People who keep the tradition of Advent usually reserve their Christmas joy and hymns for the Christmas season which begins December 24th. Well, Mary throws that tradition all out of whack. She's singing a Christmas hymn 9 months before Christmas. How can she do that? Mary can do that because Christmas is a to her. That's French for "accomplished fact." For Mary, Christmas is a , and accomplished fact. What a way to live!
Hold on there. How can Christmas be an accomplished fact for Mary 9 months before it happened - especially at this point? What has happened to give Mary such a view? O sure the angel Gabriel came to visit her. But you've got it wrong if you think it was like the paintings show - a winged angel, hovering above the ground, yellow hallow encircling his head. Luke doesn't say that's what happened. He says Gabriel entered her house, probably by a door, stood on the ground, and spoke. He looked very un-angel like.
Yes but Mary carries the Lord Jesus. That's true. She is pregnant with the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy One of God. But right now she is only about 7 days pregnant. Jesus is a dot on her uterine wall. She can't feel Him move, and she hasn't gained any weight. Apart from Gabriel's word to her she has no indication that she is pregnant.
I suppose you might say that the reaction of Elizabeth is extraordinary. She testifies that Mary is pregnant with the Lord, Jehovah, Yahweh Himself and that Mary's simple greeting imparted the Holy Spirit to the unborn child in her own womb. All of this is truly amazing, but what has actually happened to this point? Mary couldn't see John the Baptist jump for joy in his mother's womb. Mary couldn't see the Lord Yahweh in her own womb. And she couldn't see her blessedness among women.
Friends, nothing tangible has changed in Mary's world. Satan still roamed the earth freely tormenting people with all manner of ailments. The official church was still corrupt keeping people under the bondage of the law while filling the bellies of its leaders. Rome still ruled the land officially and the robbers still terrorized it unofficially. Taxes were still heavy and the cost of living was often life itself. Diseases like leprosy still marched across the land unchecked, and demons held many others in visible bondage and torment.
This is the world Mary lived in, and since becoming pregnant 7 days earlier, not one of these things had changed. I'm quite sure these very things were in her face on the 80 mile trip to Elizabeth. I'm sure she saw a demon possessed person; I'm sure she thought how the official church would cast her out; I'm sure she was hassled by Roman soldiers or was in fear of criminals. I'm sure she was confronted with the diseased. What reason does Mary have to sing a Christmas hymn in such circumstances?
Not only was Mary's public life still the same, her private life got much worse 7 days ago. She's engaged to be married, probably no more than 15 for they married younger then, and she's pregnant. She has yet to tell her fiance. She has yet to face the horrible shame in town. She might be stoned for her apparent sin. She's got morning sickness. She's 80 miles from home. She doesn't appear to have much reason to break forth in song like Julie Andrews does in the "Sound of Music," does she?
But she does. And her song reveals that she sees as the prophets did in the Old Testament. She sees God's promises as a fait accompli, as an accomplished fact, as the future already present. She sees like the patriot does in the hymn "America the Beautiful;" she "sees beyond the years." She sees like St. Stephen is said to in the hymn "The Son of God Goes Forth to War:" Her eagle eye pierces "beyond the grave."
And what does Mary see? Much more than what is apparent; much more than what has happened so far. She glorifies the Lord because He has deigned to look upon her even though she is nothing but a humble slave of His. She glorifies the Lord because the Mighty One has done great things, not "FOR me" as the insert translates, but literally "TO me."
Mary regards all that God has done to her as an act of grace. But is that what it actually looks like right now? Isn't she burdened by an out-of-wedlock pregnancy? Isn't she being placed in an impossible situation? It will take a miracle, as in the case of Elizabeth, for anyone to believe her, won't it? Yet Mary regards God as only dealing with her in grace. That's because she believes that the Mighty One has done great things TO her.
She believes that God had laid Himself in her womb; that God had taken on flesh and blood using an egg produced by her fallen body. Gabriel had told her that the One who would be born of her would be called "holy," and so she sings, "One whose name is Holy has done great things to me." Understand she had not seen one miracle, had not heard one band of angels singing, had not been regarded as blessed by anyone yet except an old woman relative of hers. But she did see that the One who promised to be born of a virgin 800 years ago had fulfilled His promise and placed Himself in her virgin womb.
However, Mary sees more than what's happening to her. Mary sees things accomplished in the world that have yet to happen. Mary sees the Holy One in her womb as having, "scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts." She sees her Holy Child as having "brought down rulers from their thrones." She sees her 7 day old unborn Child as having "lifted up the humble." She sees this unborn Baby who needs to be fed by her body as having "filled the hungry with good things" and having "sent the rich away empty." And all that Mary sees her Jesus doing is in the past tense. She doesn't see that He WILL do these things but that He HAS DONE them.
