Let’s pray for the reading of God’s Word.
Heavenly Father, on this Christmas morning as we come before Your Word, we ask that you might set aside all those, even good things that may distract us from this great thing. Your Word. We ask that you would soften our hearts and open our ears that we might hear hear Your Word for us this morning. We pray this in Jesus name and for his sake. Amen.
In Luke 1 Mary said, my soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior. For he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now, all generations will call me blessed. For he who is mighty has done great things for me.
And holy is his name, and his mercy is for those who fear Him. From generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered the proud and the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and has exalted those of humble estate.
He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant, Israel, in remembrance of his mercy as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his offspring forever. The word of the Lord. You may be seated.
Let me pray. Father, as my words are true to Your Word may be taken to heart, but if my words should stray from yours, may they be quickly forgotten. Pray this in the name and in the power of Jesus Christ. Amen. Well, perhaps you are familiar with Charles Dickens The Christmas Carol.
If so, you know that near the end of the story there’s a scene in which Scrooge, after his third visit, awakens. He is a changed man, full of joy and hope and wonder, and yet confused at the ringing of bells that he hears. And so here I quote Dickens running to the window. He opens it and puts out his head. Golden sunlight, heavenly sky, sweet fresh air, merry bells.
Oh, glorious, glorious. What’s today? Cried Scrooge, calling downward to a boy in Sunday clothes. Eh, returned the boy with all his might of wonder. What’s today, my fine fellow?
Said Scrooge. Today, pled the boy. Why, Christmas Day. It’s Christmas day, Scrooge said to himself. I haven’t missed it.
The spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can. Of course they can.
With Scrooge, a changed man, the rest of that Merry Christmas Day he spent in reconciling the many relationships that he had broken and in doing so, of course, found great joy in that day. Dickens, of course, writes a delightful story about Christmas which he describes as that time of year in which men and women seem by one consent to open their shut up hearts freely. I’d submit that perhaps, even though Dickens didn’t fully understand why one could have a Merry Christmas. He knew that something was different about the day. He knew or sensed that Christmas, the celebration of the birth of a boy of obscure and poor parents brought about a profound effect, such that over 2000 years later, that child, King Jesus, still brings many a Merry Christmas.
In our recent Advent series, we also looked backwards at the impact of Christ’s birth in the roughly 2000 years prior to his coming. And we saw that leading up to Messiah’s birth, god was preparing a Merry Christmas to many as well. In a bit of a recap, it was Mary for Leah at the birth of Judah, she declares, this time I will praise the Lord. God used somehow the birth of Judah to shift her eyes off of herself and onto the Lord. Leah, we remember was weighed down by feeling unloved, wondering if the Lord had seen her affliction, if the Lord had heard how she was hated, hoping that her husband would now love her, that her husband would now be attached to her.
And all of that self focused, exhausting depression management of one’s image, that heavy longing to be loved, it was somehow swept away at the birth of Jesus’s forefather. With that anticipated son, Leo was changed. Her gaze moved away from her need to be loved onto her true lover. Now I will praise the Lord. It’s a small taste, a foretaste rather, of a Merry Christmas.
What an extraordinary reminder to take our gaze off of ourselves and return it back to God. Aliyah was initially living her life wondering, what’s in it for me? Can this son bring me the love that I long for? Will this son fill my loneliness? But God brought her to the place in Judah’s birth where she at least momentarily sees clearly.
I will praise the Lord. It’s a fitting declaration at the birth of Judah, who is directly in the line of Jesus, the one who truly brings us a Merry Christmas. It was also merry for Naomi. In looking at the beautiful story of Ruth, pastor Lloyd rightly highlighted the expansive nature of God’s love. Ruth, you childless, foreign, the Moabite widow, you are brought into God’s covenant, promise and salvation in the Promised Messiah that will come through your line.
This is beautiful. And throughout that book, we see faithful Ruth mature in her ability to trust and to wait. Hers is a steady journey upward. With Naomi, we see the ups and downs in both emotional outlook and physical circumstances that some of us are more familiar with. With her husband’s early decision to flee the famine and therefore flee the Promised Land in search of food, we are reminded of our own tendency to rely on our own strength, to trust in our own understanding, to fix problems.
And in Naomi’s case, that led to disastrous results. Pastor Lloyd beautifully summed it up. Leaving the Promised Land, all she found was death and barrenness we see her desperate return and humility. Having lost husband and both sons, all she has left is another mouth to feed in this foreign daughter in law of an enemy nation. Do not call me Naomi Pleasant.
Call me Mara. Bitter for so she was. And yet, in her bitterness, in her sense of loss, god’s covenant promise still provided for her. You see, it was God’s good law that provided food for the destitute through the opportunity to glean from the edges of the field. It was God’s good law of establishing the kinsman Redeemer that provided for an opportunity to perpetuate that family line.
God’s good command to care for, to love one another, provided a safety net. And in that net, Naomi was caught and Ruth with her.
