Wednesday, December 20, 2006

First Pass at This Sunday Morning's Bible Lesson: Luke 1:39-55

[Most weeks, I present as many updates on my reflections and study of the Biblical texts on which our weekend worship celebrations will be built as I can. The purpose is to help the people of the congregation I serve as pastor, Friendship Lutheran Church of Amelia, Ohio, get ready for worship. Hopefully, it's helpful to others as well, since our Bible lesson is usually one from the weekly lectionary, variations of which are used in most of the churches of the world.]

[Note: This will be my only pass at this Sunday morning's lesson.]

The Bible Lesson: Luke 1:39-55
39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” 46And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

General Comments
1. This coming Sunday morning, we'll be celebrating the Fourth Sunday in Advent, the season that anticipates Christmas as well as the coming of Jesus into our lives and at the end of time. Sunday night will bring Christmas Eve, when at Friendship, we will celebrate the birth of Jesus, God in human flesh.

2. The past two weekends of this Advent season, the focus has been on John the Baptizer and his ministry of anticipation of the Messiah, God's Anointed One, who turns out to be Jesus. This Sunday, the focus shifts. Brian Stoffregen writes:
While it is a simplistic and only partially accurate dichotomy, we might say that John's preaching centered on answering the question "What should we do?" (Answer: Bear fruit worthy of repentance.) In Jesus we have the declaration, "This is what God has done and is doing."
A repentant life, the life of a person who turns back to God for life, forgiveness, and hope, prepares a person for receiving what God has done, is doing, and will do for us through Jesus Christ.

3. The Magnificat, in verses 46-55, is often called the Song of Mary. Of course, there's no indication that Mary sang these words. That's a later traditional way of describing her speech.

It's called the Magnificat because of the first three words in the Latin translation of Mary's speech, Magnificat mea anima, meaning, My soul magnifies. The soul in the Biblical thought-world refers to our whole being, not some smoky, ghostly vapor. Mary begins her speech, in essence, by saying, "Every fiber of my being shouts of the glory of God!"

4. Mary's speech is clearly patterned after the speech of another Biblical mother, Hannah, who lived at the tail-end of the era of the Old Testament judges. I talk about Hannah and her "song" here.

5. One of the important themes of Mary's speech and of this entire lesson is also a prominent theme in Luke's gospel: God brings down the arrogantly powerful and wealthy and lifts up the humble poor. God sides with the humble poor over against the arrogantly powerful and wealthy.

For those of us who live in the wealthiest and most powerful nation on Earth, there is a cautionary note here: Everything we have is a gift from God meant to be shared, not hoarded selfishly. As Jesus puts it later in Luke's gospel, "From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded." (Luke 12:48)

In the very selection of an ordinary servant girl to birth God incarnate, God is indicating His intention to lift up the humble and bring to grief the arrogant.

6. In the new film, The Nativity Story, Mary's Magnificat is placed elsewhere in the story. This is harmless poetic license. GO SEE THIS MOVIE. IT'S FANTASTIC!

6. For interesting comments on this text, see here, here, and here.

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