Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Happy humility...

Sermon for Advent 4C, preaching on Sunday, December 23, 2012.

    A friend of mine wondered what the Gospel reading would sound like if it happened today and the Angel came to a typical 21st century person.  He surmised the Angel's lines would read the same.  But the response could not be "How can this be?" but "SHUT UP!  Get outta here! Or No Way!"  And the answer, if positive, would not have been "let it be to me as the Lord has said" but rather "FINE! Or Whatever!"  His point is that we live in a rude age, in which outrage is bold as brass and humility as rare as precious gems.  Maybe he is right.
    Mary's humility is amazing to us.  Her humility is not some act designed to impress.  It is the genuine article.  She is happy to be humble and her humility is the source of her joy.  Contrast this with the seemingly insatiable desires of our hearts, seldom happy or content with anything.  We sometimes say the humble word but inside we want it all and we want it all for ourselves.
    Riches are, in reality, not much consolation.  According to people who have it, affording just about anything seems to provide little in the way of contentment.  Now that is not to say that poverty is all that rewarding either.  Contentment, as we heard last week, is a focus of the heart and not the fruit of achievement or possessions.  Sadly, the more we have, the more we want.  Like most of us, I can recall a time when, newly married and dirt poor, we seemed to have a much easier life than the hurried and harried moments of today.  No, when we have more, the bar of happiness is raised so that more is needed before we will even begin to be happy.
    Not so with Mary.  She is at peace with God and, because of this, with herself.  She is calm within the storm of God's unfolding plan of salvation.  This is not because Mary is unique or different or holy or perfect.  This is because Mary's heart is rooted and planted in faith.  She trusts the Lord and this trust is enough for her peace.
    Humility is not a virtue you can cultivate.  Humility is the fruit of faith.  Mary shows us this faith in the words of her song, the Magnificat.  She marvels that God saw her.  Contrast this with our almost incessant need to be noticed or fawned over.  Mary's surprise is that God saw her amid all that God has to see.  "Who am I that the Lord would see me?"  More than this, she is surprised that the Lord would look on her and not be repulsed by what He saw.  Contrast that with the feeling that who could not look at me and love me of a people in love with themselves and with the moment.  We wonder why anyone would not notice us; Mary wonders why anyone would notice her.
    Mary's humility is born of the awe that God could look at her, see her in all her need and weakness, and love her still.  Love is not really a gift in our culture; it is a right which we demand.  So it is not surprising that we are not satisfied by love.  In the world of faith, love is not obligation but always gift. That the Lord would see her and love her was a precious gift to Mary.  It is a gift we think about?  Do we find wonder and joy in God's notice and love?
    Mary's joy flows from a humble faith, surprised at God's notice, in awe of God's love, and willing to receive God's gift and plan for her life.  She was convinced that God had given her all things in the Christ whom He had placed in her womb.  She sings of her Son who has become her own Savior and is with Him from birth to death, pondering all this in her heart and rejoicing at the love for her that He brings from the Father.  Ponder does not mean deep thought to unlock the mysteries but awe and wonder at God’s mercy and grace give so freely to the undeserving.
    Sadly, we are not content because we have lost the sense of love as a gift, we no longer are surprised at God's notice of our lives – we demand it.  We expect Him to notice our joys and needs.  But we are not at all sure that Christ and salvation are enough for us.  We are happy to receive salvation but we are not above asking God for more.  It is like the prince whose false humility says to those invited to his birthday party, "no gifts please."  Then when they come with only their greetings and love, he asks, is that all there is?
    Mary's example is profoundly needed for a people no longer content with God's watchful eye or satisfied with His giving love or comforted by His Word of promise.  Why is it so difficult for us to be happy when we have so much and know so much?  Could it be that we expect others to supply us with happiness – a happiness which is only the fruit of a humble faith and a heart impressed that God sees us, knows us, and still loves us?
    With our sense of self-righteousness instead of repentance, we make happiness impossible.  With the feeling that God owes us something, we find no contentment in His love.  With the idea that we deserve His mercy, the great miracle of Christ's birth, death, and resurrection as the price of our sin are all discarded as "is that all there is?"  Mary's example is not personal holiness but humble faith.  Her lesson for us is not to reach in ourselves to find peace, but the peace that comes from trusting God's grace and knowing the gift of His mercy.  We honor her not as a sinless example of human flesh and blood but rather as a sinner whose heart rejoices in God her Savior, who marvels at God’s grace and trusts it implicitly.
    Mary looks at God's Word and promise, at the Son whose life begins in her womb, and she says, "What more can I want?"  Note what she does not say: "what more can I have?" Rather, "what more can I want?"  I am full.  The Lord has given me all things in His Son.  In this humble faith, one finds the precious fruit of happiness.  Surely this is exactly what we need to hear as tomorrow we dig into the presents in search of contentment, happiness, and joy!  Amen

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