Week of Dec. 25: Grace extended to Abraham and Mary is available for all
By the Rev. Sam and Helen Rogers
Scripture: Luke 1:46-55
Background Scripture: Luke 1: 26-56; Galatians 3:6-18
What a wonderful transition we make – from Genesis to Luke – for this lesson for Christmas Day! We move from Abraham to a child of Abraham, Mary, betrothed to Joseph, a son of David! Abraham’s trust and faithful obedience are now made visible in the young maiden, who is probably just a teenager. Like Abraham, she trusts and obeys!
We all know the story of Mary’s encounter with the angel Gabriel. He explodes her world with his startling announcement – beginning with greetings, but soon becoming, “Do not be afraid.” With Gabriel’s greeting he affirms that God is with Mary. Once again, we hear the promise of “Emmanuel! God with us!” The news the angel brings to Mary, however, is not only startling, but seemingly impossible. “How can this be?” she asks. The answer is filled with a new biology which is of God and, because it has its source in God, Gabriel declares nothing is impossible with God. AMEN!
The angel tells her the child will be the Son of God, the fulfillment of Israel’s hopes. Then he reminds her of her elderly relative, Elizabeth, who is in the third trimester of her pregnancy. Like Hannah, mother of Samuel, Elizabeth has been barren all of her marriage and has experienced shame and disgrace. Then, when her husband Zechariah is serving his time as a priest in the temple, he becomes mute when he learns he is to be a daddy. God does work in strange ways to accomplish his purposes!
Mary travels from Nazareth to the hill country near Jerusalem to visit Elizabeth. She may have gone to avoid gossip in a small town or to share, as women do, the joy of giving life—and what a life she gives!
In chapter one of the Old Testament book I Samuel, we read Hannah’s story of humiliation, petition to God for a child, and then her joy. In chapter two, she sings a song—a song very like Mary’s song. The story of elderly couples having babies is familiar in the Old Testament. Abraham and Sarah had Isaac, Manoah and his wife had Samson, and Elkanah and Hannah had Samuel. Here Zechariah and Elizabeth have John, called the Baptizer. We might think it would be Elizabeth who sings the Song, but no—it’s Mary!
The insights of Fred Craddock, noted teacher and preacher, are helpful here. In the midst of her joy, she sees God’s grace and goodness to her as but an example of the way God is in the world. God blesses the poor, the oppressed and the hungry. In the great reversal of the ways of the world, God brings down the proud and rich oppressors and elevates the last, the least and the lost.
The most stunning impact of the song she sings is the tense of the verbs. She speaks all in the past tense: God has shown strength, has scattered the proud, has put down the mighty, has exalted the lowly, has filled the hungry, and has sent the rich away empty. Why use the past tense? These things have not happened yet—at least they haven’t made the evening TV news!
Here again is evidence of the way people of faith think and live. The faithful live as if the “not yet” is already here. The future is present now because God will do what God has promised. As Dr. Craddock says, “To celebrate the future as a memory, to praise God for having already done what lies before us to do: this is the way of the people of God. Without this song of praise, the noblest efforts to effect justice in society become arrogant projects … God’s people parade before they march, for history teaches that without the parade, the march may soon become lockstep, and perhaps even goosestep. Who then is left to say, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord’?”
In the background scripture from Galatians, there is more to ponder. With just a little imagination we can see the family tree straight from Abraham to Mary to Jesus, and, from Him, to every Christian. We truly are part of Abraham’s family of faith. Paul reminds us that righteousness is not doing good things but being in a right relationship with God. That relationship is offered by God to all when we believe and act on that faith. Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4 when he declares, “The righteous will live by faith.” Paul argues God announced the gospel (the good news) far in advance of Jesus. All nations have been blessed through this faithful response to God’s offer of the right relationship. For Paul, God’s covenant of grace was given 430 years before Moses received the law!
By God’s grace, the blessing that came to Abraham—and to Mary—because of their faith, has now been extended to all people. In this way all who believe become “descendants of Abraham.” While keeping God’s rules is important, what really matters is whether we are willing to accept for ourselves the blessing of a right relationship God has made available to us in Jesus. As covenants go, the Mosaic covenant is secondary to the one established with Abraham, which Mary willingly passes on to the world by being God’s chosen vessel of blessing to nurture the life of the incarnate Son of God. Merry Christmas!