Tuesday, December 22, 2015
"Magnificat" Sermon: Luke 1:46-55
December 20, 2015 Second Reformed Church
About two thousand years ago, the high priest of Israel, Zechariah, was visited by the angel, Gabriel, who told him that his wife, Elizabeth, who had been barren all these many years, would bear a son, who Zechariah was to name, John. This son would be the forerunner of the Messiah – the fulfillment of the ministry of the prophet, Elijah.
Six months later, the angel, Gabriel, appeared to Elizabeth’s young, teenage cousin, Mary, who was engaged to the carpenter, Joseph. The angel told Mary that she would bear the Son of God Incarnate, Who is the Savior of God’s people.
Mary asked how this could be since she had never had sexual relations with a man, and the angel told her that God the Holy Spirit would cause her to be with child. As a sign, he told her that her cousin, Elizabeth, who had long been barren, was with child. So Mary went to the house of Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth saw Mary, her son, John, jumped up in down in her womb, praising God for the Child that Mary bore. And Elizabeth praised God and Mary and the Child she bore, and she asked why she was given the privilege to have a visit from the mother of the Incarnate God.
Mary responded by breaking out in song – in the hymn that was read this morning – a hymn which is known as the “Magnificat” – after the Latin for the word “magnify” – which is found in the opening words.
Mary sang a song – which is largely based on quotes from the Psalms – magnifying the Lord God. When we talk about “magnifying” something, we can mean one of two things: we either mean we are using a microscope to make something very small visible to our eyes, or we mean we are using a telescope to take something immensely huge and frame it in a way that we can understand it. It is the second way that Mary magnifies God – she sings of the Almighty, Infinite God, in ways that we can understand.
Mary’s song – the Magnificat – can be divided into four stanzas.
In the first we see, God is worthy of praise for what He has done.
“And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;’
Mary looked at Who God is and proclaimed His excellences. She rejoiced in God Who is her Savior. She praised God and magnified Him for all He has done, and, especially, in that moment for choosing her – of “humble estate” – “no one special” – no one who merited the honor. A pious Jewess that God chose for His reasons to give her the honor of being the mother of God in the flesh.
This honor she received causes us to say that Mary was blessed. God blessed Mary in making her the mother of God Incarnate. And we praise God and give thanks for Mary who obediently carried and raised the One Savior of all we who believe. It was the highest call she could receive – to be the mother of God the Savior.
And so Mary magnified God, and we magnify God, and she praised God, and we praise God with her and thank God for blessing her and giving us the Savior through her.
What else shall we magnify and praise God for? We praise and magnify Him for the Child Mary was given to bear and for Mary, whom God chose to bear Him.
God owes us nothing, and yet He has done such great things!
He has given us a place to worship.
He has given us heat, others to fellowship with, food to share, air to breathe, clothes to wear, places to have shelter, friends, family members, animal companions, the ability to speak and hear and taste and touch and see.
He has enabled us to move from one place to another, by foot and car and bus.
He has given us money and other gifts – in enough abundance that we can give in thanksgiving and share with others.
He has placed us in a country where we are not be killed for gathering and worshipping Him and His Son, our Savior.
He has given us light and music and Bibles and places to sit.
How can we be ungrateful? How can we neglect to magnify and praise our God and Savior for Who He is and all has done for us?
Second, God’s lovingkindness is to all generations.
‘for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.’
This God Who blessed Mary with this gift of the motherhood of the Savior is the God Who did many great things for Mary. He is the God Who is Holy. He is infinitely exalted. There is no greater being in all of existence, and He loves His people and does good things for them.
This God Who did great things for Mary, has done great things for all people, as Jesus said:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect’” (Matthew 5:43-48, ESV).
All people are called to repent and believe and receive God as their heavenly Father – the God Who does great things for all people. And all people are called to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect – and in this context – that means that we are to do great things to everyone – not merely those we like, but for every single person that we can – we are to spend ourselves doing great things for all people that they would know God their heavenly Father.
