“Blessed Beyond Belief”
Luke 1:39-45 #1177
Fourth Sunday in Advent
“Blessed Beyond Belief”
I think a lot of us can tend to be self–critical. We may wish we are taller or shorter. We may wish we were younger, or just that we had no gray hair. A lot of us probably wish we were thinner. We may wish that we are smarter or have a better vocabulary. We may wish that we were handier around the house, or were better with computers, or better at cooking. I think for many of us, when we look in the mirror, instead of seeing what is there, instead of noting the blessings we have, we look and see what is not there and wish for blessings we think we don’t have.
In the Gospel for today, we see what happened after Gabriel visited Mary and told her she would be the mother of Jesus. Mary hurried to the home of Elizabeth to share this exciting news and found out that Elizabeth was pregnant with John the Baptist. Elizabeth recognized how special Mary was. She told Mary that she was blessed beyond belief. And as she was, so are we. Contrary to appearances, in spite of our flaws, God keeps telling us in His Word that we are “Blessed Beyond Belief.”
In our Gospel reading today we see a textbook example of someone who is unusually blessed. Elizabeth appeared to be something of a freak of nature. She was well past the age of having kids, and yet she was pregnant. Hers was a similar situation to Abraham and Sarah, as you may recall. In truth, Elizabeth was a miracle of God’s making, that Zechariah got her pregnant. Women her age do not have children, then or now. She was pregnant only by God’s mercy and according to His promise. And everyone was happy for her.
When it comes to Mary, the situation is a little different. Instead of being too old to have kids, Mary is very young. (It is hard to know with a certainty but we believe it likely that Mary was a young teenager.) And she wasn’t married yet. Mary appeared to have been guilty of a big sin. She had no husband and yet had gotten herself pregnant. That is the way it looked. And in their society, that could have gotten her a death sentence. In truth, Mary was pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. She had received God’s favor. Her child was God. He was/is to be called Jesus, the Son of God.
Elizabeth was blessed that she got to be a mother at her age. Mary was blessed, for as Elizabeth noted, she was carrying the Messiah inside her. We need to make sure we know here, that Mary is not blessed because of who she is. In the Magnificat (verses after our text), she notes the “humble estate of [God’s] servant” (v 48a). God didn’t pick her because she was sinless or awesome. He just picked her. She also calls God her “Savior” (v 46), for she is a sinful human being like all people, in need of being saved. Furthermore, Mary is clear that it is God who has “done great things” for her. She gives all the credit to Him (v 49). Mary is blessed, as Elizabeth tells us, because of the blessedness of the “fruit” of her womb. Her blessedness isn’t her two millennia of being famous or the fortune in product licensing a good marketing team could make for her, like the Disney folks who have been putting the words “Star Wars” on EVERYTHING. Her blessedness is simply the presence of Jesus Christ inside her.
For us in the Church, we are likewise blessed. Like Mary, 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—how famous we are, the toys we own, our health, if we can run a 5k, and so on. Our blessedness, like Mary’s, is here because we are in the presence of the incarnate Jesus Christ. God in man, God in us.
Jesus Christ is the ultimate source of every true blessing. Jesus came here so that He could die on the cross. That death and His rising again, by taking away the sin that had separated us from God, brought us back into God’s presence now and forever. In Baptism, we are given the faith, forgiveness, and salvation that Jesus got for us. When we come here for the Lord’s Supper, the true body and blood of the crucified and risen Christ is here where our Lord comes to us with gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.
Reminded how we are blessed, I would like to comment on how this is a time of year when people attempt to calculate blessings. Sally, Charlie Brown’s sister, in her dictated letter to Santa Claus indicated she had a long list of things she wanted Santa to bring her, for she had been “extra good” good that year. To simplify her blessings, she told Santa he could just give her money, “…how about tens and twenties.” (Please note: ten bucks in 1965 is 75 today. twenty bucks in 1965 is 150 bucks today.) All around “Santa’s workshop” there is much calculating and planning going on to ensure that siblings are being blessed equally if you know what I mean. This is important, because, at the end of this week, siblings will be comparing the loot received and will be trying to figure out who got the most, who is the worthiest, who is the most loved. If you have brothers and sisters, you know how this goes. The latest toy or gadget is considered a blessing. Socks are not.
But here we are gathered in God’s house, the recipients of His love, blessed beyond belief! It shouldn’t be that way, but it is. Contrary to appearances, in spite of sinful flaws, Elizabeth was blessed beyond belief. Although Zechariah rejected God’s promise, God kept His Word. Mary, also selfish and sinful, was especially blessed beyond belief. In contrast to Zechariah, Mary trusted God’s promise through Gabriel. She was blessed by her believing. But most of all she was blessed because God accomplished what He had pledged to her. She gave birth to Jesus, her Savior and the Redeemer of the world, who on a Judean hilltop died to forgive the sins of all people, everywhere.
And then you and I are blessed beyond belief. We need God to show us His mercy. We need God to give us His blessings. And so He does! We are blessed with faith. We are blessed with forgiveness. We are blessed with a spot in heaven reserved for us. We are blessed with salvation. We are blessed with God’s love. We are blessed beyond belief!
Today is the final Sunday of Advent. Thursday is Christmas Eve. Friday is Christmas Day. Throughout this week and on into next year, we will have many opportunities to express ourselves and let others know how much we are blessed. We will do it in our thinking, planning, decision-making, praying, studying, meditating, singing, speaking and witnessing to our Lord. We will do it in our acts of love, forgiveness, encouragement and service to others. We can do it with conviction because contrary to appearances, in spite of being selfish and sinful, God, in Jesus, has blessed us beyond belief! There are so many ways for us to confess, “My soul magnifies the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”