something God is often in the habit of doing.
The setting for today’s scripture is a meeting between two unexpectedly expectant mothers. Elizabeth is getting on in years and has never been able to have a child. Mary is young and not yet married. Both pregnancies are unexpected and unplanned by the people involved.
It’s amazing how news of the same event – being pregnant – can be received very, very differently depending on the circumstances. Both children growing in their mother’s wombs will be special. Elizabeth’s son, John the Baptist, will prepare the way for Mary’s son, Jesus. At the moment of today’s scripture their sons’ ministries lie some 30 years in a future that cannot be seen or known by the mothers, any more than parents today can imagine what their children’s lives will be like in 30 years.
Elizabeth, praying against the reality of her life experience, is in seclusion hoping her pregnancy will last full term and bring a son and take away the disgrace she has felt in her culture at not being able to give birth.
Mary, having what can only be described as a miraculous encounter, agrees to partner with God according to God’s word, but cannot have any idea what she is going to experience.
The angel Gabriel tells Mary her older relative Elizabeth is pregnant with a son and Mary goes immediately to see her. Maybe one of Mary’s thoughts was, “If Elizabeth is truly pregnant, it will be a confirmation of my own experience.”
When Elizabeth greeted Mary by blessing her and the fruit of her womb before Mary could tell her she was pregnant, it provided confirmation for Mary about her experience. And Mary said (Luke 1:46-55),
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
According to the promises he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
Mary’s soul magnifies or declares the greatness of God.
Magnify has several meanings, including to glorify or praise, as well as to enlarge or to make greater in size. A magnifying glass enables us to see something more clearly.
When Mary says, “my soul magnifies the Lord” and shares what God has done for her, she is praising God and enabling others to see God’s nature and character more clearly than we can through the lens of our own experience.
First, Mary praises God for what God has done for her personally.
Her spirit rejoices in God her Savior. Mary looks to God for mercy, salvation, and deliverance.
“He has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.”
“The Mighty One has done great things for me.”
How has God looked on you with favor? What great things has the Mighty One done for you?
It’s important to remember that Mary at this point was almost certainly only a teenager, yet she’s focusing on God’s blessing in her life and the great things God has done and not the difficulties she’ll face in being faithful.
Secondly, Mary praises God for what God has done for generations and what the Lord will do in the future and Mary speaks of all these things as if they were already accomplished.
God has shown strength, scattered the proud, brought down the powerful, filled the hungry, and helped his servant Israel. The God who has been faithful in the past will continue to be faithful in the future.
As a rich American, I’m a little uncomfortable with Mary stating God is not on the side of the proud, the powerful, or the rich who are going to be sent away empty, but that’s what she and God’s Word declares.
Luke’s gospel is filled with these kinds of reversals. Throughout his gospel Luke repeatedly warns us not to invest our lives merely trying to climb a pyramid of material success or personal prestige that Mary says God is going to flip upside down.
Christmas is about God identifying with the marginalized, not the powerful.
Part of preparing for the coming of Christ at Christmas, is accepting responsibility for, and repenting of actions, speech, behavior, or patterns of thought that are harmful for us or other people including the things Mary mentions: pride, selfishness, greed, and indifference.
When people’s lives get turned around and God gets the credit, the Lord is magnified.
When we magnify the Lord, we enable others to see God and what God has done more clearly than they can with just their own vision.
Psalm 34:3 invites us, “O magnify the Lord with me, let us exalt his name together.”
Considering the favor God has shown us and the things God has done for us – how do we magnify the Lord in return?
Another way we magnify the Lord is through our obedience to God’s word.
Elizabeth says to Mary (Luke 1:45), “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
Mary was obedient to the Lord even though the future didn’t turn out the way Mary hoped it would when she shared these joyous words. No parent wants to outlive her or his child; it’s one of the great heartaches one can experience in life as some of you know.
When Jesus was just a baby a man named Simeon said prophetically and ominously to Mary (Luke 2:34-35),
“This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Mary could not have imagined as she and Elizabeth shared their mutual joy that one day, she’d see her son publicly tortured and executed. However, thankfully her heartache would be transformed to celebration.
The gospel of Luke begins with the joy of Mary and the angels and ends with joy after the resurrection of Jesus. The gospel concludes (Luke 24:52-53), “And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple blessing God.”
Mary’s song of praise in Luke 1 and living through the COVID19 pandemic both teach us that the future is never going to be exactly the way we thought it might be in our lives, our families, at BBC, in our nation or the world.
