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*His Mercy Extended* A Pocket Paper \\ from \\ The Donelson Fellowship \\ *______________**Robert J. Morgan \\ *December 21, 1997 ----
*When Adolf Hitler* rose to power in Germany he wanted to take over the German church and dictate the nation's religion.
According to Erwin Lutzer, he falsely accused many of the clergymen of treason, theft, or sexual malpractice.
Priests, nuns, and church leaders were arrested on trumped-up charges, and religious publications were suspended.
He encouraged all marriage ceremonies to be conducted by state officials rather than by the church.
In 1935 he outlawed obligatory prayer in the schools, and he did all he could to replace Bible reading with Nazi propaganda.
He had greater difficulty with the religious holidays, because Germans had faithfully observed Easter and Christmas for centuries, making it hard for Hitler to abolish them.
What he did instead was simply set out to reinterpret their meaning.
Easter became a holiday that heralded the arrival of Spring, and Christmas was turned into a totally pagan festival.
In fact, at least for the SS troops, the date was changed to December 21, the date of the winter solstice.
Carols and nativity plays were banned from the schools in 1938, and even the name /Christmas/ was changed to /Yuletide./
Now, sixty years later, we are amazed to observe the same thing happening in America as our social libertarians seek to drain Christmas of its religious significance and make it a purely secular, pagan holiday.
They want to remove Christmas carols from our schools and nativity displays from our public parks.
Our society wants to strip Christmas of its meaning.
Well, they will not succeed here among the people of this church, because every day during the holidays we fix our thoughts on Christ, and every seven days we gather together to remind ourselves afresh that you can not even spell Christmas without Christ.
During the Sundays of this 1997 Christmas season, we've been feeding our minds on the oldest of all the Christmas carols, the Magnificat, recorded in Luke 1:46-55.
This is the song composed by the blessed virgin after she had traveled to the hill country of Judea to visit her aged relative Elizabeth.
Only days before, the angel Gabriel had announced to Mary that she would bear the Christ-child, and her heart was still trying to absorb the wonder of it all.
She said:
/My soul glorifies the Lord/
/and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,/
/for he has been mindful/
/of the humble state of his servant./
/From now on all generations will call me blessed,/
/for the Mighty One has done great things for me-/
/holy is his name./
/His mercy extends to those who fear him,/
/from generation to generation./
/He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;/
/he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts./
/He has brought down rulers from their thrones/
/but has lifted up the humble./
/He has filled the hungry with good things/
/but has sent the rich away empty./
/He has helped his servant Israel,/
/remembering to be merciful/
/to Abraham and his descendants forever,/
/even as he said to our fathers./
As I studied through this passage again this week, I became stuck in verse 50.
It is a very simple sentence, but it seems to perfectly describe the biblical significance of Christmas.
It says: /His mercy extends to those who fear him from generation to generation.
Let's look at this verse word-by-word, the first word being /His./
His-meaning God's.
Mary has already described God as well as she could in the preceding verses.
She, in fact, had attributed four different names or titles to him.
He is the Lord; he is God my Savior; he is the Mighty One; his name is Holy.
And what is he like?
What does he do?
Look at the next two verses: /He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble./
As we said last week, Mary must have known very well the Old Testament, for this prayer oozes with quotations and allusions to Old Testament Scriptures.
This part of her hymn, for example, sounds remarkably like Psalm 147: /He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.
Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.
The Lord sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground./
This is truly a remarkable passage.
In verse 4, we are told that God is infinite.
He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.
The other night I took the dog out for a little walk before bedtime and I looked up into the sky.
You could see the big dipper, and beyond it dozens of other stars, twinkling beautifully and silently against the black velvet of the universe.
Who can understand the immensity of space?
But the God of creation counts his stars the way a child would count his marbles or a collector would count his figurines.
He calls the each by name.
He made them, and they belong to him.
He is mighty and full of majesty, this God of ours.
He fills heaven and earth.
And yet the preceding verse in Psalm 147 says that God is not only infinite, he is intimate.
He not only cares about his stars, he cares about his saints.
He sustains the humble.
He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds.
Charles Spurgeon said, "Compel your contemplation to this thought, that the same mighty hand which rolls the stars along, puts liniments around the wounded heart; that the same being who spoke the worlds into existence and now impels those ponderous globes through their orbits, does in his mercy cheer the wounded and heal the broken in heart."
This is the God to whom Mary was praying in Luke 1.
This is the /He/ of /His/ as she begins verse 50.
And then she goes on to supply the noun: /His mercy.../
Sometimes we think of mercy and grace as being synonyms.
But grace is a word that conveys the totality of all God's goodness towards all the world and towards all the universe and towards you and me.
Mercy is the special expression of God's grace towards those who are wounded, guilty, broken hearted, and dying.
Suppose one of my daughters came to me and said, "Dad, I would really like to play softball this year, but I don't have any money for a bat and ball and glove.
Will you buy them for me?"
I might say, "Sure, let's go down to the sports store right now."
That would be grace.
Out of my own money in my pocket I would be providing for her needs and giving her help and assistance.
But suppose the next day she came to me and said, "Dad, I got mad and swung my bat as hard as I could and released it, and it flew through the air and crashed through the windshield of a police car driving down the street.
The officers are on the front porch and they want to talk to you about it."
Well, she would need mercy.
I attended school at Wheaton Graduate School outside of Chicago.
Exactly thirty years before I arrived there, one of Wheaton's graduates, Bert Frizen, was serving as an infantryman on the front lines of Europe during World War II.
American forces had advanced in the face of terrible shelling and small-arms fire.
For the moment, all seemed quiet.
Bert's patrol reached the edge of a wooded area with an open field before them.
They didn't realize that a battery of Germans was ready and waiting in a hedgerow about two hundred yards across the field.
Bert was one of two scouts who moved out into the clearing.
Once he was halfway across the field, the remainder of his battalion followed.
Suddenly the Germans opened fire and machine gun fire ripped into both of Bert's legs.
The Americans quickly withdrew amid a firestorm of bullets.
Bert had fallen into a shallow stream and there he lay as the gunfire blazed over his head.
He was badly wounded, but could think of no way out of his dilemma.
And as if all that were not bad enough, he suddenly saw a German soldier crawling toward him.
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