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I preached yesterday at a small Methodist church. The lectionary passage was Luke 1: 39-55. Audio link HERE, and my manuscript below. Note that it is best to download the audio to listen to it, as if you listen directly via the google link it will sometimes stop playing – I think google has some bandwidth limits?

The lectionary passage today from Luke 1 is filled with depth of meaning, and it could be a 4 week sermon series. Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean I am going to preach for an hour, but I did have to prayerfully consider what points to draw out, and I hope this message may help or challenge you in some way.

A Christmas hymn written by Charles Wesley – Come thou long expected Jesus – reflects key themes from today’s Luke 1 passage where Elizabeth and Mary meet.

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

This meeting of Elizabeth and Mary is a significant moment in redemptive history – that is, in the outworking of God’s plan to redeem this world. It is a turning point.

Elizabeth’s and Mary’s motherhood are of world changing significance. This is more than just a domestic and family matter.

This passage pulses with emotion and passion. Some can think of women as just being overly emotional, and that puzzles me as I see men get plenty emotional too. I don’t think women have any corner on the market of emotional expression. But if ever there was a time for unbridled emotion, whether we are male or female, it was this moment!

But more than that, Elizabeth and Mary understood the biblical and theological underpinnings of this moment. Their words reveal that they were women of faith and women of depth.

Mary’s Song, that we will look at in more detail, is a theological reflection of the highest order. Mary handles Scripture capably, and she is the first authoritative  interpreter of Scripture in light of God’s new work in Jesus Christ. She links Israel’s history with God’s action in her own time and in her own life.

Sometimes we need to take a step back to gain perspective.
Why was this such a momentous moment?

The Jewish people had been waiting a very long time. “Come thou long expected Jesus.” We can go all the way back to Genesis 3:15. This verse is called the proto-evangelium, which simply means the first gospel – the first mention of the good news of salvation in the Bible.

God tells the serpent:
“And I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

It is in that last sentence we see the first glimmer of the gospel:
the woman’s offspring, that is Jesus, would crush Satan and bring redemption for humanity, and this earth too.

With Elizabeth and her son John the Baptist, the Old Testament culminates.
With Mary and her Son Jesus, the new creation begins.

The story in Genesis continues, and God calls Abraham, and makes an eternal covenant with him. Through Abraham and his descendants there would come a people and a nation through whom the entire world would be blessed – that is through the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.

But there was still a long wait ahead for them, and the Jewish people unfortunately drifted away from Yahweh and got mixed up with pagan idolatry. God sent prophets to warn them and call them back, and while some individuals repented and were faithful, the nation as a whole would not repent, and they ended up in exile.

Does this mean that God broke his promise, his eternal covenant, to Abraham? Absolutely not. The people were unfaithful, but God remained faithful, and continued to work out his redemptive plan.

To pause for a moment in the story of Israel…This should bring us some comfort. Maybe someone you care about has never come to faith in Christ or has wandered away from faith, and you are concerned about their spiritual state or eternal destiny.

We can all take unfortunate detours in our life, and make God’s plan for us more complicated than it had to be. But God is still at work, and can work through those very detours to bring his sovereign will to pass. Just like he did with the people of Israel.

And the church has sure had its ups and downs in the last 2,000 years. We are more like the ancient Israelites than we may care to admit.
The Israelites bad behavior made God look bad, and church people today can make God look bad. But take heart, all is not lost, and God is still at work. He is looking for faithful people.

But to return to ancient Israel. The people came out of exile after 70 years, and some returned to Jerusalem. Some had remained faithful to Yahweh, and time marched on. Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament and it is a prophetic book.

And guess what? More waiting was in order. There is a period of 400 years between Malachi and Matthew – the opening of the New Testament. Finally, we get to Elizabeth and Zechariah, whose child would be John the Baptist who would prepare the way for the Messiah.

But even then there was a wait, Elizabeth and Zechariah were old, and had been married a long time. C’mon God, after all this waiting, couldn’t Zechariah and Elizabeth have at least had John the Baptist when they were young?! Let’s get this show on the road!

If my “Come on, God” sounded a bit sacrilegious, I think God can handle our honest frustrations. In a number of the Psalms, the Psalmists cry out “How long Oh Lord?” yet these “how long” Psalms usually break out in praise to God. Honest lament and praise can, and should, go together. Life can be hard, we can get tired of waiting, yet we can praise the God who we know is faithful and keeps his promises.

And now let’s take a closer look at the Luke 1 passage. Elizabeth takes note of Mary’s faith. In verse 45, Elizabeth proclaims: “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

I think this is a great definition of faith. Faith is believing, that what the Lord said, will indeed be accomplished and come to pass.

After the angel appeared to Mary (we didn’t read that this morning) but after this startling revelation that she would experience a miraculous conception and give birth to God the Son, verse 39 says that Mary got ready and hurried to go see her cousin Elizabeth.

And there is a lot of JOY in this passage. Elizabeth is overjoyed that the mother of her Lord has come to see her. John the Baptist, a baby in Elizabeth’s womb, leapt for joy. And Mary breaks out in this wonderful poetic song.

Has the Incarnation ever astonished you? (That word Incarnation just refers to the fact that God took on human flesh, he became incarnate.)
It wasn’t until later in my Christian life that the Incarnation really astonished me.

The amazing can become ordinary when we grow too familiar with it. We’ve heard it our whole life. The edges of a truth can be worn smooth, numbing our perception of it. It no longer jolts us.

We should pray for a renewed sense of awe, and contemplate anew that God became one of us. The Creator became one of his creatures. This is incredible. We should be breaking out in song like Mary! All the time, not just at Christmas time.