She sees everything as a fait accompli. She see things from God's perspective; God sees things in one eternal moment, everything is "right now" for God. God having done the impossible thing of stepping into her womb, and therefore into time, throws Mary outside of time. God having done the scientifically, technologically, and physically impossible thing of putting all of Himself within her womb meant that all that God had ever promised to do was as good as done already. If He has done this, He could and would do everything else.
But this is not our viewpoint, is it? That's why Mary's singing is so out of place to us. "But Mary at least had an angel walk through her door and talk to her. All we get is a bald guy with glasses spouting stuff that bores us. Mary at least had Elizabeth to verify that the Holy Spirit had overshadowed her and the Power of the Most high had come upon her. All we have is those ordinary, plain looking waters of Baptism to assure us that we have the Holy Spirit. Mary at least had the unborn Jesus growing in her womb all we get is the body and blood of Jesus placed in our mouth or hand...".
Wait a minute. Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Could we be more blessed than the Blessed Virgin herself? Jesus would say that. Someone said to Him, "Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts at which You nursed." Jesus replied, "Yes, but blessed are those who continue to listen to God's Word and observe it." Yes Mary got to use water to wash dirt from the body of Jesus as a boy and water to wash blood from the dead body of Jesus as a Man. But we get our sins washed away from our souls by Jesus' blood through the waters of Baptism. And yes Mary got to give life to Jesus as a Man, but we get life from Jesus' flesh and blood in Communion.
We are definitely more blessed than the Blessed Virgin. So can we not look at our world the same way she looked at hers? Has not our Jesus already scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts? Has He not already brought down arrogant rulers from their thrones? Has He not already lifted up the humble? Has He not even now filed the hungry with good things and sent the rich empty away? Are not these accomplished facts? Can not our eagle eye pierce beyond the grave and see that Christ's victory is done? Can not we have patriot eyes and see beyond these years when Satan and sin seem to triumph?
Surely we can. The Lord has been so much more merciful to us than He was even to the Virgin Mary who declared that His mercy extends from generation to generation. Consider what great things God has already accomplished in our world right before our eyes.
When Mary had the 7 day old Jesus in her womb, how many believers were there in the God-Man Jesus? Three: Mary, the unborn John the Baptist, and Elizabeth. Look about you now. There are about 1 billion Christians in the world.
When Mary carried the baby Jesus how many people were counting the days to His birth? Mary and Joseph as the parents were the only ones dating things by means of His birthday. Look about you almost all the world does now. Don't you remember the madness for the millennium last year? Almost the whole world counted down the days to the year 2,000. That date is not 2,000 years from something men have done, but 2,000 years from the birth of Christ. Almost all people now count time in relation to the arrival of Christ.
And when Jesus was born who noticed? Mary and Joseph of course did, a handful of ragged shepherds, a couple of foreigners, and two old people in Jerusalem. Don't you see? Mary had to see beyond everyone ignoring the fact that God had stepped into time. Almost everything and everyone around Mary shouted at her that nothing had changed.
How about us? All of a sudden I see my neighborhood filling with lights, decorated trees and even figures of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus on front lawns! And do my ears deceive me, or is that Jesus' name I hear sung on my radio and in my grocery store? And tell me it isn't so, but I hear pagans, Jews, and Mormons actually singing praises to the God-Man Jesus! What's that you say? My entire country will get a day off on His birthday? Go on. That can't be right. What would Mary have to say about this?
Friends, if having a 7 day old Jesus, enabled Mary to look at the great acts of God as fait accompli, how much more does having a full grown, crucified, risen, and ascended Jesus give us this view? If having God invisibly in her womb changed her, how much more does having God invisibly in our ears, on our bodies, and in our mouth change us? If Mary could see a world that hadn't changed at all as having been changed radically by the incarnation, how much more can we see a world that has been changed radically by the incarnation as being changed for our good?
I want to leave you with one more French phrase: deja vu. It refers to the illusion of having experienced something before even though you haven't. But the French actually means "already seen." We've already been through this before. We've already seen the incarnation. We've already heard Mary sing that God has accomplished everything He promised. And we've already seen that her song wasn't wrong. What is a fait accompli to Mary is not only a fait accompli to us, it's deja vu. What a way to live! Amen
Reverend Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church Austin, Texas
Fourth Sunday in Advent (12-24-00), Luke 1:39-55