The Sermon Mall



Sermon Briefs Luke 1:39-45 (46-55) Part 2

Martin Copenhaver preached an expository sermon on Lk 1:26-55 called Giving Birth to a Miracle.1 Mary, he says, actually gave birth to two miracles. First, to the new life within her, second, that God somehow was in that new life as well. Mary was moved to fear and praise by both miracles. No wonder. Announced by an angel, the good news that Mary received that she was about to become a mother is the kind of news that still has power to create fear and wonder for any woman.
Copenhaver then concentrates on the blessing spoken to Mary: "Blessed are you among women." Mary is not only blessed in the birth of the Christ child however, she is blessed in the way we are all blessed—with life in all its fullness and burden. Her child will know blessing, and pain, and suffering—as we all do. Copenhaver suggests we must affirm life even in its disappointments, in order to receive the blessing. This, then, is an act of faith.
All parents wonder about an unborn child, its height, disposition, attractiveness, etc. But Mary's case was different. The angel told her, He will be great, called Son of the Most High. He will have David's throne, and his reign will never end. These promises must have created even more dread, Copenhaver suggests. They must also have created a faith, "that is almost as much a miracle as the birth itself."
He goes on to say, it is one thing to reflect on God's action in Mary's life; it is something different to think about God being active in the everyday events of our lives. We can learn from Mary, he says, about miracles and how God works in unexpected places. God, indeed, may be at work in the most unexpected of all places—our own lives. Mary learned to trust in God's promises before its fulfillment. We have seen the fulfillment of the promise in Jesus' birth, "now it awaits fulfillment in our own hearts."
Copenhaver's sermon gives a meaningful interpretation of the annunciation to Mary in contemporary terms. It seems especially helpful in the anticipation of Advent, and in a call to faith and trust in God's action in the world.
Cindy Crane preached a sermon, which focused on the Magnificat, at University Lutheran Church of Hope, Minnesota.2 Her focus is on the idea that God works in our world, often through those considered insignificant by others. She notes also, that this is a significant theological statement about God and God's justice.
Crane is clear that she is not glorifying poverty, or limiting God's grace to any particular social class. She affirms again, however, the significance of God's lifting up the humble and empowering all who suffer.
She notes two examples of the power of the Magnificat and of the opposition to it. She refers first to the excommunication of Sri Lakan priest and theologian Tissa Balisuriya for his criticism of the Roman Church in its traditional view of Mary. She says, "He claimed that the church has developed Mary into something to depend on rather than to empower us to address social evils." Second, she says there are places in Latin America where governments have forbidden the speaking of the Magnificat because of the voice it gives to the oppressed.
It's time, suggests Crane, to embrace the "power of the Magnificat." In Mary's song we may hear the striving for justice by the oppressed, or simply the voices of the suffering. In either case, "Mary's song is our song." Surely, this is one of the profound truths of the incarnation.
William Willimon preached a sermon at Duke Chapel in 1995, which also focused on the Magnificat. His emphasis while somewhat less focused on the poor and suffering only, calls us all to hear the song of Mary anew. He called it Imagine Christmas.3
He begins by telling the story of a Physics professor at Duke (male) who wore a red dress to class one day, with matching hat and heels. The professor explains that he did it to shock the students. He wanted to shock them to try to find physics students with imagination—the very kind of student who might make new discoveries in physics.
Willimon's interest is the lack of interest he perceives in most students (people?), today in political action. He tellingly quotes Wittgenstein, "We can only act within a world we can see. Lacking a larger view, we cultivate our own garden. Does this account for our profound complacency, or `culture of contentment?"'
Willimon suggests, we must ask, "What kind of world do we want to live in?" The answer: it depends on a vision, sense of a larger picture, imagination, and some sense of last things. Quoting Paul Loeb (Generation at the Crossroads, Rutgers, 1994), he says we have taught the young to believe change comes only from people at the top. We have taught them to mistrust people who think and work for the common good and a better world. Thus a focus on our "private dreams" comes all to easily.
The world of advent is different, he says. It is a world of imagination, like Micah 5:2, which prophesies that out of little insignificant Bethlehem, the ruler of Israel would arise. Imagination can dream of a world, captured in Mary's song: "of a God on the move down in the ghetto, making the folk at Merrill Lynch and the Pentagon nervous."
Willimon counsels his congregation to be careful if they plan to return to the hum drum of the work-a-day world. The song of Mary may "settle in your soul." Like Mary, we may believe the Lord and begin to sing of a new world coming.
Gerald Harper
1. Martin B, Copenhauer, "Giving Birth to a Miracle," Best Sermons 2, James W. Cox, editor (San Fransisco: Harper & Row, 1989), p. 112ff. 2. Cindy Crane, 3. William Willimon, "Imagine Christmas,"