You know the story. Through the obedience of Boaz, ruth is Redeemed and a son is born. Obed king David’s grandfather, that promised son also in the line of our Savior brought a merry day to Naomi. Hear the change that this birth of the promised son in Naomi’s life brought writes he shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age. We see the completion of the restoration of Naomi from bitterness back to Pleasant in verse 16, when Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse.
What a merry day the Redeemer brought to Naomi. It was Mary. Also for Hannah. What a conflict of emotions Hannah must have experienced in the early years of her life with Elk. Hannah she was barren, while the rival wife was not.
We were reminded again by Pastor Lloyd of all the taunting and provoking that she had experienced year after year. I wonder how shallow or odd or perhaps even hypocritical Elkana’s attempt to comfort her must have sounded. Aren’t I better to you than ten sons? I wonder if she was ever tempted to answer back. You married another because you weren’t satisfied in me as Baron, and yet you expect me to be satisfied in you.
I wonder. Hannah’s desire for a son was not merely selfish, the selfish desire for security. It in fact turns out to be a God given desire. And Hannah willingly vowed to give her son back to the Lord. And here we find in the fulfillment of her desire, she doesn’t plot or seek a substitute to bear the child for her.
She simply and earnestly pleads to God. She fasts and prays to the only one able to answer her prayer. And we learned that when Eli, the high priest, hears the plea, he responds, go in peace. The Lord grant your petition. This declaration does indeed fill Hannah with a sense of peace.
And in response to that declaration, she breaks her fast, now expecting and trusting in God to bring about this promised child. And indeed, God did just that. It’s tempting to moralize the story into a simple prey like Hannah. If you want something, and if you’re really serious about it, God will listen. We certainly live like that in many respects, don’t we, in our culture?
I mean, especially today. Who wants to be on Santa’s naughty list, right? We all want to be nice, and we all hope that other people will be nice as well. We have a basic natural setting that thinks if we’re nice enough. And of course, we get to decide what nice enough means for us and what nice enough means for other people as well.
But we think if we are nice enough, that Santa, I mean, God will give us all the things that we really want and need. And if we don’t get what we want, if we’re Christians, we often hide our disappointment and try to believe that it’s only because God will give us something even better, right? God works all things for good. But for Hannah, the focus was not on her actions of going to the temple. It was not on her behavior of praying fervently, but it was rather to the one to whom she turned to for fulfillment.
She looked to God. Only God could cheer her. Only God could bring flourishing of life in a barren place. And her triumphant prayer shouts forth like a clarion call the merriment that God brought with the birth of that expected Son, she declares, my heart exalts in the Lord. Oh, may that be said of us.
It turns out it wasn’t her Son that brought about joy and fulfillment, but rather the Lord. She continues, my strength is exalted in the Lord. I rejoice in your salvation. And her entire prayer is a startling complex mixture of both humble and bold exclamations. When she looks at God and his glory, she expresses humility.
And when she sees herself in relationship to God that she is loved, that she is friended by Him, then she is emboldened in the face of her adversities. It is not our actions, our efforts, or our goodness that bring lasting joy or abiding peace, but rather our right relationship with God and our understanding of his goodness and his glory that brought merriment into Hannah’s day. While Leah, Naomi and Hannah all looks forward in faith to the coming of the Messiah, elizabeth and Mary both saw that day arrive, and it was a merry day for both of them. They benefited from how Pastor Lloyd made the distinction between how the similar birth announcements from the angel Archangel Gabriel impacted Elizabeth and Mary so differently, how with Elizabeth, her reproach was removed, and yet Mary was asked to carry a reproach. And yet in both cases, these births brought merriment.
In fact, it is Elizabeth, pregnant with John, that we see the first example of the joyful impact of Jesus’s incarnational ministry. Luke One records that when Mary enters into Elizabeth’s house and greets her, the baby John leaped in Elizabeth’s womb. And further, Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, breaks forth into praise. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Mary, likely just pregnant with Jesus, brings joy and merriment into Elizabeth’s life.
Elizabeth, rather than shares the blessing of this joy, she retells the story briefly of how Mary’s greeting brought her joy. Luke actually repeats this, first mentioning it in a simple narrative, but then including it again in Elizabeth’s remarks to Mary. I think it’s significant because it shows us an occasion in which the sharing of our blessing, that is, how God is or was at work in our lives with one another can also bring blessing and joy into their lives as well. We know that God equips us to comfort others with the comfort with which he has comforted us, but that can be true with joy as well. We can bring joy to others with the joy that God has made us joyful.
It’s part of the story of the telling, and it’s a part of an invitation to consider God’s goodness. In this case, it’s not a long, complicated story. Elizabeth merely relates. When you came in and greeted me, this is what happened. You brought joy to John in my womb.
Perhaps she was saying, your baby Jesus brought joy to my baby John. In either case, it’s simple. This action of yours greeting me, brought me joy. I can tell you how people have remembered small anecdotes of how God has used them as a great blessing in their life. In fact, recently I’ve actually overheard several people sharing with other thanks for cards that they have received, for little things that they have done for one another, and how that has brought great joy.
