The Fourth Sunday in Advent (Rorate Coeli)—20 December 2020
The Reading from Holy Scripture: Luke 1:39–56 (ESV)
39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; 52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
56 And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.
Today, we listen to Mary’s beautiful song of praise, the Magnificat. Elizabeth has just greeted Mary with a salutation perfectly appropriate for the mother of God: Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?…Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord. The Lutheran reformers taught that there is great benefit in remembering and honouring the saints whom God has given to His Church. God grant us all the grace to remember and honour Mary by imitating her strong faith in the Word of God and also by joining her in her song of praise.
Mary rejoices in God her Saviour. She rejoices that God has remembered to be merciful to His people. Notice that Mary does not say that God has remembered to be just. Justice has to do with giving people what they deserve; I shudder to think of what I deserve because of my grievous sins. Thanks be to God, though, Mary sings of God’s mercy. And mercy has to do with God’s undeserved favour, with our receiving from God what we do not deserve—the gift of forgiveness and eternal life through the Christ Child.
That is why God became Man and dwelt among us, so that we might receive God’s mercy. God shows mercy to us sinners by pardoning our sins so that we may become heirs of life everlasting. A few moments ago, we confessed all [our] sins and iniquities with which [we] have ever offended [God] and justly deserved [His] temporal and eternal punishment. We then heard the Holy Absolution. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, all of our sins were pardoned. We have received from the Lord not justice, but mercy. God has indeed remembered to be merciful to His people.
God is always merciful to those who believe that the Child born of the Virgin Mary is God-in-the-flesh come to save us. In the Magnificat, Mary says that God’s mercy is for those who fear him, from generation to generation. Do you see the Good News here? Mary is saying that those who trust in God through Christ can count on His mercy. From the day Adam and Eve fell into sin until the end of the world, God’s mercy flows out to all repentant sinners who trust in the Christ Child for salvation!
Faith in God’s mercy moved Mary to exult and sing, My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour. Her joy was a fruit of the Holy Spirit, who fills with joy everyone who trusts in the mercy of God. St. Paul wrote about the same joy in Romans 15 when he said, May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Indeed, it was Abraham’s joy, too, as Jesus said of the Patriarch, Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad. Our faith is full of joy because God remembers His mercy to us today, in the midst of our trials, just as He remembered His mercy that He spoke to the fathers and to Abraham and his offspring.
What was the mercy spoken to Abraham and his offspring? It is the promise of the Messiah who would redeem the world from sin and death. From the first Gospel promise made in Eden, and proclaimed through the prophets thereafter, God swore to send the Seed of the Woman, who would crush Satan and destroy his evil power. John the Baptist was the final prophet to proclaim this promise.
That promise is fulfilled, for that holy Seed became incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. Jesus, the Word made flesh, came down from heaven in deepest humility to take upon Himself the sins of the world. Yes, God’s Son was born in the likeness of men[… and] humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:7-8).
As Jesus was hanging upon the cross, He was really stretching out His loving arms to embrace the whole world in His death, so that all sinners may look to Him and see their salvation. But sadly, we often allow our sins, sorrows, and sufferings to take our gaze off of Jesus. These burdens of life cause us to forget that God is merciful. We all come to church wearing smiles and nice clothes. We ask each other “how are you?”, and we say “fine.” But things are not completely fine, for we are carrying burdens, burdens that make it hard for us to remember God’s undeserved mercy. We live as though we do not need God’s mercy or as if God’s mercy were not sufficient. Our attitudes and our actions show that we are not truly fearing, loving, and trusting God above things but rather are living as those who despise God’s mercy in Christ. And so we must all ask God to make us penitent sinners.
And in His grace, God gives us the gift of repentance, by which we confess our miserable condition and hunger for the mercy and righteousness of God. To such hungry souls God responds in love. As the Scriptures declare, The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. God forgives all who come to Him confessing their sins and seeking His mercy in Christ. God covers the unrighteous with the righteousness of Jesus. For the sake of Christ, God forgives humble and contrite sinners and raises them up to the heights of joy in His love. This joy is a fruit of faith that remembers that God is ever merciful to all who trust in the Child born of Mary.
The greatest way God has shown us mercy is by performing the mighty deed of our salvation! God so loved us that He gave His only-begotten Son as God-in-the-flesh, the Child born of Mary. This Jesus, the eternal Son of God, shared in [our] humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil (Hebrews 2:14-15). By His death and resurrection, Jesus toppled Satan from his throne. Jesus remains the undisputed Victor over all the forces of evil and the all-powerful Champion of God’s people.
As the undisputed Victor, Jesus scatters the proud; as the all-powerful Champion, Jesus lifts up the humble. The proud think they are not sinners; thus, they do not trust in God’s mercy. The humble are sinners like you and me, who confess their sins; we believe that God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). God gives us the humility to admit that we do not deserve His pardon, and then He pardons us! Before we were born, Jesus performed the mighty deed of toppling Satan from his throne. Now, throughout our lives, God performs the mighty deed of showing us mercy by pardoning our sins for the sake of Jesus.
By God’s grace, you and I trust in God’s promise—God’s Word—of mercy. In this, we are remembering and honouring our sister, Mary, of whom Elizabeth said Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.
“Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”
That is obviously true for Mary. She believed what the Lord told her through the angel Gabriel. Indeed, just as Gabriel said, Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and the only-begotten Son of the Father was conceived in her womb, without the aid of a man, and without violating her virginity. Mary gave birth to her own Saviour and was blessed.
The prophecy given to Elizabeth concerning Mary is that she is blessed for believing that the Word of God is true. That is also true for us: Blessed are those who believe what God says, who trust God’s Word. Blessed are those who believe that what the Lord has said to them will be accomplished. Of course, that is easier said than done.
Consider what the Lord has said to you. He has said: “You are Mine. I gave you My Name when you were baptized into Me – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I claim you as My own.” He has said: “I forgive you all your sins.” He has said: “Take, eat this is My Body. Take, drink, this is My Blood shed for you, for the forgiveness of your sins. I am in you and you are in Me. I am with you always.” He has said: “You are my precious little lamb, for whom I laid down My Life, and no one shall pluck you from My Hand.” He has said: “You are my beloved child, perfect and without sin, spotless and blameless and the gates of Hell shall not overcome you.” Blessed are those who believe that the mercy God has promised in Christ will be accomplished in their lives.
In the midst of our burdens, then, let us by God’s grace remember that God is merciful. The Christian life is a life of remembering that God is merciful. And so, remember. Remember that the God of mercy pardoned all your sins in the waters of your baptism; He will continue to pardon your sins until the day our Lord returns. On that day, you will enjoy the fullness of the gift of eternal life, won for you by the Christ Child. Surely [God’s] goodness and mercy shall follow [you] all the days of [your] life; And [you] will dwell in the house of the LORD forever (Psalm 23:6). Amen.