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December 17 2023

Book: Luke

Scripture: Luke 1:39-56

Christmas is celebrated by Christians around the world. We don’t all celebrate the same way. But in most places, you will find at least two things: gifts and decorations.

We decorate our homes to remember and honor the birth of Jesus. Decoration is putting beautiful things on display. And did you know that our worship as Christians is a form of decoration? The purpose of worship is to put God on display.

Of course, God is glorious and beautiful already. We are not adding anything to Him by our worship. We are simply bearing witness to our experience of God.

This morning we will read Mary’s song, commonly called the Magnificat.

Last Sunday, we read about Mary, a teenage girl from Nazareth, who was told by an angel that she was pregnant with the Son of God.

And her response is worship. She uses her words to decorate God. Let’s read about it together. Luke 1 beginning in verse 39.

39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah,

40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.

41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit,

42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!

43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.

45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

Mary goes to visit her cousin, Elizabeth. Remember that Elizabeth is also pregnant, even though she is an older woman.

If you think about it, there could have been some tension here. There could have been some resentment on the part of Elizabeth that her teenage cousin was pregnant, or some pride on the part of Mary. But that’s not what happened. Instead, they celebrate – even baby John!

Have you ever wildly celebrated something? So much that it makes you want to sing and dance? I felt that way 20 years ago when Roxanne said “Yes” and a few years later when she told me she was pregnant.

As we read Mary’s song, it is best to think of it like that. Mary is overwhelmed with emotion, so much that she breaks into song!

46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

Think of a telescope. A telescope uses a small piece of bent glass to help us see something far away and big as it really is… things like stars and planets.

Mary is saying, “I want God to look bigger to me! I want to see Him as big as He really is!”

That’s the idea behind worship. We just want God to be bigger. We want Him to be more significant to us. We want Him to have a bigger place in our lives. I want Him to be worshiped in my life the way He is worshiped in heaven.

47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

Why do I want God to be bigger to me and to other people? Because He saved me!

But wait, that means the virgin Mary was a sinner too! She needed to be saved just like us! Does that mean God put His perfect Son in the womb of a sinner? Yes! Just as He puts His perfect Spirit inside every Christian!

That’s amazing and it’s humbling.

48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.

For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

Mary identifies herself as God’s servant, but she also recognizes that carrying the Son of God in her womb is no small thing. It is a tremendous blessing!

But it wasn’t given to her because of who she was. It was given to her because that’s the kind of God we worship. He cares deeply about the least and the smallest.

This is a song about grace. It’s a song about unexpected and unearned favor.

49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,

    and holy is his name.

When I think of “mighty” and “great” I think of God parting the Red Sea. I think of the ten plagues. I think of the walls of Jericho falling. I think of the sun standing still. God did all of that and more. He holds the universe in the palm of his hand.

And Mary uses those kinds of words in Greek. He is “DUNATOS”. That’s the same word we get the word “dynamite” from. He is powerful. He is able to get the job done. He does “MEGALA”. He does big, loud, surprising things.

But that’s not what Mary means. Her experience of God is different. He has done something great and powerful, but for her it came as something small and helpless. That’s the mystery of the Incarnation. God is able to get the job done. He will accomplish His plans. He is mighty to save. And He did it with a baby in a manger.

Mary is bearing witness. God has broken into her life and done something amazing. And He did this “for her”. It’s personal. It’s powerful. He has impacted her in a lasting way, and she wants to tell the world. She wants people to hear about it for generation after generation.

50 And his mercy is for those who fear him

    from generation to generation.

This is actually the turning point of the hymn. She sings first out of her own experience, bearing witness to what God has done for her. But now she’s turning her attention towards God’s faithfulness to His people. “From generation to generation” … that’s covenant language.

God is faithful to families. Mary is a product of that mercy. She recognizes that she is part of a much bigger story. Her Jesus was the answer to the promise God had made to an entire nation.

In fact, Mary’s song is not unique. In 1 Samuel 2, Hannah sang a very similar song when she gave birth to Samuel! The thread of God’s mercy runs through every page of the Bible. What has God done?

51 He has shown strength with his arm;

    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;

52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones

    and exalted those of humble estate;

53 he has filled the hungry with good things,

    and the rich he has sent away empty.

As we have studied the Gospel of Luke, we have seen this same theme over and over again – that the kingdom of Jesus will turn everything in the world upside down. God will make things right. He will bring justice.

54 He has helped his servant Israel,

    in remembrance of his mercy,

55 as he spoke to our fathers,

    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

56 And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.

This is how Mary celebrated the good news of the Incarnation. She worshipped God, remembering His promises and bearing witness to His grace.

There is something here that needs to be said about the way Christians worship. Today, in our churches, a lot of Christians think about worship as an experience. And it can be. Corporate worship can be an experience. It can be freeing, unifying, uplifting. That’s all true. But that’s not the point of it.

Worship is not about my coming to an event to get an experience. We were never meant to judge the worship gathering based on our subjective interpretation of the experience. A lot of people walk into churches thinking, “I sure hope the music team brings it today. I sure hope the pastor hits a home run.” In other words, I hope this is worth my time…

But that’s backwards. The means of grace are here and available regardless of how we feel when we walk out. It’s not really about us coming to get an experience. It’s more about us coming to respond to what God has already done.

In other words, this isn’t just about me. I don’t engage in faithful worship attendance only for my own sake. I’m not just here to “be fed”. We’re here for each other. We’re here for our kids. We’re here for the lost.

We do this stuff over and over again because we believe we have a responsibility to bear witness to God’s mercy generation after generation. Our worship together is a perpetual invitation for others to join in.

Think about how at the end of the movie Elf the girl starts singing all by herself and then slowly everyone else joins in until you have one big choir and then the whole city starts singing.

Jesus says that the kingdom of God works just like that. It starts small and insignificant, easily missed. Like yeast or a mustard seed. But it grows and spreads.

It started with one little family – Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac. Then it became a nation. Then it spread to the whole world.

Brothers and Sisters, we are not meant to EVER step away from that chorus. Our worship is an invitation for others to worship. Worship is the most important thing we do. Do our kids know that? Do our neighbors? Does our family? Our worship attendance says something very important about our faith in God.

What does verse 50 say again?

50 And his mercy is for those who fear him

    from generation to generation.

Our worship proves us to be people who “fear” God, not in a cowering, scared kind of way – but in a humble, reverent way. We believe that God is extending mercy to us. He has promised to take our guilt and our misery. Worship is our response to God’s mercy, not the cause of it. Mercy can’t be earned. It has to be given. And it has been given.

Magnify the Lord! Rejoice in your Savior! He has done great things for you!

Let’s change the way we think about worship. It’s not about us. It’s about Him! And the next generation needs to see God magnified in our worship and our lives – so much more than we magnify success, entertainment, and sports.

Our kids know what we care about most. They see our priorities. And if you’re thinking, I don’t have kids… or my kids are grown… guess what. MY kids need to see you in worship. We have a lot of young people in this church. They need you! Notice them. Learn their names. Value them. We are part of a covenant family together! Your presence matters! Be a part of this community.

According to Lifeway Research, “teens who had five or more adults from the church invest in them during the ages of 15 to 18 were less likely to leave the church after high school.” That’s not rocket science. It’s basic community.

And I know it probably seems like I’m taking a rabbit trail here at the end of the sermon, but we can’t magnify the Lord together if we don’t show up. We need you and you need us.