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Dear Friends in Christ,
Why me! That’s a question you expect from someone who has just received some bad news. Maybe they just found out that the car they had towed to the shop is beyond repair and they don’t have money for a new one; or maybe the doctor just told them they have cancer. “Why me” is usually a question we ask when we receive bad news. But did you notice it is what Elizabeth said when she received good news?
When Mary arrived at her home and greeted her, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit let her know why Mary was there. The Holy Spirit let her know, before Mary could even explain what Gabriel had told her, that Mary was going to the be mother of the promised Messiah. The Holy Spirit let her know that her own unborn child was not just kicking inside her by coincidence, but he was leaping for joy. Even though he was not yet born he too heard Mary’s greeting and leaped for joy because the Holy Spirit led him to understand that Mary was the mother of the one whose way he would prepare. She was the mother of Messiah.
“Why me” was Elizabeth’s response. Why am I so favored that the mother of my Lord should come to me? “My husband received a message from an angel that our prayer had been heard. He said that we would have a child in our old age, and here I am expecting a child just as the angel said. That would have been blessing enough, but now this blessing too– that I get to know that the Savior is about to be born and that his mother is my relative– it’s almost too much to take in! I am not worthy of such blessings from God.” The Lord comes near to lift up the humbled.
Elizabeth had it right. She understood from Scripture that as sinful human beings all we can expect from God is his wrath and punishment, not blessings. When bad things happen, our question shouldn’t be “why me”, it should be “why not me”. In fact, instead of wondering why something bad has happened to us we ought to wonder why something worse hasn’t happened. We ought to wonder why God has not rained down fire and brimstone and given us the eternal punishment we, and all people, deserve because of our sins. Elizabeth understood that she had not earned these blessings. She did not deserve to have God answer her prayer and grant her a child in her old age, nor did she deserve to be visited by her cousin who was carrying the unborn savior. She was filled with joy over God’s grace and favor and the gift of being able to witness his faithfulness in keeping his promise to send the Savior. God comes near to lift up the humbled.
This year, as you celebrate with family and friends, as you open your many gifts, as you devour a meal fit for a king, as you enjoy the wonders of modern technology, as you count your many blessings, take a moment to identify with Elizabeth. Remind yourself that nothing you have is earned or deserved. Everything is a gift of God’s grace. Let yourself be humbled by the truth of God’s word. Then you will join Elizabeth in exclaiming, “Why me”? Why am I so blessed Lord—all these blessings and a Savior too! Then you too will be filled with overflowing joy as she was. You will experience what it means that the Lord lifts up the humbled.
As Elizabeth’s joy overflowed, she blessed Mary, and Mary responded with a song of praise to God that we call the Magnificat because that’s the first word of her song in the Latin translation of the Bible. Like Elizabeth, Mary demonstrates what it means that the Lord comes near to lift up the humbled.
Unlike some religious groups today who almost make Mary a goddess, Mary doesn’t call attention to herself. She glorifies the Lord. She acknowledges that all generations will call her blessed, but it’s not because she is so great or holy. She admits that she too needs a savior for she says, my spirit rejoices in God my savior. She is blessed because the Mighty one has done great things for or to her. She acknowledges that she had not done anything to earn or deserve to be chosen as the mother of the Savior. God, the mighty one, is holy. His name is to be honored as holy, not hers.
In faith, Mary saw how God works. She saw how he scatters the proud and lifts up the lowly. This pattern is seen though out the Bible. God scattered the proud people of Babel who decided to make a name for themselves and defy God’s will. God lifted up the lowly by choosing Abraham, a lowly shepherd; and by choosing David, the least of Jesse’s sons, to be king. He doesn’t do what people would expect. He most often does not choose to work through the most famous or the most powerful. He didn’t choose a queen or a princess to be the mother of the savior. He chose a simple virgin maiden from Nazareth. From Nazareth, the place that was so looked down upon by others that Nathaniel would say, “Can anything good come from there?” And Jesus continued to work in this way, choosing as his disciples simple fishermen from Galilee, and as his greatest missionary the one who led a persecution against the church. As Paul told the Corinthians: Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, (and the reason he often chooses to work in this way?) so that no one may boast before him. He scatters the proud and lifts up the humble.
The mighty one truly did something great for Mary, but not just for Mary, for the whole world. He did a miracle that is beyond our understanding. He caused a child to be conceived in her without a human father. This child was the one in whom the fullness of God would dwell in bodily form. He would be true God and true man at the same time. Even though we cannot understand how this happened, with Mary we rejoice because that’s exactly who we needed to be our savior. We needed someone who could be under God’s holy law and also keep that law perfectly. We needed someone who could be holy and without sin and be willing to offer himself as an unblemished sacrifice to God. We needed someone who could take on himself the wrath and punishment for every sin that ever had been or ever would be committed. Only someone who is both God and man, who was born without sin and lived without sin, could do everything necessary to be the savior of the world.
Because of the great thing God was doing in and through Mary his mercy extends to those who fear him from generation to generation. Mary knew that what God was doing in and through her wasn’t just for her. The child who was conceived in her and would be born on the first Christmas was not just her savior, but the savior for the whole world. Because of his life, death and resurrection God extends his mercy to all, from one generation to the next. He continues to lift up the humbled.
Elizabeth said, blessed is the one who has believed what the Lord has said. Her words remind us of the words of Jesus to Thomas. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. Elizabeth believed that the mother of the Savior had come to visit her even though she had no evidence on which to base her belief. All she had was the assurance of the Holy Spirit. Mary took the angel at his word, even though what the angel said didn’t make sense. How could a virgin conceive and have a son! Still today the stumbling block of pride tries to get in the way of faith. Still today people scoff at the idea that Mary was a Virgin, and that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Pride says, “I not stupid, such things can’t happen, they are impossible.” But humble faith says, “God is the Mighty One. Nothing is impossible with God. If God said it then it must be so.” Blessed are you who have believed what the Lord has said, even if there is no proof, even if it seems illogical or impossible. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. God’s mercy still extends to those who fear him, who trust his every word, who believe that he is the Mighty One with whom nothing is impossible, and that Jesus was born of a virgin to be their savior.
By comparison, our outward circumstances are much better than those of Mary and Elizabeth. We live like kings compared to them. But if we share their humble faith, if we join Elizabeth in responding to our blessings by asking “why me? Why am I so favored?” If we like Mary, when someone blesses us, we humbly point them away for ourselves to what God has done. If we share their humble faith, then we too will have overflowing joy this Christmas. No matter what our circumstances we will join Mary in saying, “My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” He has humbled me by pointing out my sins and lifted me up by pointing me to Jesus.