However, it’s important for us to be like Mary who was faithful and kept believing in the goodness of God and the purposes of the Lord even though her life and future didn’t turn out the way she thought it would before Gabriel came to her and shared the message that changed her life.
Like Mary, God’s promises can also be fulfilled in us and through us, but the new life God wants to bring forth will take time to develop and may happen in ways that are not always comfortable or even easy for us to accept.
Pregnancy requires waiting and coping with changes as they occur. Those changes are not always welcomed or comfortable, but they are endured because there is a purpose in mind – new life is developing within us.
We need to exercise patience and understanding as we get used to new situations.
Like Mary, we can glorify God in whole-hearted worship and prayer that ponders what God is doing in our midst. Only time will reveal what the future will bring. We believe God’s promise will be fulfilled in us and through us, but it will take time. So, what do we do in the meantime?
Well, what do expectant parents do? They prepare.
When we sing Joy to the World on Christmas Eve, we hear the words, “Let every heart prepare him room.”
There’s a sense for us individually and as a church that we need to prepare room for Jesus to come into our hearts and into our midst.
One of the ways we prepare room is through a commitment to worshiping God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind.
Notice the exuberance and enthusiasm of Mary’s praise. She’s rejoicing in God her savior. Mary is a wonderful model for us in so many ways including her passion for worship and prayer.
It’s interesting to note in contrast to the words of Elizabeth and Mary in Luke chapter 1, the silence of the men in the Advent story.
Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah can’t speak for nine months during his wife’s pregnancy. Joseph doesn’t speak at all. We don’t have a single word attributed to him. The sound of Advent is the voice of the women. The words and emotions of Mary and Elizabeth take center stage.
Another way we prepare for an uncertain future is through a commitment to prayer.
We read many times in Luke (1:29, 2:19, 2:51) of Mary pondering events in her heart and we know from this prayer in Luke 1 and her presence in the company of believers as they pray in Acts 1 that she was a woman of prayer.
Wholehearted worship and passionate prayer are two of the key practices that help sustain us as we live through months of unexpected changes.
To return to the beginning of our story, some of us, like Elizabeth, may have hoped and prayed for something in our life for years and those hopes, and dreams weren’t fulfilled. Like Elizabeth, we need to find ways to hold onto our faith in the face of that disappointment and waiting.
Some of us, like Mary, have had something happen that we totally hadn’t hoped or prayed for that significantly impacted our life. Like Mary, we can learn to hold onto our faith when totally unexpected events occur, and we can wait patiently and prayerfully for God’s future to be revealed.
These two exemplary women, Elizabeth, and Mary are great role models and examples of facing both disappointment and the unexpected with resilient faith and courage. That is a message of Christmas that is powerful and lasts throughout the entire year.
Like Mary, God’s promises can be fulfilled in us and through us, but the new life God wants to bring forth will take time to develop and may happen in ways that are not easy for us to accept.
Like Mary, we can glorify God in whole-hearted worship and prayer that ponders what God is doing in our midst.
Like Mary, we can share God’s concern and love in tangible ways for the humble, the lowly, the poor and the hungry.
Like Mary, we can magnify the Lord in our lives so that others may see God more clearly. Imagine what it would be like if instead of wearing a cross on a necklace or chain, if Christians wore a large magnifying glass, like at least 12” in diameter, so that it was really obvious to people. Then whenever someone asked, “Why are you wearing a magnifying glass?” We could say, “It is a reminder to me that I’m called to magnify the Lord every moment of every day throughout the year. and make the Lord easier for others to see.”
Like Mary, we can have the joy of looking forward with excitement and anticipation for the new life that God is bringing forth for us, within us and through us this Christmas and in the New Year. I pray the Lord will be magnified through you.
Questions for Reflection or Discussion
Like Elizabeth, have you ever hoped and prayed for something in your life and those hopes, and dreams weren’t fulfilled? How, like Elizabeth, did you hold onto your faith during that disappointment?
Like Mary, have you ever had something happen that you totally hadn’t hoped or prayed for that significantly impacted your life? How, like Mary, did you hold onto your faith during that totally unexpected event?
What can we learn from their examples of Elizabeth and Mary about facing both disappointment and the unexpected with resilient faith and courage?
Mary praises God for what the Lord has done for her personally. What are you praising God for today?
What do we learn from Mary about wholehearted worship and passionate prayer?
How can you magnify the Lord in your life so that others may see God more clearly?