by Pastor Edward F. Markquart, Seattle, WA
Scripture: Luke 2:46-55
The Magnificat is the poem or song in Luke 2 normally found on the lips of Mary. The Magnificate is normally called "Mary's Song." Usually, when we hear the Magnificat or Mary's Song, we fail to realize how radical and revolutionary the song really is. That is, when we hear the words of the Magnficat sung during this Christmas season, the words are so beautiful, so soft, so lovely. When we hear the words read as part of the Christmas gospel, we are captured by the poetic loveliness of the cadence. We don't hear what is actually being sung or said. It is easy to be mesmerized by the music or tranquillized by the poetry. When a person is mesmerized by the beauty of the music or tranquillized by the smoothness of the poetry, a person fails to perceive how radical and revolutionary the song of Mary actually is.
In preparation for this sermon, I read several commentaries on this Bible passage, and every single commentator used the word, "revolutionary," to describe the Magnificat. These scholars concluded that the Magnificat is one of the most revolutionary documents available.
I would like to share some quotations from famous scholars about the Magnificat. E. Stanley Jones, a famous preacher of two generations ago, said that the Magnificat is "the most revolutionary document in the world." Geldenhese, a Dutch theologian, said that the Magificat "announces powerful revolutionary principles." Murrow, another theologian, talks about the "revolutionary germ" found in the Magnificat. Barclay, an English theologian, says that the Magificat is "a bombshell." Barclay goes on to say that people have read it so often that they have forgotten its "revolutionary terror." It takes "the standards of the world and turns them upside down." Barclay teaches that in the Magnificat, there are three revolutions: "an economic revolution; a political revolution; and a moral revolution." Still another author says that the Magnificat "terrified the Russian Czars." Martin Luther, the father of our own Lutheran church, says that the Magnificat "comforts the lowly and terrifies the rich." Gilmore said that the Magnificat "fosters revolutionaries in our churches." He says that "the Church needs the leaven of discontent, and the Magnifcat makes the church restive against poverty and wretchedness."
Simply, at the beginning of this sermon, I am saying that several commentaries used a single word to describe the Magnificant. They used the word, "revolutionary." Don't be mesmerized by the music. Don't be tranquilized by the loveliness of the language. Listen to the meaning of the words. Listen to the meaning of the words, and the Magnificat may begin a revolution in your life and mine.
This past week I have been thinking about the word, revolution. I have been asking the question: what does the word, "revolution," mean? I thought: revolution means "total change." I will give you some examples. Computers revolutionized the information industry. Computers totally changed it; that is, they revolutionized our information age. You now push a button and you have millions of pieces of information available. I don't have to remember that information in my head any longer; it is on the computer. The information industry was totally changed by the computer. What does the word, "revolution," mean? A total change. Another example: the industrial revolution in the 1760s. In the 1760s, the cotton industry was totally changed because of a new machine called the cotton gin. The cotton industry was revolutionized; it was totally changed by that simple invention. Before 1760, people were picking cotton by hand; after 1760, cotton was picked by the cotton gin. Before the revolution, people were separating the seeds from the cotton by hand; after the revolution, they were separating seeds by machine. The cotton gin revolutionized the cotton industry; it totally changed it. That's what the word means: totally changed. It revolutionized your life; it totally changed your life.
Also, you can use the phrase, "before the revolution" and "after the revolution." You understand what I am talking about: before the revolution of the cotton gin and after the revolution of the cotton gin. Hang onto that concept: before the revolution and after the revolution.
The Magnificate is God's revolution. The Magnificate is the charter, the document, the constitution of God's revolution. The Magnificate is the basic, fundamental document. You don't change the constitution. I saw the Magna Carta, the real thing, in a museum in London. That Magna Carta is the fundamental document on which freedom is based in English society. So also, the Magnificate is God's charter; it is God's Magna Carta. That document lays down the fundamental principles of the Christian revolution.
In the Magnificate, God totally changes the order of things. God takes that which is on the bottom; and God turn everything upside down, and puts the bottom on top and the top on the bottom. God revolutionizes the way we think, the way we act, and the way we live. Before God's revolution, we human beings were impressed with money, power, status and education. We were impressed with beauty, bucks and brains. But God revolutionizes all of that; God totally changes all of that; God turns it upside down. The poor are put on the top; the rich are put on the bottom. It is a revolution; God's revolution. The Magnificate clearly tells us of God's compassion for the economically poor; and when God's Spirit gets inside of Christians, we too have a renewed compassion and action for the poor. Our hearts are turned upside down.
Listen carefully to the words of the Magnificate. Not the poetry of the words, the beauty of the words, the loveliness of the words. Listen to the five important verbs. In the Magnificate, God tells us that God regards or respects the poor, exalts the poor, feeds the poor, helps the poor, remembers the poor. In that same chapter in Luke, we hear the story that God chose a slave girl, Mary, to be the mother of Jesus. God didn't chose the beauty queen of Ballard; God didn't chose a mother who was a millionaire; God didn't chose a bride with brains. God chose a little thirteen year old girl from a fourth world country, with dark skin and dark brown eyes and dark brown hair to be the mother of Jesus. The Bible didn't call her a handmaiden. The word, "handmaiden," sounds so pretty. The Greek word is, "doulos," which means slave or servant. Mary was a servant girl. God exalted a servant girl from a fourth world country to be exalted and lifted up. And this servant girl sang her song and it is called the Song of Mary. The actual words of her song are revolutionary. The Song of Mary is a revolutionary bombshell because it turns the values of this world upside down.
