Rejoice, Favored One!

This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning, the Fourth Sunday of Advent. The gospel text was Luke 1:39-55. Other texts I referred to were Micah 5:2-5 and Luke 1:26-38.

About twenty-seven centuries ago, Micah was a prophet who spoke to the people of Judah. Micah preached a message of judgment. Judah will soon be sacked and defeated, because of the sin and selfishness of its people. Micah’s words were fulfilled. The Babylonian empire tore the kingdom of Judah apart, destroyed the temple in Jerusalem, and led its king and many of its people into exile in Babylon. A tragic time for God’s people, they were heartbroken, devastated, terrified.

Yet Micah’s words did not stop at judgment. Indeed Micah proclaimed terror and fear, but then he turned on a dime, and said, however.

And he preached to them also a message of hope.

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule Israel, whose origin is from old, from ancient days.

The people will return to Israel, he proclaimed. And a new king shall stand and feed his flock, and they shall live secure, for this new king shall be a king of peace. And he shall come from the town of Bethlehem.

The people heard Micah and the other prophets. And so they waited. Empires rose and empires fell. The Babylonians were replaced by the Persians. Then the Greeks. Then the Romans, and still the people of Israel waited. They did return from exile, but still they waited. Waited for the new king. Waited for Messiah. Waited for peace. They waited seven centuries.

The generations rose and fell, and after seven hundred years, the angel Gabriel was sent to Mary to announce the fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy.

Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!

Mary didn’t feel favored. She was a peasant woman in a backwater town in Galilee. Why had an angel appeared to her? She was nothing special.

Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you.

Honoring her? What had she done to earn this honor? Why had God chosen her? The angel continued:

You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. There will be no end to his kingdom.

And I wonder. I wonder if the angel was speaking to more than just Mary. I wonder if he was speaking to the whole nation of Israel when he said:

Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!

From the beginning, Israel was God’s favored one, chosen for reasons only God understood. A small collection of tribes in an out-of-the-way land, and God chose them to be the chosen people. God chose them to bear the news of God to the world. God chose them to be the bearers of light, the bearers of good news, to all the nations. God chose them to be the first children of God.

Just as God chose Mary. Mary would bear the good news in an even more intimate way. Indeed, she would give birth to the good news. Her son would himself be the good news, would himself be the promise that God had made, the fulfillment of all the promises. And Mary spoke for all Israel when she said to Gabriel, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” These are words the people of Israel were never quite able to say. Mary spoke them now on their behalf now.

And then immediately Mary set off for the hill country of Judea, to visit Elizabeth, her relative who was also miraculously pregnant. Elizabeth was well past the age of child-bearing, yet she was six months pregnant. The child in her womb leaped at the sound of Mary’s voice. This unborn child was John the Baptist, the same John who years later would announce the coming of the Messiah. The announcer of the good news, and the good news itself, met that day, each in the bellies of their mothers. And the Holy Spirit was dancing in that place, inspiring both women to sing. And Mary sang, again on behalf of all Israel:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord!

My spirit rejoices in God my savior!

For you have looked with favor on your lowly servant!

From this day all generations will call me blessed because you, the almighty, have done great things for me!

Holy is your name!

But Mary was not singing only on behalf of Israel this time. For the good news that she carried was not sent only to redeem the people of Israel. The good news from God was sent to redeem the whole world. And so she sang on behalf of all people, men and women, young and old, Jew and Gentile, people of her time and people of our time and people in between. She sang on behalf of us. On our behalf, she sang:

You have mercy on those who fear you, from generation to generation!

You have thrown down the mighty from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly!

You have filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty!

You have come to our aid, just as you promised, the promise you made so many centuries ago.

Seven hundred years after Micah, the promised king was born. His majesty still stands to this day. He still fulfills his promises to this day. Even when we wait in darkness as Israel did, we know that his promises are true, and that he will come soon. And we have now been chosen as well, just like Israel before us, just like Mary, we have been chosen to announce his coming to the world.

Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!

The angel speaks those words to us as well.

Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!

May we ever respond as Mary did: “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.”

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