Bluemont and Mayberry Presbyterian Churches
December 18, 2021
At the beginning of worship
It’s the fourth Sunday of Advent. Out waiting is paying off. This week, we’ll celebrate the birth of Jesus. But what does Jesus’ coming mean? What will his return be like? Today, we hear from his mom. Jesus doesn’t just come to provide for about individual salvation. Instead, God is doing something incredibly new in the world. Will we want to participate?
Before the reading of Scripture
When I lived in Michigan, there was always a time, generally in March, that I’d wake to birds singing while it was still dark. It was a sign winter was almost over. Spring was on its way and the birds had made their trip back from their winter home. I imaged them singing a song of thanksgiving.
Luke’s gospel opens similarly. Everyone sings. We’ll almost everyone. Old Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, was at a loss for words. That is, until he regained his speech. But I bet his heart sang. Joining in his heart’s song is his pregnant wife, Elizabeth. And then Mary, pregnant with Jesus, joins the song. And after Jesus’ birth, angels gather as a chorus. They all understand it’s a new day. God’s promises are about to be fulfilled.
The last two Sundays, we explored John the Baptist. The last of the prophets of the old age, John points the way to Jesus, the one who ushers this new age. Today, we’re stepping back, to when John and Jesus were still in the womb. Our scripture tells of the two mothers, Elizabeth, and Mary, giving thanks to God.
Automobiles and control
I have a confession to make. I like to be in control. Didn’t come as a surprise, did it? I like to know what I’m doing and where I’m going and how I’m going to get there. I don’t like things I can’t control, which is probably why I don’t get excited over cars. I’m not impressed with how much horsepower one packs under the hood or the size of the tires. I just want the contraption to get me where I’m going.
You see, with a car, you can be whizzing down the interstate at midnight with everything in order—cruise control set just a hair above the speed limit, the vehicle’s interior climate comfortable, and just the right tune blaring from the stereo when, suddenly, a water pump breaks. You sit in the middle of nowhere, reminded once again that you’re not in control. A little mechanical gadget that can only be found in an auto-parts store three counties over shatters any allusion of that. Moments before you were happy and content, now you’re cranky and angry. Know the feeling? (That said, I hope none of us have car problems if you’re travelling for the holidays.)
The desire for control is something instilled into our culture. We’re told to pull ourselves up by our bootlaces. We take care of ourselves, or at least we are under the mistaken belief we can take care of ourselves. But we didn’t build the car. Nor did we build the highway or refine the oil to make the car run. We should keep in mind that we always depend on others and ultimately, we depend on God.
The fantasy of control
We need to get this control fantasy out of our heads. The tornadoes to our west over the past two weeks, at the wrong time of the year, certainly reminded folks in places like Mayfield, Kentucky they weren’t in control. That said, we need to accept ourselves for who we are. When we try to make ourselves out to be more than we are, we create an idol out of the self and set ourselves up for a fall. The higher we elevate ourselves, the further we fall.
Yet, control is a desire we all share. But it’s dangerous because it is incompatible with our faith in God. We desire to be rich, famous, powerful, popular, the type of individual who controls his or her surroundings. But it’s a myth. As Christians, our desires should center on pleasing and fulfilling God’s will. If you question this, consider Mary, the women whom God chose to work through to bring about salvation to the world.
Mary and women of the 1st Century
Mary wasn’t rich or famous or powerful or popular. According to worldly standards, she was the most unlikely candidate to be the mother of Jesus, the mother of God. She was young and unmarried, probably poor, from a second-rate town in an obscure corner of the world. As far as we know, she had no education and there was no royalty within her blood. She didn’t seek fame.
Mary depends on others. As with other women of the age, she depends on her father to find her a husband. Then she’ll depend on her husband to provide for her and their children. Later in life, she’ll depend on her children to take care of her. She had no control over her life. Absolutely none. A poor woman, like 1000s of other poor women, in a dirt-poor town in an obscure providence of the Roman Empire.
Yes, Mary was like 1000s of other women, until she’s visited by the angel Gabriel. It almost sounds like a fairy tale story, does it, to be chosen as the mother of God? Except Mary never inherits a castle. Her story goes downhill. She gives birth to her son in a stable, the family flees to Egypt where they live as political refugees, and three decades later she’s there by the cross watching her son die. She is a woman of sorrow, but despite this her song is one of the most beautiful found in scripture as she praises God for what he has done and is doing.
Mary realizes her position. She’s a lowly servant. Her honor comes from God’s action within her life. Everything is God’s doing, not hers. She’s not the cause of redemption; she’s just a vessel God uses to bring the Savior into the world. Mary can’t boast of her accomplishments. She doesn’t line up book deals; she isn’t saying, “look at me, I’m the mother of God.” Instead, as Luke tells us at the end of the Christmas narrative, Mary ponders all that happens in her heart. She’s the model of true humility. She directs her praise, as well as her life, toward God.
