Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Power of a Humble Heart; Luke 1:39-56, Micah 5:2-5a

Today’s gospel reading is Mary visiting Elizabeth. After hearing from the angel, and discovering she and her older cousin are pregnant, Mary goes with haste to visit Elizabeth. By the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth is able to confirm with a blessing what the angel had told Mary. Mary is encouraged and responds in what is known as the Magnificat, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” One of the things that stands out about these two women is their deep humility. I think that is what made them such usable vessels for God. They didn’t assume that they were worthy or deserving; rather, they realized how much they need their Savior. First, we see humility in Elizabeth. Though she is older, Elizabeth humbles herself to Mary, as the “Mother of her Lord.” She is honored by Mary’s visit. She blesses Mary for believing what God has said. Perhaps Elizabeth thinks of her husband Zechariah, who was made mute for his initial unbelief. Or perhaps she is thinking of Sarah, Abraham’s wife, who laughed when God told Abraham that she would have a child in their old age. Mary too recognizes her unworthiness. She says, “For He, the Lord, has regarded the humble estate of His bondslave.” Another thing that strikes me about Mary is that she knew her Scripture. In this song, she pulls together parts of Hannah’s song in I Samuel as well as bits of different psalms and a quotation from Job. She knows that God’s promises are true, not just for her or even just for Israel, but for all people who fear God. She reminds us that God is for the humble, poor, needy, and hungry, and against the proud. Furthermore, Mary submits herself to God according to the angel’s word at risk to her own life. She didn’t understand how it was going to work, and being pregnant outside of wedlock could have not only meant the loss of Joseph, but the loss of her own life. Maybe they would spare the child and stone her later. Maybe she would have to raise the child on her own, hoping relatives would help her out. She was not given a lot of information, but she was obedient to what she heard God saying to her in that moment. God isn’t going to give us all the details either, but we can humbly obey God, even though we do not know what it ahead, even though we might speculate about all the problems and pitfalls that might come as a consequence of our obedience. Or we can be prideful and think our plans are better than God’s. But I guarantee that we will be the losers if we choose our way over God’s. You can imagine that was a real temptation for Mary, but she trusted the Lord. But the humility of these women goes even further. They knew that they were merely bearers of children who would become men who would turn the world upside down. They themselves were not the focus. Though Mary rightly prophesied that all generations would call her blessed, she also knows that she is the Lord’s servant. Elizabeth’s baby would be a prophetic voice. Her son, would make a way for and then give way to the Messiah. Mary’s child was the Son of God, the long-awaited Messiah, the Savior of the world. The older would once again serve the younger, and yet not younger, for our Micah passage tells us that the Messiah existed from eternity. If we kept reading in Micah, we would come in chapter 6 to the verse we heard on Homecoming, Micah 6:8, “He has shown you, O man, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love mercy (or kindness), and walk humbly with your God. Micah has been prophesying against the people. God has been angry with Israel and especially with the rulers for being socially oppressive and taking land, especially taking land from widows. God has been angry with the people for going through the motions of worshipping Yahweh while worshipping other gods as well, living selfishly, and even giving God 2nd-rate or worse offerings. For this God has sent the people into exile, but God promises restoration, including the promised Messiah, which is the passage we read today. In chapter 6, God tells the people all they need to do to remain in God’s favor. Verses 6-7 are beautifully poetic, but they are really meant to be sarcastic. In other words, enough of the gloom and doom prophecy already, Micah! What will it take to get God off my back? Micah speaks as the voice of the people: “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God most High? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression? The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” Micah employs exaggeration and extremism, though the god Molech did require child sacrifices. And then the answer in verse 8. The answer to the questions is an emphatic, “No!” God has already shown you what is good and what is required. Notice again, humility is one of those 3 things God requires. We must remember who we are in relation to who God is. We don’t have the right to demand from God. God does have the right to all we are and all we have. We petition God, we ask in prayer, supplicating ourselves before God, and God wants us to ask. That is not the same thing as giving God orders and telling God what to do. And yet we do that sometimes, don’t we. Which is why humility is described as a walk—it is a journey and a way of life. To live in humility is a continuous day by day, moment by moment thing. And when we cease to be humble, we repent and begin again. Mary and Elizabeth do what the Lord required of them. They sought justice, not simply for themselves but for their people. Mary sings in verses 51-52… Mary and Elizabeth were kind. Elizabeth takes in Mary in time when she had no one. Joseph was seeking to put her away quietly. The community probably wouldn’t have accepted her. We see Mary’s mercy when she asks Jesus to turn water into wine. We don’t know what Mary’s official role was in the planning of this wedding. Maybe she was a relative in charge of some of the preparations or maybe she was a guest who didn’t want the host to look bad, but she asks Jesus to help so that the reception is a success. And Jesus is merciful in return, fulfilling His mother’s request, even though His time “had not yet come.” But most of all, these women were humble. They were not perfect; they were both sinners in need of a Savior, but they were obedient, and their obedience had eternal results for the world. We are not perfect either. We too are sinners in need of a Savior. This very fact ought to move us toward humility, to leave ourselves behind and let God take over. And when we allow ourselves to be filled with the Spirit, our eyes are opened to see a little more of the power, and majesty, and awesomeness of God. Mary and Elizabeth were willing vessels. We may be cracked and broken vessels, but if we are willing, God can take us, clean us up, and fill us with Himself, and actually use us to accomplish His will and His work in the world, just as he used Elizabeth and Mary. When we empty ourselves of ourselves, which is what humility is, God can then fill us up with His Spirit and empower us to do incredible things that can have lasting, even eternal implications in regard not only to our own lives, but in regard to those around us. We may even be used to change the world. The greatest example of this is Jesus Himself. The great Christ hymn in Philippians 2 tells us that though the Son was equal to the Father before He became incarnate, He didn’t regard His equality as something to cling to at all costs, but humbled himself—literally, He emptied Himself, and became human. The hymn says He made Himself nothing—from God, to I’m no better than anyone else is a big difference. Jesus became the servant of all, and submitted Himself to a shameful death on the cross. He chose only to do the Father’s will in the power of the Holy Spirit. No, we are not Jesus, but Paul tells us that we ought to have that same mindset that Jesus did—that we should not think of ourselves as better than anyone else, but seek to serve. Jesus said, “Greater works you will do than I.” The Spirit wants to do great works through us. Do we trust God enough to give our whole self to God? Are you a willing vessel?


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