Sermon – December 20, 2015

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Luke 1:39-56 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.” 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.” 56 And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.

“Count your blessings,” we are told. Be grateful for all you have, all that God has given you. Not bad advice. Yet this also presents a problem. How many individually identified blessings count as being highly blessed? Are wealthy people more blessed than poor people? And what do we count as a “blessing”? Counting one’s blessings may actually miss the point of what it means to be blessed by God. In our Gospel today, Mary and Elizabeth help us see the true nature of blessedness:

We Are Blessed by God

through the Presence of Christ.

Being blessed by God comes from the presence of the incarnate Christ. Elizabeth declares Mary blessed among women. Blessed because the incarnate Christ dwelt within her. John the Baptist, still in his mother’s womb jumps for joy the moment Christ came into his presence.

No sooner had the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would be the mother of the Savior than she hurried off to visit a woman she knew would understand and share her joy: her relative Elizabeth, herself expecting the baby John the Baptist in her old age (vv 39–40). What a surprise at her greeting (vv 41–44)! John leaps for joy in the womb of his mother, and Elizabeth calls Mary blessed. Blessing comes when we stand in the presence of Christ. Mary acknowledges that she is indeed blessed moments later in her song, the Magnificat when she says, “all generations will call me blessed,” v 48b.

Mary is not blessed, however, because of who she is, or of some special quality she possessed or because of something good she had done. She was neither sinless nor super spiritual. There was nothing special or different about Mary that caused her to receive a blessing. In the Magnificat, she herself notes the “humble estate of [God’s] servant” (v 48a). True humility is to acknowledge that we are sinners. It is to acknowledge that we have nothing to bring before God. That we are totally dependent on God’s mercy for everything we have.

Then she also calls God her “Savior” (v 46), for she is a sinful human being like all people, in need of being saved. Jesus was her Savior from sin just as much as he is yours and mine. Jesus is the one who won eternal salvation for Mary just as he did for you. She is in heaven for one reason and nothing else; because Jesus died for her sins and the Holy Spirit granted her faith! Faith in her son Jesus. Faith to fulfill God’s command to bear His Son.

Furthermore, Mary is clear that it is God who has “done great things” for her. She gives all glory to him (v 49). Yes, Mary is blessed, just as Elizabeth tells us, because of the blessedness of the “fruit” of her womb. The blessedness of Jesus. Her blessedness is not her future enduring fame or the fortune in product licensing a good marketing team could make for her. Her blessedness is simply the presence of Christ within her womb.

Just as Mary was blessed by the Christ that dwelt inside her, so also is the Church, in which Christ dwells, likewise blessed. We are not blessed because of who we are, for we are all sinners who “justly deserve [God’s] present and eternal punishment” (Confession of sins in the Divine Service). Our blessedness is also not measured in any of the “things” we have—fame, toys, health to run marathons or even just to leap for joy. Our blessedness, like Mary’s, consists rather in the presence of the incarnate Christ. Christ is the ultimate source of every true blessing.

Jesus entered Mary’s womb, into the presence of Elizabeth and John, so that he could die on the cross. That death, by taking away the sin that had separated us from God, brought us back into God’s presence now and forever.

Where is God present with us today? His presence is not some sort of generic “everywhere,” as if in the air we breathe or the water we drink. Just as for the believers in the Old Testament God dwelt in the temple, so today he is present in his grace and mercy only in the specific places and at the specific times he tells us.

He is present in Baptism. Here we are then clothed with the righteousness of Christ’s death, the heart of our blessedness before God as the Apostle Paul tells us, “As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ,” (Gal 3:27). The Holy Spirit who comes to us in Baptism brings us into the presence of Christ. We are clothed with him.

That baptismal presence is realized throughout our Christian life in the true body and blood of the crucified Christ in the Holy Supper, where our Lord comes to us with gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Here at this altar we are blessed with the presence of Christ who comes into us and dwells with us by means of eating his body and drinking his blood. Here in the Holy Supper are present for us all of the blessings, the gifts, the workings of Christ on our behalf. On the cross he paid for our sins and won eternal salvation for us. Here in the Supper we receive that forgiveness and eternal salvation which he earned for us on the cross. Here in the Holy Supper Christ is present with us to do his work in us. It is here that our faith is strengthened, here that we receive love to love our neighbor as ourselves, here that our burdens are lifted from us, and here that we are drawn into the communion of saints, not only those at this altar with us, but those believers in all the world, and those believers past and present, including those who are already in the eternal kingdom. Yes, in Lord’s Supper present with us are all who are joined to Christ through faith who have already departed from this world.

Being blessed by God is received through faith in the promise of Christ’s “presenting” Word. Now Elizabeth declares Mary blessed as one who believed there would be a fulfillment of God’s promise (v 45). By God’s grace—and quite miraculously—Mary had understood and responded obediently in faith to Gabriel’s announcement as God’s own word (1:38). Instead of fear, uncertainty, doubt, she found assurance and peace in the promise. Mary is thus the first catechumen to believe that the Child in her womb was a direct fulfillment of God’s prophetic promises.

We in the Church who likewise accept in faith this word of promise are likewise blessed. Every time Christ’s Word is preached or read, it presents him to us just as surely as did the angel’s word to Mary; Christ is present just as surely as he was with Elizabeth and John. By the Holy Spirit’s power, we understand and respond in faith to the continued proclamation that our Lord Jesus, who took on human flesh and dwelt among us, is our promised redemption and salvation.

Faith believes this promise that Christ is with us, whatever sadness or seeming lack of blessings we experience. Instead of fear and doubt, we are blessed with hearts strengthened with peace in the assurance of God’s grace for us sinners. This, Christ present with us in our sins and troubles, is what it is to be blessed.

But to trust this, for now, we remain catechumens like Mary, who continue to have hope in Christ’s promise to return again in glory at the end of time. Our blessedness is therefore not merely a temporary joy but is also anticipatory, looking to the future in faith. You Catechumens will in just a few minutes confess your faith in Christ along with Mary. You too will confess that you are sinners who need a Savior. You will confess that this Jesus is your Savior from sin. The blessedness of Mary is also your blessedness through faith your Savior from sin. You, then, are blessed. Hold fast to that faith for the rest of your life. Nourish and strengthen it through Holy Communion. Remain steadfast in the Word of God for the blessing of God is received through faith in the promise of Christ in his word; his forgiveness, his salvation, his peace. When you accept this word of promise in faith you are highly blessed.

That future blessing you can count on. Amen.

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