In the Magnificate, God totally changes the values of life. We have agreed that this is what a revolution is: it totally changes things such as the computer or the cotton gin. In Christian language, before the revolution, we were impressed with the rich. After God's revolution, we are impressed with the poor. Before God's revolution, we are impressed with bucks and beauty. After God's revolution, we are impressed with paupers and poor people. The Magnificate is revolutionary stuff. Don't get caught up in the poetry. Don't get caught up in the music. Don't get caught up in creative interpretations that allow you to water down or dismiss the Magnificate. Let the revolution begin in your life, and mine. This is God's revolution in our hearts. God's value is to respect the poor, exalt the poor, feed the poor...within our hearts and actions.
In this Magnificate, you may have the false assumption that the Magnificate is an exception in Luke, an aberration, an accident. You may falsely assume the Magnificate is an isolated Bible passage and can be tempered, watered down, or dismissed. Not at all. The Magnificate is a prelude to the whole gospel, and the theme of the whole gospel is that God respects the poor, exalts the poor, cares for the poor, feeds the poor, remembers the poor, helps the poor.
Do you remember what Jesus said in his first sermon in the gospel of Luke? A first sermon reveals what is important to the man. In his first sermon in Luke, Jesus said, "I have come to bring good news to poor people, release for prisoners of war, and freedom for those imprisoned." You see, prisons have always been filled with poor people, and that is true today. Do a sociological study of our prisons and you will find our prisons filled with poor people. In his first sermon, Jesus is passionately concerned about poor people, and poor people are often found in prison or fighting wars for the rich.
Do you remember the beatitudes in Luke? Do you remember the first beatitude in Luke, his first blessing? Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor people because they know their need of God." We all know the truth of that statement; that is, we know that rich people don't need God very much, because rich people are usually busy living life to the fullest and don't have time for God. Members of our congregation learned this lesson well while visiting Haiti. Every single person from our parish who visited our sister church in Haiti was amazed at how devout and spiritual the Haitian Christians were. When our members compared Christians from Haiti and Christians from our church and country, they said, "Those Haitian Christians have true faith, devout faith, deep faith, more so than Christians here in our congregation. Their deep faith has to do with their poverty. They truly know their need of God and we don't. We can learn from them." So Jesus' first beatitude is true: Blessed are the poor people for they know their need of God."
I have enjoyed working on the Board of Lutheran World Relief. I have appreciated this organization and their articulation of their primary Christian values. One value that Lutheran World Relief holds is that we can learn much from the poor of this world. The learning line doesn't go from richer Christians to those poorer Christians. In many of our minds, the learning goes from top to bottom. In Lutheran World Relief, the learning is always reciprocal. We learn from them and they learn from us. That is always the way it is in any healthy relationship. When our members of our congregation visited our sister church in Haiti, people always came back saying how much they learned. From our Haitian brothers and sisters, we American Christians have learned about needing God, how to "do family," the words of hundreds of hymns by memory, how to share when you have meager material possessions. There is so much to be learned from our Haitian brothers and sisters. People come back from this mission trips and inevitably say, "God changed me in Haiti." I have heard that said over and over again. One of our high school seniors, as smart as you will find, and who is preparing to be a medical doctor, perhaps a missionary doctor, says that "I have learned more in Haiti and anywhere else." Do you think he is young and impressionable? Only if you are old and ignorant. This young man's heart learned much in Haiti as have everyone else who has gone there. In the Magnificate, God simply says that we are to respect poor people. "Respect for poor people" is a good translation of "regards the poor."
In the Magnificate, in Mary's Revolutionary Song, God respects the poor, exalts the poor, cares for the poor, feeds the poor, remembers the poor, and helps the poor. Do you get the rhythm? Does your heart get the rhythm?
So the important question for us this morning is this. Has God's revolution occurred in your life, in my life? Is God's revolution occurring in your life? When Jesus gets a hold of us, Jesus revolutionizes our lives; he turns everything upside down and we look at the world differently.
When a revolution occurs in a country, the citizens there often use the phrases, "before the revolution" and "after the revolution." In our American Revolution of 1776, the people talked about before the revolution and after the revolution. Before the revolution, Americans were governed by the King of England; after the revolution, Americans were ruled by our laws and congress.
By analogy, I am going to use the five verbs in the Magnificate. Before God's revolution in my life, I regarded myself. Before God's revolution in me, I exalted my ego. Before God's revolution in my values, I fed my family. Before God's revolution in my heart, I helped my friends. Before God's revolution within, I remembered my relatives. But after God's revolution in your heart, you regarded the poor people and their needs. After God's revolution in you, you exalted the energy of the poor. After God's revolution within, you feed the hungry and starving. After God's revolution in your values, you helped the handicapped. After God's revolution to your heart, you remembered the real needs of people. Life can be summarized by what life was like before the revolution and after the revolution.
It is possible to be a citizen of the land and not be part of the revolution. That is the way it has been in Russia since their most recent revolution. It is possible to go to the festivities of the revolution and not be part of the revolution itself. By analogy, it is possible to be part of the church and not be part of God's revolution inside of us. It is possible to celebrate the festivals of the church, Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter, and still not have God's revolution occur inside of you. When God gets inside of you, God changes everything.
So the big question for your life and mine this morning is: has God's revolution occurred in your life? Have things been turned upside down where your life now is dedicated to exalting the poor, regarding the poor, feeding the poor, helping the poor, remembering the poor. Has this revolution occurred in your life and mine? Amen.
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