Luke 1:39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!" 46 And Mary said: "My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me-- holy is his name. 50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers."
It was spring of 1977. I was a seven-year-old boy anticipating watching a movie that was going to be unlike any other before it.
My family rarely went to the movie theater, so this was going to be a real treat. My mom packed my two younger sisters and myself into the station wagon. We arrived at the theater. I was excited to see words scrolling up the movie screen, Stormtroopers miss everything, and Darth Vader use the Force against the Rebel scum.
Instead, what I saw was a little red-haired girl singing about leaving the orphanage to go live with Daddy Warbucks.
Obviously, I still haven’t gotten over the trauma.
The realization did not match my anticipation. There was definitely a let down from the anticipation.
A generation later, in the spring of 1999, Episode I came to the theaters. Star Wars fans were giddy in anticipation to learn the back story of Darth Vader, and see the Jedi and Sith in action. Instead, what we got were Jar Jar Binks, midichlorians, bad acting … and Jar Jar Binks.
The realization did not match their anticipation. There was definitely a let down from the anticipation.
This weekend, another generation later, Episode VII finally arrived in theaters. Although I saw it yesterday, I’ll let you decide if the movie lets you down or if the realization finally matches the anticipation.
For generations in the Old Testament, Jewish believers anticipated the coming of the long-awaited Messiah. Each prophecy was like a preview of things to come. Each promise was like a trailer of God’s love story to humanity.
The people had studied the prophecies and promises of the coming Messiah. They just didn’t know how everything fit together. So many things seemed in conflict with each other. It sounded as if the Messiah would be the Son of God, but He would also be the Son of Man born of a virgin. He would be a king from the royal line of David, but He would also be a priest in the order of Aaron. His kingdom would be eternal, and yet He would be stricken, smitten, and afflicted. He would be born in Bethlehem, but rule in Zion.
The generations waited and waited in anticipation. But when Jesus arrived and proclaimed that He was the long-awaited Messiah, the people were let down. Jesus was nothing like they had anticipated. He was from the backwards village of Nazareth. He wasn’t a king, but a carpenter. There was nothing special to attract people to Him. He wasn’t going to overthrow the hated Roman rule. The realization did not match their anticipation.
That may have been the way it was for most of the Jewish believers … but not for Mary.
Greater than any box office blockbuster is what takes place in the Judean home of Zechariah and Elizabeth. This would be the sleeper hit of all time! The great Son of David was in the house of Aaron’s son. The world was oblivious to what was happening in that home. Hidden within the wombs of the two women were the Christ and the forerunner of the Christ. These were two miraculous births. One to a woman well beyond child-bearing. The other to a virgin. Elizabeth bearing the prophet to prepare the way for the Most High God. Mary bearing the Most High God sent to redeem the world.
While she is there visiting her older cousin, Elizabeth, Mary breaks into song – a joyful canticle we know as “The Magnificat”: “My soul glorifies the Lord.” With Mary, there is no let down by her anticipation. If you listen closely to her song, there was a realization already in her anticipation. She speaks in the past tense – as if God had already done these great things for her.
She begins: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Right on, Mary! You go, girl! Mary is telling it like it is. By faith in the Word of God in her womb, she was able to grasp the inconceivable, invisible, and eternal things of the Lord.
“From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me-- holy is his name.” She is newly pregnant, yet she realized that God had already done great things for her … and in her. Elizabeth had just called her blessed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear.” All generations would call her blessed for she was granted the great privilege and honor of being the mother to the Son of God. At the same time, God was doing great things for everybody else who would benefit from the birth of this Child. That’s us!
“His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.” Mary recalls how the Lord has been faithful in showing mercy over time – generation after generation – throughout Israel’s history, culminating now in the birth of the Messiah.
That same mercy which God extends to His people extends also to us. From generation to generation, century after century, the mercies of the Lord are new every morning. We become disappointed in the Lord if we anticipate all of our cancers healed, our health restored, our bank accounts flush, and our terrorist problems removed. We expect God to do what we want Him to do and to be what we want Him to be. We place our expectations on Him. Then we will be let down.
