SCRIPTURES – Isaiah 61:7-11; Gal. 4:4-7; Luke 1:39-55
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 on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. Luke 1
Right now people around the world are celebrating exceptional people: Olympic athletes. Their accomplishments are inspiring. As I watch them I always wonder: will there ever be a world record that will never again be able to be broken? Is there a limit to what the human body can do? If there is, it hasn’t yet been reached.
We Christians have a truly exceptional person we should celebrate: the Virgin Mary. The 250 bishops who were present at the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. gave her the title, “Mother of God.” This is based on the words of her cousin, Elizabeth, who said to her, “Why has the mother of my Lord come to me?” And so, when you think of exceptional people, think of Mary. In fact:
MAKE MARY YOUR MODEL IN FOLLOWING GOD
FOLLOW HER IN SAYING “YES” TO GOD AND SERVING HIM.
Olympic athletes are certainly inspiring to watch; but, I’m not going to adopt their workout routines. I’ll never be able to do what they do. Even when I was in my physical prime I could not have done what they do. Consider golf, which is back in the Olympics this year. If I put in the hours of practice that the pros put in I would be considerably better than I am now (I hope!). But, I’d still be a long way from their level. They have a natural ability that sets them apart.
Is it this way with Mary? Did God choose her to miraculously conceive and bear the Son of God because she was in some way “above” other women, more holy and more devoted to Him? Although some claim this and many think this, Mary does not. “God has looked on the humble estate of his servant,” she says, and she praises Him as “my Savior.” She does not claim to be exceptional. When the apostle Paul, who probably knew her, mentions her in his letter to the Galatians, he says: “when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman.” His focus is upon God and His Son; he does not even mention Mary by name. No, Mary was just an average young Jewish woman living in the small town of Nazareth, a poor woman with no special ability or faith or influence. And yet, God chose her for a great work! He chose her simply because she trusted Him as her Savior and desired to follow what He said. “[God’s] mercy is for those who fear him,” she says. She said “yes” to God and accepted her miraculous pregnancy, even though it would bring much hardship, because she feared to disobey God more than she feared the hardships that would come from obeying Him; and, because she trusted Him. And He was with her in mercy to help her.
None of us is able to follow an Olympic athlete’s exercise and training regimen, but you can follow Mary in trusting and obeying God. You can, for in Jesus you are as pleasing to God as was Mary! “The Lord has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,” says Isaiah. You can say this, for Jesus took away the filthy garment of your sins when He took them upon Himself and died for you on the cross. When you were baptized God put His name upon you and clothed you with Christ. He “sent the Spirit of his Son into [your] heart, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” Crossing yourself as you speak the name of the Triune God is a reminder of this, that in your Baptism you are God’s holy child! The Son of God who lived for nine months within the womb of Mary lives within your heart! Now, like Mary, listen to what your Lord says to you in His Word. Say “yes” to it and follow it, even when it is difficult. Your God and Savior will be with you to help you. Mary found this to be true, and you will also.
ALSO MAKE MARY YOUR MODEL IN PRAISING GOD.
Here especially is where you should follow her example. When Mary is blessed by Elizabeth, she responds by giving glory to God: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior… He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” Mary makes God and His works, and not her own, her focus.
Oh, how often do we do the opposite! In worship we focus upon the music: whether or not we like it, and how it’s played. We focus upon other people and what they’re doing. We think about what we have to do later, or something that was said earlier. Do you realize what you’re doing? You’re making yourself the center and focus! When you do this wrong thoughts and desires will quickly take over, and not only will you not be pleased; God will not be pleased with you.
Follow Mary and consider the words of praise she speaks. Certainly Mary was full of joy and excitement when Elizabeth greeted her. Praise of God burst forth from her heart! This is how it should be, right? If your heart is not in your praise, can it really be praise? God will not bless insincere praise.
But, Mary did not cry out just any words when she praised God. She spoke Scripture. A woman who lived long before Mary – her name was Hannah – spoke very similar words of praise when God granted her prayer and she conceived a son (1 Sam. 2:1-10). Mary, being a woman of faith and of the Bible, knew her words, for they formed the basis of her praise of God. Mary didn’t just gush forth with her own words. God’s words burst forth from her! Follow her lead in this.
Our hearts are moved by all kinds of things. A close race in the Olympics or a close football game is exciting. Can a Sunday morning Service compare with it? And, we are critics. When I see an athlete on the award stand I think more highly of that person if he or she is singing the national anthem when it is played. But, is the athlete who sings more patriotic and less self-absorbed than one who does not sing? Maybe; maybe not. I do know that what takes place here in God’s house is far more important than what takes place in any Olympic pool or arena. I know this above all because God has told us this. We often make wrong judgments because we focus, not upon what He says, but upon mere outward appearances and our own desires.
It is dangerous to let your thoughts and emotions lead your worship, for they can easily lead you away from God. And yet, don’t you want your worship to be more heartfelt, to move you more? Be like Mary, and let God’s Word lead your heart. Read and learn God’s words. Our liturgy is filled with Scripture, either directly quoted or paraphrased. Read them and think upon them. Before the next Service read and think upon the Scriptures that will be read in that Service. They are listed for you in the bulletin. Only God can change the heart and lead you in thinking and doing what is good and right and honors Him; and He will do so. “His mercy is for those who fear him,” says Mary. He lifts up those who listen to Him.
Follow God like Mary, a simple woman of faith. Model her in listening to and praising and serving and obeying your exceptional God who has shown you such exceptional mercy in His Son. “He who is mighty has done great things” – for you! Holy is His name! Amen.