Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Journey of Humility

Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 20, 2009
Luke 1:39-45

Living as a Christian is a journey of humility. It is a journey because you’re always on the way. When you get to heaven I imagine there won’t be any need for sermons on humility. But here, we’re constantly needing to be brought down by our Lord because by nature we are not humble.

This last part of Luke’s telling of events that led up to the birth of our Lord begins with a journey. It is a journey of humility. A simple girl traveling a few days down the road to visit with her cousin so that they may share some time together in their newfound pregnant-hood.

This is a microcosm of the journey God has set His people on down through the ages. It didn’t start out that way. In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve were in perfect consonance with God. But placing themselves above His Word brought an end to that and His people have been battling against God and His Word ever since.

God in His majesty could simply have given up on them, but there’s just one problem. He loves His people too much to do that. So humility is the course for the day and the ages. The God of all majesty and power expresses His love by loving all, from greatest to least. Here’s how the Old Testament reading exprsses it: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for Me One who is to be ruler in Israel.”

He doesn’t save the world through power but through humility. Bethlehem isn’t much, but it becomes the center of the world when God is born there. Mary becoming pregnant is just like any other woman becoming pregnant except that she has become pregnant with God.

She journeys down to Elizabeth and Elizabeth sets the tone for the humility of the setting. “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” We don’t know what Zechariah might have said had he been able to talk. I’m sure he had done plenty of thinking and praying about the truth and power of the words of the angel Gabriel over the past six months since his elderly wife became pregnant.

But Elizabeth, she could talk. And what she said reflects the humility all of us should have. I don’t deserve to be in the presence of the bearer of the Lord. It’s like the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament, if you touch it you die. Why should Elizabeth be privileged to be the one Mary came to? There was no envy on her part, Why was my little cousin so privileged by God, why not me?

While her husband had to learn humility the hard way, her unborn baby boy followed in her humble path: when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary Jesus’ older cousin John leaped for joy. I remember going to the farm each year growing up and looking up to my older cousins, respecting them with a certain awe. While at the same time feeling a little superior to my younger cousins. That’s not what we have here with John the Baptist. Even in the womb he’s pointing the way to Jesus.

Mary perhaps more than any person who has ever lived, other than Jesus of course, exhibited the kind of humility our Lord calls us to. She perhaps more than anyone had the clearest awareness of who that child of hers was. She most certainly was like you and me and everyone else in that she was a sinner and in need of the salvation her Son came to bring. But she was a model for the journey God sets each one of us on and sets us as the Christian Church on as a whole.

From the first surprising twist to her life, that if Bethlehem was too little to be among the clans of Judah and yet from it would come the Savior, surely she was too insignificant among the people of Nazareth and yet from her would come the Savior. She responded in humility—let it be to me according to the Word of God. Elizabeth was dead on in what she said of Mary: “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

Mary was a living example of the way Paul spoke about the servants of the Lord, simply earthen vessels, jars of clay. She was the vessel that carried God in the flesh. How many times a day do you think Mary wondered why God had chosen her? How many times she marveled that she was unworthy of this blessing? And yet, still in humility, rejoicing in this grace of God, rejoicing God had blessed her in such a way.

Sometimes we need to be knocked over the side of the head like Zechariah in order to learn humility. Other times purely out of the grace of God we live out this journey of humility as Elizabeth and John and Mary did. This Thursday and Friday on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day we are going to be rejoicing as Elizabeth and John and Mary and even Zechariah did. Expressing our joy in the God who came in the flesh. God in the flesh is what makes the journey possible. There was nothing inherently good within Elizabeth or John or even Mary, and there isn’t with us either.

We could move on our journey of humility simply with these saints of old as our example. And they are that. And we’re grateful for that. But there’s one other person in the Gospel reading that we haven’t gotten to yet. He’s the main one. Even though He’s the one that doesn’t do any of the talking or any of the action, He’s the reason they’re all there and He’s the one they’re all responding to.

Jesus, the one in the womb of Mary, is the most humble of them all. The one that they are humbling themselves before is the one who has come to be their servant. That’s why He’s in the womb of Mary. That’s why He’s willing—and not just willing, but joyful—to be in the womb of a girl for nine months. That’s why it is His joy to be born as we are. And not just born, but born in humble circumstances. That’s why it is His desire to make His journey as a man, as a human being, to the cross and to suffer for the sins of the world.

The journey of humility we travel is on account of the journey He traveled to the cross. The epistle reading expresses this path of humility taken by our Lord. He came in humility and said to His Heavenly Father, “Behold, I have come to do Your will.” The author of Hebrews then shows us what this journey Jesus took was for: “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

He sustains us on our journey of humility with food. But it is not temporal food. It is heavenly food. It is the Bread of Life. It is Himself. Don’t be surprised that He feeds us with His Heavenly Food, Himself, His Body and Blood, in humble circumstances, in simple bread and wine at this altar. Don’t be surprised. Simply rejoice. The journey of humility you’re on will give way to eternal glory in the presence of Jesus in the flesh in the mansions of heaven. Amen.


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