Their service, the service of many of the volunteers in this church have been such a great blessing to this church. And you, the members of the congregation, have been sharing how you’ve been blessed by them. This is an extraordinary way to share joy with one another, and I just want to remind you that that can be done all the time of the year. Elizabeth shares back her merriment and notice how Mary responds it’s in our printed text. Mary begins with this glorious praise of her Lord, and it’s a praise that flows from her soul.
She isn’t going through the motion of some religious ritual. She notes twice in verse 46 and 47 47, that it is her soul, it is her spirit, that rejoices. She rejoices in God, her savior. This is an extraordinary claim for Mary to be making at this point. She is, of course, carrying the Savior in her womb, but she is rejoicing for the salvation that God has already accomplished for her.
Her confidence in God is beautifully challenging to us. If we find that we lack Mary’s confidence, it may be because we lack her theological worldview. She saw and believed that God was her salvation in a general sense, but also her Savior in a real and intimate personal way. And she elaborates that for us in verse 48 and following, she shows us that for her, God has reversed her circumstances. You can see that in 48 her humble estate is now literally turned to worldwide perpetual fame.
She claims nothing for herself in bringing about this reversal, but instead, in verse 49, she states god, who is mighty, has done great things. They can think again of scrooge admitting the Christmas spirit’s power. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can.
God can do anything you like. And it’s obvious that God made her marry. But Mary, in her praise for God’s greatness and the joy that she found in them, doesn’t simply praise Him for what he has done for her alone. Rather, her praise is that God regularly saves others. In this same way, this reversal from humble to exalted has been her salvation.
And she notes in verse 50 that God does this same type of thing for others, indeed for you and me and the lives of people in our lives that we’re praying for. Note that Mary begins in verse 50. His mercy is for those who fear Him. And this offer was not just for those Old Testament saints, or for the Holy Family, or for Jesus’s peers and disciples. It’s extended from generation to generation.
Furthermore, the same strong arm that delivered Mary and incidentally, Leah, Naomi, Hannah and Elizabeth will deliver us and future generations as well. God, regularly redeems by reversal for those proud and lifted up. Verse 51 and 52 show us that he faithfully scatters their accomplishments and he brings them down from their self appointed and exalted thrones. But for the humble, he lifts up and exalts. Mary carries this picture even further and very likely shows her own circumstances.
In verse 53, as she says, he has filled the hungry with good things. One can only imagine the poverty and the desperation that Mary and Joseph felt on that journey to Bethlehem. Joseph is traveling back to be registered in his birth town and yet has no place to live. He has no connection. There no influence, no ability to find lodging.
We don’t know exactly how poor they were, although we do know that in Luca 224, when they offer the sacrifice, they’re too poor to offer a lamb and a turtle dove, and so only offer a pair of turtle doves. But God filled her with good things, and he has promised to do the very same thing for each of us as well, if we present ourselves as rich before God, spiritually speaking, spiritually sufficient, independent, and able to care for ourselves. In other words, a typical Montanan, a classic American. If in our lives and in our hearts and in our souls, we feel that we don’t really need any of this, we may agree and be okay with God, as fine for others, as helpful in a bind, but we’re pretty good on our own most of the time. I would hear as well beware you are not aware of the chains you have forged to borrow another one of his images.
The Scriptures declare that God will send you away empty, will tear you down from your lofty thrones. And hear this when this happens, remember that he is doing that work of reversal to bring you back to Him, to call you out of your new humble estate, to tell you of your need for his salvation. And when that happens, admit your arrogance, confess your sin, find your forgiveness, be filled with his joy. Remember the words to marry you shall bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. For it is he who will save his people from their sins.
You don’t need to gain God’s approval. You cannot win his affection, but you don’t need to. For Christ is the true lover. He loves you as you are, and so come to Him as you are, tired, broken, a sinner, and he will restore you to beauty. Rejoice in his love.
Let this be for you, your first truly Merry Christmas. And finally, for those of you in Christ who perhaps are grieving and weeping at seeing your loved ones walking away from God, I want to encourage you on this Christmas Day, do not cease from doing good. That is to pray fervently and to love well. Our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd, our King Jesus will recover and restore all of his children. And as you see that happen, then you too can rejoice on that Merry Christmas Day.
Father. You have brought your son Christ Jesus into this world. You are with us. And Lord, you often win us by reversal. You often bring us low so that we finally see our need for you, that we finally stop striving in our own strength, stop trying to be good enough, and finally admit that we need help.
Father, I pray that you would bring us to that point if we’re still wondering or watching or wrestling, and you would show us yourself, and we would be awed at Your beauty and overwhelmed by Your love. Father, for those who know you already, encourage us with a reminder that you are the faithful King, and you will redeem all your children in your time. Father, let us this day truly celebrate the incarnation of Your Son, Christ Jesus, the power of Your Holy Spirit to change lives, and Father, your eternal faithfulness. We rejoice on this. Merry Christmas day.
Disclaimer: Automated Sermon Transcription