Yet it is God who should be disappointed in us. He never fails us. Yet, we always fail Him. From generation to generation. We do not and cannot live up to His perfect expectations. But that’s why He extends His mercy to us. Even though we don’t deserve it, God helps us in our distress. Though we should be punished for our misdeeds, God grants us forgiveness incarnate. Though we should have God’s eternal wrath poured out on us, we are daily bathed in the mercy of God. God provided the ultimate answer to all of our woes in the person of this little Child in Mary’s womb. That’s why Mary is singing. She sees this Child as the great fulfillment of God’s mercy toward humanity.
What is God’s mercy like through all these generations? How does God operate in His dealings with man? Mary sings: “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.” God brings down the proud and He lifts up the humble. God works through His Law and Gospel.
To those who are proud in themselves – like the Pharisee boasting in the temple – God will scatter them to the winds. To those who feel like they are in control, rulers of their own destiny – God will cast them down from their thrones. To those who are rich in the pleasures of this life – like the rich man who ignored poor Lazarus – God will send them away empty. This is how God deals with all those who are secure in themselves, who feel they are good enough people to not need to hear the Law, who have no use for a Savior. He will bring those haughty souls down.
The proud and the rich – the enemies of God. He will bring them low. The proud and rich – I hope that’s not us. But at times, it certainly is.
The humble and hungry – the friends of God. I pray that is us all the time.
You and I have a lot to be humble about. The knowledge of our sinfulness should humble us. We have nothing to brag about before God. We know how full of sin we are. We been at this being-a-Christian business for a long time. We’ve had lots and lots of exposure to God’s Word. We should know better. We should do better. Yet we still stumble and fall all too often.
But we are exactly the kind of people God lifts up – the lowly. God’s mighty arm lifts up those who are too weak to save themselves – that’s all of us.
We are the hungry. We know what we are hungry for! We need God’s righteousness served to us on a platter. We can’t muster it up on our own. God must give it to us. And He does. That’s what Christmas is all about. God fills the hungry with good things. And those good things come in the form of this baby, God incarnate, the Lord in the flesh. He is God’s gift of righteousness. We are filled up and satisfied with God’s great Christmas present – the Lord almighty wrapped in cute little baby skin.
What Mary is singing about here is what is sometimes called the “Great Reversal.” It is the great change in position that God will accomplish in the sending of His Son. The high and mighty will be brought low. The poor and lowly will be lifted up. Just the opposite, just the reverse, of the way the world sees things. God brings it about in the person of Jesus Christ.
For Christ Himself came from the heights of heaven and was born the lowly child of Mary. He laid aside His glory. He humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. That’s why He came in the flesh – to be brought low so that He might lift us up.
This is exactly how He strikes down our high and mighty enemies – sin, death, and the devil. Those proud rulers are brought low, scattered, and sent away empty – as empty as the tomb from which Christ rose. God raised Jesus up in victory over sin, death, and the devil. Through Jesus, God will raise you up in victory, too. This is the Great Reversal. Mary sings that this has already been accomplished by the Savior in her womb.
Mary concludes her Magnificat: “He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.” Mary praises the Lord for being faithful to His promises, faithful to His covenant, faithful to His Word.
Generations have been waiting for the new Star Wars movie to come out. I don’t think any movie can live up to that kind of anticipation.
Yet when it comes to the promised Messiah, the realization was greater than the anticipation. Throughout all the generations, Mary was one of the blessed few who by faith understood that. That’s why her song is a greater score than one composed by John Williams. The incarnate Savior is greater than the chosen one. Our anticipation is matched and exceeded by the realization of Mary’s Son, our Savior.
With movies, just like life, there are plenty of let downs from our anticipation. Not so with Jesus. Never with Jesus. So magnify the Lord with Mary, and let us exalt his name together! Amen.