Mary’s song gives us an insight into how God operates. God chose her, an unlikely candidate, to be Jesus’ mother. God lifts the lowly while pronouncing judgment upon the powerful—upon those who think they are in control. We Americans should take notice.
God’s blessings are given to those who understand they have no control in their lives; God’s blessings are for those who, in their humble state, fear the Lord. At the same time, those who are not willing to acknowledge God’s sovereignty will not find salvation in Jesus Christ. They’re too busy looking out for themselves and pretending their own resources will save them. Such folks may not even realize they need a Savior.
The poor and dependency
Have you ever wondered why the poor appear to be special in Scripture? Think of the verses: Blessed are the poor.” “It’s easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get into heaven.” Why is it easier for the poor to accept Christ and find salvation?
The poor are dependent. Those without money must depend upon others for food. Those without capital must depend upon others for jobs. And this doesn’t just go for the economically poor. “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Those who are depressed must depend upon others to cheer them up. The poor are dependent on others, they are not in control, and those who acknowledge their dependence have an easier time accepting God’s grace.
All of us need to learn to depend upon God and, by doing so, we need to make Mary’s song our own. Can we prescribe all our praise to God? (Or, do we want to save a little for ourselves?) Can we acknowledge God’s power and sovereignty in this world? (Or, do we believe in our individual grandeur?)
Mary is in no position to help herself, yet she so totally trusts God and sings his praises. Mary accepts God’s call and gives God thanks for choosing her, which is why her song is remembered.
Mary’s model of prayer
Mary’s song provides us a model of a prayer of thanksgiving. If Mary, a woman of sorrow, can sing such a song, if the songbirds who struggle day after day for food and survival and make long journeys across a continent can sing such praise, why can’t we? In all we do, we need to see how God is working in our lives and then give thanks.
We need to take Paul seriously when he says that we’re to be praying without ceasing. And our prayers need to mostly be prayers of thanksgiving, as we praise God for all that he has done for us. When we search our lives for God’s blessings and realize our blessings. Humbled, we become even more dependent upon the loving arms of the Almighty God.
During this festive season, don’t forget to give thanks. Take time to count your blessings. What has God given you to be thankful for? First off, he’s given your life; God’s given you a chance. Secondly, you’re redeemed in Jesus Christ. That’s a lot! And what has God done for our church for which we should be thankful. He’s given us a rich heritage, a church that has served this community for a hundred years, people who work hard in the community to make it a better place for all people. We’re not perfect; for that we’ll have to wait for the Second Advent. But God blesses us to be a part of Jesus’ family and in such a community as this.
Blessedness in a troubled world
Of course, as the news reminds us daily, we live in a world of violence. But so did Mary and Elizabeth. They lived in a world where those who disagreed with the occupying army were crucified and where Roman soldiers enforced the will of Caesar by spear and sword. And yet, they both praised God for what was happening. Both knew what God had done in the past and understood that a new age was dawning. Even John, in his mother’s womb, knew and was excited about what God was doing.
Today, we can be cynical, when considering the violence and injustice in our world. Or we can realize the message of the cross, which is that violence and evil may have their day, but they are not the final answer. Be thankful, for the powers of death could not overcome God’s love for the world. Be thankful, for Jesus will return and establish his rule and every knee will bow in reverence and God will live among us in such an intimate way that he’ll wipe our tears from our cheeks.
Blessings and Hope
And be hopeful. For God works with us to bring about a marvelous eternity. This past week, I listed to Tim Keller talk on hope in a troubling time. Keller is the founder of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in the heart of New York City. Keller also suffers from cancer. (In the footnotes of my written sermon, I posted the link to this YouTube podcast.) Keller reminds us of the depth of our hope. We are not just hoping God will take away whatever trouble we experience today. That’s trivial hope. We place our hope in what God is doing in the world that will be eternal. And that starts with the coming of Christ.
I encourage you in your prayers to be like Mary. Remember what God has done and what God is doing! Paul tells us to rejoice always. When we regularly give thanks to God, we live differently. Our lives will be more positive. We’ll be like the songbirds on a spring morning, sharing God’s hope to a hurting world. Come, Lord Jesus, Come! Amen.
 Fred B. Craddock, Luke: Interpretation, A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: JKP, 1990), 29.
 See Isaiah 14:12-14 and Luke 10:18
 Luke 1:26ff.
 See John 19:26.
 Luke 2:19
 Luke 6:20
 Matthew 19:24, Mark 10:25, and Luke 18:25
 Matthew 5:3
 1 Thessalonians 5:17.
 Bluemont was 100 years old in 2019. While Mayberry will be a hundred in 2025, it existed as a Sunday School meeting in the school house before then.
 Romans 14:11, Philippians 2:10, Isaiah 25:8, and Romans 21:4