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12.15.13 God’s Surprising Reversals Luke 1:46b-55 Sermon Summary

by on December 16, 2013

One of the things I’ve learned about growing spiritually—it occurs through the great reversals in our lives. Fortunately we have a reliable guide in the mother of Jesus.

Summary Points

  • Mary’s testimony as a summary of the life of faith
  • Three things Mary teaches us about faith
  • The lesson of the great reversals in our lives
  • Questions for discussion and reflection

Luke’s gospel begins with two women—one too old, one too young—miraculously getting pregnant. The first, Elizabeth, after years of trying and giving up, is blessed by God’s Spirit with the conception of a son John who will become the Baptist. Six months later, the angel Gabriel announces to Mary betrothed to Joseph that she will conceive and bear Jesus. At this time, Mary visits Elizabeth for 3 months, and when they first meet, she sings a song that outlines the whole of the biblical testimony of faith.

Twenty years ago I started seminary. I was at the height of my game: a recent graduate of a private college, having had a great intern year a large church, and a recognized leader in a parachurch organization.

So I jumped in with both feet in seminary. I was asked to speak to our evangelical student fellowship group that first semester. I started a contemporary worship service in a nearby church. With my undergraduate religion degree, I was able to skip some classes my first year and started with advanced classes. I was a rising star with high expectations within and upon me.

Over the next three a years, a great reversal would occur. In seminary, I was with other stars who shined brighter and were rising faster than I. I got into a romantic relationship as toxic as it was bewildering. The results were that my theological certitude began to dissolve and my self-assurance eroded. My faith was re-centered during those years, and I don’t know that I have ever “recovered.” I don’t know that I can recover, or that I would even want to even if I could.

Mary’s song speaks of a great reversal. She praises God for bringing down the powerful from their thrones and instead lifting up the lowly. She rejoices that God fills the hungry with good things while sending the rich away empty. These are hard words to hear for those of us who are powerful and rich. They are welcome news for the weak and hungry.

But is this good news enough to sustain our hopes? How did Mary, so young, have so much faith? How could she sing that her “soul magnifies the Lord,” and her “spirit rejoices in God”? I believe three clues are included in the song.

First, she apparently had a habit of worshiping God in community. She sang that, “God’s mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.” To “fear God” is a Hebrew Scriptures way of talking about worship. That she experienced this “generation to generation” suggests she was well acquainted not only with personal devotion, but with corporate worship.

Second, Mary had a long view. She sings that God’s help comes “according to the promises made to our ancestors.” No doubt it was these promises that she rehearsed through the scriptures and liturgy of her corporate worship. We become familiar with these promises in our corporate worship today around pulpit, font, and table.

Third, Mary didn’t have to overcome her ego. Mary praised God who had “looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.” Whether it was because she was young, or a woman, or part of a marginalized political people, Mary was open and empty. As such, God was able to fill her, even to overflowing, with the Spirit and grace.

This past week I returned to my seminary. While there I met with some faculty members who discouraged me from PhD studies because, in their estimation, I didn’t have what it takes. Well, maybe they spoke for that seminary, but they didn’t speak for all, and I earned my PhD somewhere else.

I also visited the church where I led worship. They have just finished a renovation which reversed, literally, their sanctuary. The front door is now the back door, the narthex is now the chancel. I had been warned of this, but nothing could really prepare me for actually seeing it.

When the reversal happens, it can be profoundly disorienting. And everyone experiences reversals, whether welcome or not, whether it is the hungry being filled or the rich discovering they are empty. But Mary’s message—through habitual worship, taking the long view, and keeping her ego out of the way—testifies of God’s faithfulness. Live long enough, as I’m realizing I have, and we’ll all discover that Mary is right—God is faithful, and we will survive the reversals in our lives.

And the hope remains that the final great rehearsal is yet to come, when God at last triumphs over evil and all souls will magnify the Lord, and all souls will rejoice with God their savior.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • Think back on your own life. Where did some reversals occur, whether towards the fortunate or towards the more challenging? What was God teaching you through these reversals?
  • How has corporate worship enhanced your own personal devotions to develop a biblical, long-view faith in your life? When you hear the scriptures read, remember your baptism, and come to the table, are you aware of the long tradition in which you stand, and the “great cloud of witnesses” (see Hebrews 12) which surround you?
  • How is God helping you reduce your ego in order to fill you with the Spirit and grace? How can you cooperate with God in this process? What do you sense God is asking you to give up or to take up?


One Comment
  1. Kelley permalink

    Today is the marked day of the greatest of reversals. That God perfect all-seeing and incomprehensible would be here, on earth and with us imperfect, erring and uncomprehending humans. Why? Because He loves us. Only for this. I am suddenly seeing Emmanuel , as clearly as if I were in the silent field seeing the star on a cold clear night.

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