The La Sierra University Church is a Seventh-Day Adventist Congregation, Serving Western Riverside in Southern California.

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Mary's Song Before Christmas

The 8:30am Liturgical Service at La Sierra follows closely the lectionary texts for Advent. Devo Kritzinger gave the following homily this past weekend on Luke 1:46-55.

After Mary’s bewildering visit from an angel, she believes the impossible possibility that she is favored by God, that she will conceive a son and name him Jesus, and that he will rule a dynasty, fulfilling all the ancient expectations for a Jewish Messiah. She receives the disruptive call from God, and responds, “Let it be with me according to your word.”

The willingness of Mary to open her life utterly to God is a model of our humanity as well as of our church.

Mary doesn’t expect to receive a divine visitation or a great task. But, despite her perplexity, she says “yes” to new horizons that will not only put her at risk, but also open her to wonders no mortal can fully imagine. Like Isaiah, Mary responds to God’s call: “Here am I; I am open to your vision, energy, and transformation of my life.” Mary says “yes” to God’s “yes” for humankind.

Luke presents Mary as the first to hear and accept the gospel and then to proclaim it. Thus he holds her up as the first and model disciple. Mary hears the call of God and she responds. She models faith, obedience, servanthood, discipleship, hospitality.

Ordinary people can do extraordinary things when they are open to God’s revealing in their lives, and then say “yes” to God’s vision for their lives and the world.

Mary bursts forth in praise, sharing a dream that is more than she could previously imagine.

46 “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 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 powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (Luke 1:46-55)

Everything will be turned upside down. The poor and marginalized will receive God’s blessing; they will be lifted up from obscurity to experience the fullness of life. The elite and wealthy will experience what it’s like to be vulnerable and impoverished.

The Magnificat is a deliberate parallel to the opening of Hannah's song after the birth of her child in 1 Samuel 2:1-2.

Yet the Magnificat does more than echo Hannah and the Old Testament; it anticipates the gospel message, especially the Beatitudes and Woes spoken by Jesus in Luke 6:20-26. Most people are familiar with Matthew's eight Beatitudes and the phrasing of "poor in spirit" and "hunger and thirst after justice." Luke has only four Beatitudes, but they have no spiritualizing clauses like "in spirit" or "after justice":

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when all hate you . . . your reward is great in heaven.

And so that the reader will not miss that Jesus is talking about concrete poor, hungry, and suffering people, Luke follows this with four antithetical Woes uttered by Jesus:

Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall hunger. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.

The Magnificat celebrates what God has done, exalting the low and the hungry, putting down the proud, the mighty, and the rich.

Mary does not proclaim the greatness of the saving God because he has sent the Messiah, his Son. Rather, her praise of him interprets the sending — explains the meaning of the sending: He has shown strength, exalting the lowly, filling the hungry.

The reign of God comes whenever the Good News breaks through. It comes whenever a child feels accompanied, whenever a peasant girl believes that she is worthy. Salvation comes whenever the hungry are fed good things, and the rich turned away empty-handed, whenever the poor are empowered or the mighty made to share. The world is redeemed every time an outsider is treated with reverence, an immigrant is welcomed, an abuse victim respected. The new world dawns when a person who has been silenced speaks, or when you give light and space to a vulnerable place in your heart.

So the question to us today is, How are we going to interpret for others what we believe happens at Christmas, so that they will be able to appreciate what the angel announced at the first Christmas? ”I announce to you good news of a great joy which will be for the whole people: To you this day there is born in the city of David a savior who is Messiah and Lord.” (Lk 2:10-11)

The Christmas story is for Luke only the prelude to a beautiful gospel story and to a story of mission that engages the whole of Acts. It is not an end in itself. It presses forward to witness and mission.

The shepherds in the Christmas story returned different than they were when they set out on their journey, "glorifying and praising God" for all they had heard (2:20).

The shepherds, Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph—though main characters of the Christmas story—do not appear again in Luke's narrative, but their witness stands in the themes that continue to resonate throughout the Gospel.

In this narrative there is a radical transformation that takes place: from peasant girl to prophet, from Mary to mother of God, from denial to discipleship. In a very real way, this is the appropriate transition from waiting and anticipating Jesus’ birth to Christmas Day. Mary's story moves us all from observant believer to confessing apostle, from who we think we are to what God has called us to be.

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