Sermon for the 4th Sunday in Advent December 23, 2018
Text: Luke 1:39-55 ILCW Series C 18:2101
Theme: Lord, I Want to Sing this Christmas!
Happiness is such a big part of Christmas, isn’t it? One can’t celebrate Christmas right without being happy, can they?
But for some people, a bit of sadness fill their lives. They have lost family members and friends who were close to them. Others are plagued with illness. There is tension in the air over politics and society in general. Christians on the other side of the world are persecuted for their faith. Many people are under such stress. It’s all such a shame.
Such things remind me of the frailty of life and the difficulties that sin and Satan bring upon us, even upon people of faith. Still, in the midst of sadness, we Christians are happy people, especially at Christmas. And along with our happiness goes singing.
We love to hear and sing the great Christmas songs of old. For centuries it has been the special way that faith-filled people express the joy that is theirs at the birth of the Savior. When Christians think of Jesus’ birth, they just naturally want to sing.
It’s the first thing Mary did at the announcement of Jesus’ birth. She expressed joy in song. Hers is the first great song of Christmas: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant…for the Mighty One has done great things for me.” From those marvelous opening words, she went on to sing of the great and wonderful things God did for her.
Lord, I want to sing like that, too, this Christmas. Fill me with happiness at the birth of my Savior because not everyone is happy right now.
I. Fill me with happiness at the birth of my Savior.
But that’s the nature of true happiness before You. Help me to understand it. It’s such a peculiar thing. The strange part is that such happiness only comes to those who are first sad and sorrowful. It comes to those who are troubled and upset in their lives. Such a strange phenomenon! Nevertheless it’s true for Christians.
Martin Luther once talked about this when he said, “When the Lord wants to make us happy, He first of all makes us sad; when He wants to make us rich, He first makes us poor; and when He wants to give us life, He lets us die.”
At first that doesn’t seem right to me. “When the Lord wants to make us happy, He first makes us sad”? That doesn’t seem right. But after thinking about it, Mary reflects that understanding in her song.
Think of the circumstances under which she sang this song. Mary was in trouble, real trouble. Just a few days before this the angel Gabriel came to her home in Nazareth and told her that she would have a son. But Mary wasn’t married. If she became pregnant, it would look like she had committed a great sin, punishable with death in Old Testament times. What would the townspeople say and do if they learned she was going to have a child out of wedlock? And what would her fiancée, Joseph, do? Mary was in trouble when she sang this song. Some very rough days lay ahead for her. But she sings with such joy!
It seems to me that being disgraced and being joyful just don’t go together. But it is a fact that the joy Mary felt and I want to feel too can only be known by those who know that they are disgraced. To those who are afraid, to those who are humbled, to those who are hungry, to those who are in trouble and in need of mercy – such people can relate to the happiness of which Mary sang.
The truth of the matter is that none of us will ever really know what it means to have happiness and joy in a Savior until we are willing to stand before Him afraid, humiliated, and troubled by sin and its consequences in our lives. I will never know what the birth of the Christ-child truly means until I am ready to admit that I am a thief, a murderer, a lover of self, and more – until I am ashamed of the fact that I have sinned before God. I might be able stand before a human court and have no judgment fall upon me, but I cannot stand on my own before heaven’s tribunal and be declared innocent of all crimes, for the Lord knows what I have done.
When I look into my heart and see what sort of thoughts and desires are there, I’m so ashamed. If others could see what’s really here, would I feel just as disgraced as Mary could have felt?
But Lord, that’s not so bad to feel so sad, because then Your mercy extends to me. It extends to all who fear You, from generation to generation, just like Mary sang. For…
– when men have learned to fear God’s wrath for their sin,
– when they are afraid of going to hell for it, because they know that they deserve eternal punishment from Him,
– when they are troubled in their hearts because they know that God is angry at what they have done against Him,
– then they will appreciate so much more the great truth that God
sent a Savior into the world to be born and to die for them,
– then they can sing in joy with Mary: “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior….For He has done great things for me.”
Lord, I Want to Sing like that This Christmas. Fill me with the happiness that a Savior brings.
II. And grant me peace, knowing He provides whatever I need.
Ah, once I know how much I need a Savior, You will bless me because then I’ll see that the Christ of Bethlehem provides me with all that I need. And if I have whatever I need, then I’ll be at peace. Peace – it’s something Mary needed in the midst of her turmoil.
When the angel came and told Mary that she would have a son who would be the Savior of the world, she didn’t see how such a thing could happen. A virgin having a child? A human being giving birth to God? Impossible! But the angel told her that with God nothing is impossible.
Lord, You did a great thing for Mary. You did a great thing for us all. You performed this miracle in her so that we might be saved. The story of the virgin birth is not only Your doing the impossible in Mary’s life, but in all of our lives. We’ve got to keep that in mind if we want to sing with happiness this Christmas.
When we are troubled and wonder whether You can help us in these present days, when the power of evil men seems to be unlimited at times, we need only to remember this great miracle that You did so long ago so that Your Son might be born to save us. This shows me that You can do whatever is necessary to help me in my life. You can provide me with whatever I need. That thought brings such peace.
But not only are you a mighty Savior who can do the impossible. You are a merciful Savior whose “mercy is on those who fear You.” We need a merciful Savior, for if You, O Lord, do not take pity on us, we are lost.
I’ve always thought of the Apostle Paul as one of the greatest examples of Your mercy in action. At first he was such a great persecutor of the church. He murdered Christians and did such nasty things to wipe them out. Still in Your mercy You reached out and saved him through faith, and he became one of the greatest missionaries Your Church has ever seen. Your mercy is an astounding thing.
And that mercy ought to be most evident to us when we stand at the manger bed. There we see Your only Son wrapped in swaddling and clothes and hear the angels sing that He is Christ the Lord. Surely, a God who would send His only Son into this world for sinners must be
merciful! You must be a God who loves us in spite of ourselves. And that understanding will bring us peace – peace because we see in You a God who keeps His promises.
Thousands of years before this, You promised to send a Savior to help us. And now in the child about to be born to Mary You kept that promise. You always keep Your Word. It never passes away without being fulfilled. That makes us happy, so happy that we want to sing.
Mary sang, “From now on all generations will call me blessed.” I can’t imagine a young, unmarried girl, about to have a baby in such troubled times saying, “From now on until the end of time people are going to talk about what a great thing God did for me.” But these words came true. Here we are over 2000 years later and we still speak and sing of the wondrous blessings that come from You, through her, to us.
Such are Your promises. When You say something, it is true. When You promise something, it comes to pass. And the most important thing that You have promised us in our often-times sad world is this: “Son, daughter, your sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake. I sent my Son to you that He might bring you back to me. And He has done it. Believe the good news and rejoice. My promise lasts forever.”
Let those thoughts fill our hearts as we await the celebration of Jesus’ birth. As we think on these things, fill us with happiness and grant us Your peace, knowing that You will provide whatever we need. Then we’ll sing for joy with Mary. Lord, I want to sing this Christmas. Grant it to us in faith for Jesus’ sake. Amen.