Sing the Savior's Birth: Sing with Mary
Text: Luke 1:46-55 “46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 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. 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.””
Tonight we continue singing our Savior’s birth. We sing with Mary.
There are a number of sins that we preach against, that we confront— or even excommunicate— people for, that we make public statements about. Quite a few. Still, there is one sin that is almost completely forgotten: the sin of partiality— the sin of showing favoritism to some people over others.
Not only is it largely forgotten in our normal functioning, it is also a sin that the church has always struggled with.
The struggle against partiality has taken all sorts of different forms— being partial to Jews over Gentiles, Greeks over non-Greeks, or vice versa. They were tempted to be partial to the rich over the poor, to free men over slaves. And Scripture mentions other groups that almost certainly had some level of conflict: vegetarians and meat-eaters, sabbath-keepers and non-Sabbath-keepers, wine drinkers and total abstainers. (Although I suppose we can all stand together against the vegetarians, can’t we?)
Times have changed quite a bit, but the old saying is certainly true: the more things change, the more they stay the same. James, for example, warns against giving the rich man a seat of honor and sending the poor man off to a corner somewhere. You and I aren’t so crass as to do something like that. But so often the wealthy— especially the bigger givers— still end up treated with just a bit more respect. Their opinion often carries just a little more weight than the opinion of others.
Many of those distinctions have passed into history, but we’ve found others quite easily. We’re ethnically mixed enough that there’s really no big divide between Jews and Gentiles or Greeks and non-Greeks today. You and I don’t really care about where a person’s ancestors came from. What you do care about is whether they’re “from here” or not. Those are the people who really count. You’re more than happy to allow the others to be part of your church, but those are the people you and I bother to spend time with.
The world is impressed by outward beauty, money, and all the trappings of earthly power. It’s easy to stand back and condemn them for their crass standards that determine who is really important and influential and who isn’t, but the fact is that you and I are just more subtle about it.
To borrow from James again, when you make distinctions between rich and poor, between those who grew up here and those who aren’t from here, or whatever other reason you and I find to treat one person as more important or influential than another, you “become judges with evil thoughts” (James 2:4). It may not seem like a big deal, “9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” (James 2:9-10). How many points have you failed at?
I don’t know how much Mary felt like a second class citizen— or how much she, herself, was guilty of showing partiality— but what filled her song that day is the deep understanding that God most certainly does not operate that way.
She had heard the angel’s message, she now saw that Elizabeth was pregnant— she saw that the sign the angel gave her had come to pass— and she believed. She believed that the Spirit of the Most High God would overshadow her (Luke 1:35) and the eternal Son of God, the heir of all things, the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, who upholds the entire universe by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3) was about to make her womb His kingly hall. He did not consider His place on heaven’s throne more precious than the opportunity to be called your Brother (Heb. 2:11) and to be born in the likeness of men. Not just pretending to look like you, “14 Since [you] share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” Hebrews 2:14).
He knew that all authority, in heaven and on earth had been given to Him and, knowing that, He gave His life for people with nothing to offer Him; people who could never possibly, conceivably, under any stretch of any imagination, be worthy of what He was doing for them. He suffered and died for you (Phil. 2:5-8) for every single point at which you have failed to keep the law that simply says to love your neighbor as yourself.
Mary grasped the truth that God has chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He has promised to those who love Him (James 2:5).
The Holy Spirit has come upon you, the power of the Most High has overshadowed you when you were brought to this font. You given new birth that day, you were called holy— a child of God (Luke 1:35).
It would have been more than we could have asked for or imagined if all Jesus had done was to just get us in the door of heaven; just let us take a place somewhere off in the corner like the cousin that no one wants at the family gatherings. But that’s not what He’s done. He’s prepare a place of honor for you, with Him, at the right hand of the Father. And all the riches of heaven are yours.
Don’t you dare look at one another— or anyone who walks through that door— the same way again.
Look at each and every one— Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, slave and free, young and old (and yes, even vegetarians!)— look at each of them as your brother or sister in Christ.
“Is God so broke that he needs another banker in his family? Is God so confused about the economy that he needs another stockbroker on his team?” (Pritchard, Ray. “The Problem of Partiality,” www.KeepBelieving.com. September 11, 2015).
No. In the words of St. Lawrence, the poor are the treasure of the church. It’s the widow’s mites that God honors. And it’s through “the least of these” that you have the opportunity to really love your neighbor— not because you grew up together, not on account of what you can expect them to give or to do, but because “51 [God] 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. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, [— He has helped you—] in remembrance of his mercy, 55 as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever” (Luke 1:51-55). Because Ephesians 2:5-7 “5 even when [you] were dead in [your] trespasses, made [you] alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised [you] up with him and seated [you] with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show [you] the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:5-7).
Tonight we continue singing the savior’s birth. We sing with Mary.