Yet, we also ought to notice in this that Mary rightly says that God’s mercy is shown only to those who fear Him.
Every generation experiences the loving-kindness of God – God does not immediately kill us all the first time we sin – much less for being sinners.
But the mercy of God – which extends as far as forgiving the sins we sin against God – the only ones who receive that mercy are those who fear God – those who are in awe of God – those who rightly understand Who God is and what He has done to make the One Way of salvation.
This is God’s mercy: “For while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would even dare to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8, ESV).
This is God’s outrageous mercy – not that God came to earth and died to save people who were good and worthy of being saved – but that God loved us and sent His Son to save us when we still hated Him and sinned against Him and wanted nothing to do with Him.
Third, God’s Mercy is all the more striking when compared with His Severity.
‘He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has fed the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.’
Mary compares God’s Mercy with His Severity, and she begins by saying that all these things happen according to the Sovereign Power of God:
God scatters the proud – God takes the people who think themselves so grand and mighty and throws them away from where they held their claim.
God removes the mighty – kings, emperors, dictators, presidents – from their thrones – He takes away their power and position.
God exalts those who are nothing – she uses this wording for herself – she was – comparatively – no one – and yet God raised her up to be the one and only bearer of God in the flesh; Mary gave birth to her Creator.
God provides for the needs of those who hunger – God provides food for those who hunger after spiritual bread. But to those who love money, God sends them away. God is not a slot-machine no matter what some TV preachers would have us believe.
As Daniel said,
“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; he reveals deep and hidden things; for he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him” Daniel 2:20b-22, ESV).
And Jesus said, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12, ESV).
God is utterly Sovereign and raises up whom He wills and presses down and removes whom He wills. Those who fight against God receive His Severity, as they deserve. Those who receive God and His Word in humility, God will use to His Glory in lifting them up to where they do not deserve to be. Such is the contrast between His Mercy and His Severity.
Lastly, God manifests His Mercy in keeping covenant with believers and their children.
‘He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our father, to Abraham and his offspring forever.’”
What did God promise to Abraham and his offspring forever?
God said to Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3, ESV).
And again God said, “I will surely bless you, and I will multiply your offspring as the stars of the heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 22:17-18a, ESV).
God promised to look after Israel – the offspring of Abraham – and to bless every type of people through his family.
Now, who is Israel?
Paul wrote, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring” (Romans 9:6-8, ESV).
And Paul also wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17, ESV).
Israel is all those who believe savingly in the Savior God sent.
So, what we have is that God made a promise to Abraham that God would bless every people of the world by sending His Son to be the Savior for all those who would believe – that is, Israel. By the flesh, Jesus, the Son of God, was born of the Jewess, Mary, and He secured salvation for people from every type of person – Jew and Gentile – throughout time and space.
Some two thousand years ago, God chose Mary to bear the Son of God to be born in the flesh for us and our salvation.
Mary responded to the confirmation of this promise by her cousin Elizabeth by singing a song – and as she praised and magnified God for Who He is and all He has done, we see:
That God is worthy of praise for what He has done. Shall we praise Him today?
God’s lovingkindness extends to all generations. Shall we rejoice in God revealing the Savior to us, among all His blessings to us?
God’s Mercy is striking in comparison with His Severity. Shall we humbly thank God for all we do not deserve from His loving and fatherly Hand?
And God manifests His Mercy in keeping covenant with believers and their children. Shall we thank God that His Promises and the Savior were not just for the Jews, not just for the first century, but for all types of people throughout time and space who would come to faith?
Let us pray:
Almighty God and Father, our souls magnify You, and our spirits rejoice in God our Savior. We thank You for the song that Mary sang and for the promises regarding salvation in it. As we celebrate the first coming of Your Son in the flesh on earth, we ask that You would help us to be joy-filled and amazed, always thankful, and ever-desirous to tell others that He is the One Way to Salvation. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.