Midweek Advent Homily
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 1:46–1:55
Advent Midweek Worship
December 12, 2018
Think back to your high school or college English literature days, and you may remember the name, John Donne. He lived from 1572 until 1631, and was a poet as well as a cleric in the Church of England. Among his many works are sonnets, love poems, satires, elegies, songs, as well as religious poetry. In this season of Advent and with Mary’s song of praise, her Magnificat, before us today, I want to read for you a poem by John Donne:
Salvation to all that will is nigh;
That All, which always is All everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo, faithful virgin, yields Himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though He there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He will wear,
Taken from thence, flesh, which death’s force may try.
Ere by spheres time was created, thou
Wast in his mind, Who is thy Son, and Brother;
Whom thou conceiv’st, and conceived; yea thou art now
Thy Maker’s maker, and thy Father’s mother;
Thou hast light in dark; and shut’st in little room,
Immensity cloister’d in thy dear womb.
(An Advent Sourcebook; Liturgy Training Publications, 1988; p. 120)
In a masterful way, John Donne captures the great paradox that Mary is conceiving in her womb the One who is before all time, and yet in the span of some months’ time, that very One will be born as a child into the world. What language do we borrow to express this? How do we put this into words? In this hurried season with so many things on our to-do list, let us pause to contemplate this mystery of faith. And pausing, let us then join our voice with that of John Donne, and with Mary, and sing with her: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…” (Luke 1:46-47).
Mary had been visited by the angel Gabriel, and received the startling news that she would be the mother of the Son of the Most High, and that his name would be Jesus (Luke 1:31-32). Following this, Mary sets off to visit her relative, Elizabeth, who lives some 80 miles south of Nazareth in the Judean hill country. Mary had been told by the angel that Elizabeth, despite the fact that she was well beyond child-bearing years, was pregnant and already in her sixth month. As the angel said, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). We would do well always to remember this blessed truth. Upon entering Elizabeth and Zechariah’s home, the unborn child who would be John the Baptist leaps in Elizabeth’s womb, and Elizabeth cried out: “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? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Luke 1:39-45). Though Scripture does not record how, it had been revealed to Elizabeth that Mary would be the mother of the Savior. What follows is Mary’s beautiful song of praise, what we call the Magnificat.
Mary’s song praises the Lord God for his upside-down kingdom in which the mighty are brought down from their thrones and those of humble estate are exalted; where the hungry are filled with good things and the rich are sent away empty (Luke 1:52-53). And this upside-down kingdom is centered in the tiny unborn Child growing and developing in Mary’s womb. The mighty and eternal God becomes so fragile, small, and vulnerable. He will enter our world and live his earthly life with no outward pomp and glory that would betray his true identity. Instead, he will be born into poverty and humility. He will know hunger and thirst. He will see suffering, pain, and injustice, and he himself will experience first-hand suffering, pain, and injustice. He will die on the cross and be laid in a borrowed grave. All this he will do in order that he might take upon himself all of our suffering, pain, and injustice; all the twisted brokenness and sin that has shattered God’s plan and purpose for life. And in so doing, Mary’s Son has triumphed over sin, and death, and hell itself. All that he has done through his innocent suffering and death, he now bestows on everyone who trusts in him. In Jesus, the Son of Mary, suffering, pain, and injustice are not the final word. Sin, death, and hell itself cannot overpower or destroy the one who trusts in Jesus. And that is why we, too, sing with Mary: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…” (Luke 1:46-47).
In this holy time of Advent, we are waiting and watching not just for the annual celebration of the birth of Jesus that is Christmas, but even more we are waiting and watching for Jesus’ promised coming again on the last day when he will judge the world in righteousness. As we wait and watch, we are invited to join in Mary’s song of praise, trusting that as we now walk by faith in her beloved Son, Jesus, the day is coming when we will no longer walk by faith, but will see face to face the fulfillment of what we have trusted in. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.
Let us pray:
All powerful God, help us to look forward in hope to the coming of our Savior. May we live as he has taught, abiding in him and he in us, ready to welcome him with burning love and faith, when Mary’s song of praise will be gloriously fulfilled. We ask this through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.