Quarter: Jesus and the Reign of God
Unit 1: God sends Jesus
Sunday school lesson for the week of Dec. 8, 2013
By Helen & Rev. Sam Rogers
Scripture: Luke 1:46-56
With Mary’s, “Let it be with me according to your word,” she undertakes the difficult journey from Nazareth in Galilee to the small Judean village of ‘Aim Kareem, four miles west of Jerusalem. Her welcome by Elizabeth must have given her great comfort after the shock of Gabriel’s news and the resulting complications of this unexpected and unexplainable pregnancy. These two women, so different in age, are brought together by the common experience of their first pregnancy. Can’t you imagine their conversations – about angels and babies and God and Israel – about life! Since it was the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, and Mary stayed for three months, (vs. 56) she was there until the time of John’s birth.
Elizabeth gives her the listening ear and confirmation of God’s way of working in human life and history. She says, “Blessed is she who has believed what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished (italics mine).” To this Mary sings her song of praise – the most revolutionary statement ever made, far exceeding any made by Marx or Mao or Castro!
Called “the Magnificat” in the Roman church, this hymn becomes for Luke a manifesto of the work Jesus the Christ will do. If you are doubtful about this statement, know that William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury in an earlier generation, warned his priests in India not to read this passage in worship! Too inflammatory! Our own E. Stanley Jones, missionary to India, said, “The Magnificat is the most revolutionary document in the history of the world.”
Too often we spiritualize such passages by removing the meaning from this world to the next. Again, if God reigns, his kingdom will come on earth as well as heaven! William Barclay nails it when he says the hymn speaks of three revolutions: moral, social, and economic. “God has scattered the proud, He has cast down the mighty and filled the hungry with food.” Jesus brings the death of pride, turns upside down the values of the world, and cares for the last, the least, and the lost. (If you were a student of DISCIPLE, you will recognize the title of the chapter on Luke!)
Mary’s not a Christian! Not yet! Her praise is generated totally out of her Hebrew faith and scriptures. Scholars have recognized elements of Hannah’s song in I Samuel 2. Moreover, Micah’s definitive statement in 6:8 is at the heart of knowing this God of justice, mercy, and loving kindness. “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Again, the italics are mine. All are verbs!) When Mary sings from the depth of her heart, she is stating what all believers knew then and now know – God is the same yesterday, today and forever.
The believer’s joy overflows into word and deed. Each act of kindness, each word of encouragement, and every minute given to help someone else becomes our way of praising the One who sent Jesus and sends the Holy Spirit. As we study the text, we walk with Mary into and through the experience of trusting God with all we have and are. As we know very well, this kind of trust is not easy. When we cannot see around the corner or into the future, we want to hold on to what we have, but this teenage girl is calling us to let go and let God!
Another shocking thought for some Christians is that Jesus’ coming is not Plan B when Plan A failed! This God is the same God who called Abraham, who crowned David, and whom Isaiah saw as the suffering servant. This God is doing what God has always done: working his redemptive purpose out in history and in human lives.
Here is the true source of praise. For what do you praise God? Is it only when we see majesty in nature? Or the providence of food and shelter? Or the miracle of new life in a child? Or healing after a long and painful illness? All of these are worthy sources of praise. But for Mary the praise begins with the deep conviction that the Holy One, whose son she carries in her womb, is the God who has acted in Israel’s past and will bring to pass the preaching of her son when Jesus will say, “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news.” There’s a problem. How can it be good news when things as they are will be turned upside down? As Shakespeare said, “Ah! There’s the rub.”
Unless you repent and get in step with what God is doing, it will be bad news and not good. Again, after salvation there is sanctified living, and after praise comes practice. Too often our Christian faith is a status we want to have without the sacrifice required to live as God’s people in the world. As the spiritual says, “You can’t wear the crown if you don’t bear the cross.”
Later in the quarter we will study Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount (called the Sermon on the Plain) and hear just how down to earth Jesus wants his followers to live. I know of no area of human life where excellence is expected, where practice is not required. Music, athletics, science, business, parenting – all require intentional practice. Do you think the spiritual life is any different? God’s gift of grace is free to all by faith, but acceptance of the gift means putting faith into practice.
John Indermark reminds the student of the session that Mary returned to Nazareth from ‘Aim Kareem still singing her song as she prepared for the birth and what that event would require of her. Praise is more than a song – praise is a way of life. Can you sing AND live your life of obedient discipleship? Mary did!