On October 9 of this year the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs met at Busch Stadium in the first game of the National League Division Series. The atmosphere was electric. It was the first time in history that these rivals had met in a playoff game.
Yet to describe the Cardinals and Cubs as “rivals” does not seem to do justice to that word. In truth you could hardly find a greater mismatch of organizations. The Cardinals are proud and mighty … with good reason. They are the baseball royalty of the National League, having won eleven World Series titles and nineteen National League pennants. Since the National League Central Division was formed in 1994, they have won it 10 times, including this season and the previous two years as well. During the 2015 season the Cardinals had the best record in the baseball.
The Cubs on the other hand had only won two World Series titles and the last one of those was in 1908. They had won sixteen National League pennants, but most of those occurred prior to the end of World War I. They had not won the National League since 1945, the year World War II ended. They have been the lovable losers with an ability to turn success into failure. Up two games in the 1984 league series, they lost three to two. Leading in the eighth inning and about to win the league in 2003, they managed to lose the series. Going into the game on October 9 they had lost eight consecutive post season games.
When the Cardinals won the first game 4 to 0, Cardinals fans naturally celebrated. The mighty Cardinals were still the mighty Cardinals, and the humble Cubs were still the humble Cubs. But then, something unthinkable happened. The Cubs proceed to win the next three games. On October 13 in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field the Cubs clinched the series. In the first playoff series in history between the two teams … the Cubs had won. The mighty Cardinals had been brought down, and the humble Cubs had been exalted over them.
In the Scripture reading for tonight, Mary describes this kind same kind of great reversal. The mighty are brought down, while the lowly are exalted. She says that this is the way God works. God has worked in this way for Mary. And we learn that through the child she carries in the womb, God has done the same thing for you.
Our text tonight describes what happened after Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive through the work of the Holy Spirit and would give birth to the Son of God. The angel had told Mary that her aged and childless relative Elizabeth had also become pregnant, because with God nothing was impossible.
We learn that Mary quickly went to visit Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist. Luke tells us that when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, John the Baptist leapt in her womb. In turn, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
Guided by the Spirit, Elizabeth declared that Mary was blessed – favored by God – because of the child she was carrying in her womb. This was not just any baby. It was in fact Elizabeth’s Lord. And the confirmation of this was found in the reaction of John the Baptist. The one whose prophetic calling was to prepare the way for the Lord and point others to him was already doing so when still in the womb!
Last week we learned that when Mary heard Gabriel’s shocking announcement, she responded by saying, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Now, Elizabeth calls Mary blessed because of her reaction. She says, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
In our text Mary replies to what Elizabeth has just said. She begins by speaking about her own situation. Yet her words soon move toward a broader truth. She says, “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.”
Mary begins by praising God because of what he had done. He had taken Mary who was a nobody and transformed her. By his grace he had chosen her to bear the incarnate Son of God. This was not something she had any part in doing. God had chosen her. God had conceived the Son in her through the work of the Holy Spirit. But this action by God meant that all generations would call her blessed.
Mary was right. All generations since have called her blessed. Look right over there - we have a picture of her on our church’s wall. Sometimes this appreciation of Mary has gone beyond what God’s Word allows – such as when Mary is viewed as an intercessor between God and man. But there is no doubt that Mary is to be honored as the means by which the incarnation took place. She is to be praised and emulated because of the way she humbled herself before God and believed his word.
As Mary continues, her words take on a broader outlook. What God had done for Mary becomes an illustration for the way he works in general. She says, “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 in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”
Mary says that God is the One who shows mercy towards those who fear him. And in his mercy he does surprising things with his strong arm. He scatters those who are proud in their thoughts. He brings down the mighty from their thrones, and yet at the same time he exalts those who are humble. He sends the rich away hungry, and yet he fills the hungry with good things.
That is exactly what God was doing at that very moment by means of the baby Mary carried in her womb. She concluded by saying that God had helped his servant Israel – an act that remembered his mercy that he had spoken to Abraham and his descendants. God was acting in the baby Jesus to fulfill all of the promises that he had made to Israel.
The One born in Bethlehem means the same thing for you. He does, not because you are a descendant of Abraham according to the flesh. Instead you are included in the promise God spoke to Abraham that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Because you have been baptized into Christ who is the seed of Abraham, now as those who are in Christ you are included in this promise.
You are included – provided that you recognize that you need to be. It is the humble who are exalted. It is the hungry who are fed. Mary freely acknowledged her humble estate. God’s word calls you to do the same. It calls you to recognize and admit your spiritual condition. Of yourself, you are spiritually broken. You are spiritually empty. The only thing you are full of … is yourself. Sin infests your thoughts, your words, your deeds – even in the days before Christmas.
Jesus Christ calls you to confess this. He calls you to repent. He calls you to admit your lowly and lost status, and your need for him. Yet in confessing your humble status; in confessing that you are empty, Jesus exalts and fills you. He declares that you are exactly the kind of person he came to save, for Jesus said, “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
During Advent we are preparing for Christmas. We are preparing to celebrate the fact that the Son of God humbled himself to enter our world as he was born of a virgin and laid in a manger. He humbled himself by taking your sins and making them his own. He humbled himself to the point of death – even death on a cross.
He was laid in a tomb. But then on the third day God exalted him as he raised him from the dead. Jesus ascended into heaven and now is seated at God’s right hand. Because of this, in the humility of repentance and faith, you now find the exaltation of being a child of God. Because of this, though a Gentile, you are part of the people of God. Because of this you are filled with the body and blood of Christ – good things that give forgiveness, eternal life and resurrection on the Last Day.
God has done this for you in Christ. And because through the work of the Spirit you are now in Christ he also sends you to act in the same way. He sends you to act in mercy toward others – to forgive and to help. He sends you to fill the hungry with good things – those who hunger for food and those whose hunger can only be fed by Jesus the bread of life. You are now uniquely qualified to do this because of what God has done for you.