The God of Mercy!

The 4th Sunday in Advent  (Rorate Coeli)–19 December 2021

Luke 1:39–56

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. (ESV)  

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In Mary’s great song of praise—the Magnificat—we see the mighty works of God. The Magnificat points us to works of God that are so great and mighty that we should certainly join Mary in praising God not just this Advent season but all the days of our lives!

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for He has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. Mary is indeed the one blessed to be the mother of God-in-the-flesh. But in spite of her unique status, she refuses to sing her own praises. Rather, Mary glorifies the almighty God, who has done such great things for her and whose Name is holy. And then Mary praises God’s great works, the first one being that His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.

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God is merciful to those who fear Him. In order words, God shows His mercy to those who acknowledge that they are beggars, unworthy of the least of God’s good gifts and certainly undeserving of the forgiveness which cost the lifeblood of God’s own dear Son. When you confess your sins, you are acknowledging your unworthiness before God; thus, you are showing that you fear God.  And the God of grace pours on you His mercy. God’s mercy is for those who fear Him! Here’s how Luther puts it: [God] is merciful to all who are ready to do without their own opinion… and willing to be poor in spirit. These are the ones who truly fear God, who count themselves not worthy of anything, be it ever so small, and are glad to be naked and bare before God…; who ascribe whatever they have to [God’s] pure grace, bestowed on the unworthy (LW Vol 21: The Magnificat). 

For the sake of Jesus Christ, who bore your sins on the cross, God is merciful to you. He makes you poor in spirit—always ready to confess your sins. And He gives you what you do not deserve: He removes your guilt and forgives your sins and He makes you His own dear child, clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Thus, you are an heir of heaven. As baptized children of God, we love this first work of God, for we know how much we need God’s mercy. We need God’s mercy more than we need our next breath, so we are truly grateful for all this talk of mercy. But we are not so fond of the next work of God mentioned in the Magnificat: [God] has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. Luther says that this refers to God’s work of breaking spiritual pride. Just as God is merciful to those who fear Him, so in His might He scatters the proud.

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Luther writes that when people exalt themselves, then [God] withdraws His power from them and lets them puff themselves up in their own power alone. For where man’s strength begins, God’s strength ends. When their bubble is full-blown…and they… feel smug in their achievement, then God pricks the bubble, and it is all over. A rising politician gets caught in a scandal and overnight his career and reputation are ruined. 

A dictator seems invincible; then, suddenly, he tumbles from power. 

But God’s work of scattering the proud applies to more than discredited politicians and overturned dictators. God scatters all sinners whose hearts are filled with their own wisdom. When sinners delight in their own wisdom and opinions, then God’s wisdom is far from them. God scatters such sinners by depriving them of His eternal wisdom and permitting them to be filled with their own short-lived and perishing human wisdom. In scattering the proud, God is really only giving the proud what they have been clamoring for—a life lived apart from God’s love, mercy, and grace!  

In God’s work of scattering the proud lies a warning for us all—the warning that self-sufficient sinners who feel no need for and who refuse God’s mercy are, in the end, destroyed. If we puff ourselves up, so that we place human reason above God’s Word, then watch out! In the end, we will be left with only a human greatness that melts away to nothing, like snow melting on a warm spring day. If we exalt ourselves and reject the call to repentance, then watch out! God will give us what we want and allow us to remain as slaves to our sins. And if we continue in our pride, then sooner or later, the bubble of our self-importance will burst. Yes, if we embrace sinful pride, then we ourselves will be among those sinners whom God scatters!  

The truth is that we all struggle with spiritual pride. God, though, is ever seeking to break the pride of sinners. Sometimes, His only recourse is to scatter impenitent sinners like chaff that is blown about by the wind. But it is a great and mighty wonder when God breaks down spiritual pride by turning sinners from their sins to Christ. That is exactly what He does for you and me and for all repentant sinners, who look to Christ alone for forgiveness. God, in His grace and mercy, turns us from our sins to gaze upon and to trust in Christ crucified, in whom we live forever!  

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God scatters proud sinners, who refuse to repent and who set themselves up on mighty thrones as the captains of their own fate. Perhaps the saddest image of how God deals with proud sinners is the image of God sending the rich away from the feast with empty stomachs.  This is the greatest tragedy—to be turned away from God’s abundant feast of love. But this is the sad fate of all proud sinners.

The Lord scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; the Lord brings down the mighty from their thrones; the Lord sends the rich empty away.  Such is the fate that you and I deserve, for we were conceived as self-sufficient, self-assertive sinners who felt no need whatsoever for God’s mercy. Truly, we deserve to be scattered, brought down low, sent away empty, and finally destroyed.  

But all that you and I so justly deserved was placed upon Christ Jesus our Lord, with the result that God gives us life eternal! Jesus scattered the seed of the Good News of Salvation so that repentant sinners might be gathered as a good harvest. Jesus brought Himself low, so low that He had no place to lay His head, so low that He became obedient to death, even death on the cross, all so that repentant sinners may be raised up to the highest heavens. On the night He was born, Jesus was sent empty away by the Bethlehem innkeepers, who had no room for Him, all so that our heavenly Father may have room for us in heaven, at the wedding feast of Christ and His Church. Jesus suffered the destruction of His physical life by being nailed to the cross, so that we may be preserved from eternal destruction in hell!  

Here we see the great love and mercy of our Lord. Here, we can cry out with Mary: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,…for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. Yes, holy is the Name of Christ, who died for your salvation and who even now turns you from the filth of your sins to the beauty of your Saviour, Jesus! That is the gift of repentance which Saviour Jesus works in your heart and in mine!       

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God has indeed done great things for us. In His great love for us, He has broken down our sinful pride, so that we confess our sins and trust Him to forgive us for Jesus’ sake. God has given you and me the great gift of humility, by which we acknowledge our spiritual poverty, our complete inability to save ourselves. We confess that we are NOT the captains of our fate; rather, we worship and bow down and kneel before the LORD, our Maker!  For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand  (Psalm 95). And the God who has given us the gift of humility, by which we repent of our sins, now exalts us and fills us with good things—His pardon and His peace. Yes, we who hunger and thirst for righteousness are filled up with the abundance of the righteousness of Christ.  

It all comes down to God’s final great work mentioned in the Magnificat:  [God ] has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy. Here is the great promise that God never abandons His servants, that God is never fickle or untrustworthy. You may sometimes feel the pain of sorrow and affliction, but God is ever with you to help you. As a guarantee that He is with you and helps you, God promises that He always remembers His mercy. It is as if God is saying: “My dear child, how can you ever think I would abandon you, when I have decreed from even before the world’s foundation to show you My mercy. Before I created the world, I knew that I would show you mercy, that I would send My Son to be the Saviour of the World, to be your Saviour. So be of good cheer, for I will always help you, I will always show you mercy in My Son, Jesus!.”   

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In the midst of our burdens, 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 God always remembers His mercy. Remember that God so loved us that He gave His only-begotten Son as God-in-the-flesh, the Child born of Mary, the Lamb of God, who in His sacrificial death took away the sins of the world. Remember that the God of mercy pardoned all your sins in the waters of your baptism. And through His Holy Word and Supper, the God of mercy 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.