This is the great truth of Christianity, that Jesus is the unique God-man, fully God and fully human, and was willing to humble himself and to be a servant, and die on the cross for our sin – redeeming those who come to him in faith, acknowledging their need of a Savior. And, of course, the good news includes the truth that Jesus conquered death and rose bodily from the grave. A dead Savior would not be a Savior. Jesus is alive! And he is coming again!

I realize we all have different personalities. Some people are more extroverted and talkative, and others are more introverted and reserved. Some people seem to have a special gift of evangelism, while others of us struggle to share our faith. God doesn’t expect us to be someone that we are not, as that would be fake. We certainly don’t want to share the gospel in a fake or forced way.

But if we are truly in awe of the Incarnation, it should make our proclamation of the gospel easier. Truth should flow from us more naturally, enabling others to come to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. – And the way truth flows from you, may be very different than how it flows from me.

But the truth should be flowing from each of us in some way – and if it is not, something is wrong. Maybe we have grown complacent in our faith. Maybe we’ve gotten too focused on the “how” of sharing the gospel – we are worried about what to say and how to go about it.

Perhaps instead we just need to shift our focus to Jesus. We need to pray that God will ignite our faith, so that we too are filled with joy like Elizabeth, Mary, and John the Baptist in the womb – so that the good news about Jesus will just flow out us – in the unique way God has made us and gifted us. Who in your life do you need to talk to about Jesus?

And let’s keep moving, and look at Mary’s Song. Mary knew Scripture. Not only did joy flow from Mary, but Scripture flowed from Mary. Psalm 119:11 says “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”
 – Mary reflected this. God’s Word was clearly hidden in her heart, and helped her be ready to be a faithful servant of the Lord.

In this song, Mary weaves together multiple Old Testament verses and themes. She capably handles Scripture from the Torah (the first 5 books of the Old Testament), the Psalms, and prophets. Mary interprets Scripture, and is able to see how the birth of her child is a fulfillment of the promises to Abraham and Israel.

The long expected Messiah is on his way. Do we know Scripture so well that it could flow from us in such a way? That’s a convicting question. I think too many of us neglect the Scripture, and to our own detriment. – How can you better hide God’s Word in your heart in the new year of 2022?

Mary’s great desire was to magnify the Lord, not herself. She begins by saying “My soul magnifies the Lord” –  other versions say glorifies or exalts the Lord.  The song was not to celebrate the singer but to give all the glory to God.

Mary used the phrase “he has” multiple times as she recounts what God has done. Her song can be divided into 3 parts: What God did for Mary, What God did for us, and What God did for Israel.

In verses 46-49, we see what God did for Mary. He saved her. In verse 47, Mary says “my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
In verses 48, we see that God looked with favor upon Mary, and chose her to be the mother of the Messiah.
In verse 49, we see that God worked on the behalf of Mary: “the Mighty One has done great things for me.”
Note that even though Mary was specially chosen and blessed, she still needed a Savior. Mary was a sinner, just like us, and needed to trust the Lord for her eternal salvation.

In verses 50-53, we see what God did for us. Mary includes all of God’s people. Verse 50 says: “His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.” God has mercy on those who are reverent and humble before Him, who realize, like Mary, that they need a Savior.

And verses 51-53 mentions 3 types of people: the helpless, the humble, and the hungry. These types of people existed then, and today.
Mary saw the Lord turning everything upside down: the proud are scattered, humble nobodies are exalted, the hungry are filled, and the rich end up poor.

The point here was not to kick out the powerful so that the lowly can become the new powerful ones, because that might create the same problem in reverse. Power corrupts people. Rather, I think the point is that God is working in the lives of ordinary people to do extraordinary things. God sees the overlooked and marginalized people, those deemed lowly and insignificant by society.

God is beginning to transform the entire social order – so that –
there will no longer be such distinctions! And we see this very thing taking place with Elizabeth and Mary. God chooses unexpected people to achieve his purposes.

And finally in verses 54-55, we see what God did for Israel. Mary says that God: “has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”

Because the nation of Israel messed things up so badly in the Old Testament, it seems that God would have cast them to the side and chosen a new nation through whom to bring the Savior of the world. – That’s what I would have done!

But not God. God was and is merciful. God was and is faithful. God keeps his promises. As a verse in 2 Timothy says, “if we are faithless, he remains faithful.

God’s people were waiting for the first coming of their Messiah, and we today are waiting for the Second Coming of Jesus. Advent is about the once, and future, coming of Christ. We can learn so much from Elizabeth and Mary on how to wait, and how wait well. We live in faith that God will keep his promise to return, and bring ultimate peace to this world.

Jesus came the first time as a humble servant to die on the cross for our sin and to make salvation freely available for those who will only trust him. We can have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Today is the day of salvation.

When Jesus comes the second time it will be in power and glory as a conquering King. Jesus will be the righteous judge. He will put an end to evil, cruelty, and injustice. Everything wrong in this world will be made right. The world will be at peace, under the rule of the Prince of Peace.

But we do need to be ready for the Second Coming of Jesus.
If we want to be part of this new and redeemed world, we need to properly respond to Jesus in His First Coming. As Charles Wesley worded it, we need to find our rest in Jesus. As Ephesians 2:8-9 says, we are saved by grace through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and not by our good deeds. We find our rest by trusting in what Jesus did for us on the cross of Calvary.

And I thought to close this message, why don’t we sing a capella
– without the piano – the first verse of “Come thou long expected Jesus” that I read at the beginning. Maybe you have it memorized, but if not it is #196.

My voice is mediocre, but let’s sing this together with joy and enthusiasm. Let’s pretend we are there watching the meeting of Elizabeth and Mary. Who cares if your voice isn’t so great! Let’s lift our hearts to the Lord.

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Here are the books I used to write this sermon: