December 11 lesson: The Affirmation of the Promise

12/5/2016

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The Affirmation of the Promise

Winter Quarter: Creation: A Divine Cycle
Unit 1: The Savior Has Been Born

Sunday school lesson for the week of December 11, 2016 
By Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers

Lesson scripture: Luke 1:39-56


As soon as Mary can get ready, she leaves on a trip south to one of the towns outside Jerusalem, where her cousin Elizabeth lives with her husband Zechariah. We know the town is near Jerusalem because Zechariah serves as a priest at the Temple. While serving as priest, he learns his elderly wife is going to have a baby! He doesn’t believe (like Mary does!) and cannot speak until after the baby is born. There is no record of how Elizabeth handled this silence!

Elizabeth rejoices on both the human and spiritual level to have the company of Mary. She obviously was a cousin once removed!! Why? You can only be a cousin to someone of your generation! Now you know what once or twice removed means! Aren’t you glad you read the Advocate!

The joy of these two women is deep and genuine. The Lesson Annual asks, “How do you react when something good happens?” Play it down, brag about it, act like you deserve it, or do you receive it in joy, wondering “Why me?” and “What changes will life take?”

These two women, separated by many years, but united in the common experience of having their first child, had much to talk about. Using Frederick Wilson’s holy imagination, I can sense Mary’s relief in getting away from Nazareth and the wagging tongues to live with Elizabeth until her baby (John the Baptist) is born. A relative going to help another in childbirth was not an uncommon event. In fact, Sam’s mother went to be with her sister in Miami just for that purpose. That’s how she met his father-to-be! 

The meeting is filled with mutual affirmation of God’s work in their lives. Each gives the other much to ponder. For example, Elizabeth shares not only her joy in having Mary come to be with her, but also the joy of her unborn child, who responds with a leap of joy. We men can never begin to understand the wonder of the evidence of life assured with the movement of the fetus. What Elizabeth felt was evidence of who Mary was and the child she carried. “Why is it that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” (vs.43) Now comes her affirmation of Mary’s faith in the angelic promise: “And blessed is she who believed (our italics!) that there would be fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (vs.45) Both women are thoroughly grounded in the covenant faith of the Old Testament, believing completely that God would do what God had promised – going back to Abraham. God was at work through them, and they rejoiced!

Mary’s joy explodes into the song called “The Magnificat” in Latin, as she praises God. E. Stanley Jones, a Methodist evangelist and missionary to India in a former day, declared this passage of scripture to be “the most revolutionary document in the world.” In fact, it is so revolutionary the Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple warned his missionaries in India never to read this passage in public worship. Why? Because there are three revolutions embodied in these verses from 46-56 – a moral, a social, and an economic revolution, that, if taken seriously, would turn the world upside down!

The moral revolution is the death of pride. (vs.51) When we compare our life to Christ we are driven to our knees in humility. “In my hand no price I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.” The social revolution does away with all our standards of class and prestige. (vs.52) “Call no one worthless for whom Christ died.” Finally, the economic revolution reverses what the world lifts up as the standard of getting as much as you can (vs.53), while a Christian wants to give as much as you can. No wonder Jones and Temple realized what would happen in India (or anywhere else!) if Mary’s song became our song.

We feel compelled to add a word of explanation to the economic revolution. We do not hear Luke advocating a particular economic system. The Bible is consistent in both Old and New Testaments about the delusions of wealth. The Biblical focus is always on the poor and destitute. The acquisition of wealth can lead to a trust in the things of this world and the loss of our focus on God the Creator, Provider, and Sustainer of all. Mary’s Son will teach and live this focus – and so must we, His disciples.

The Roman Empire had a top-down hierarchy of power, class and wealth. Mary’s song states clearly God will topple all such attitudes, when people feel entitled to the wealth and positions which fill their lives. Sounds too familiar doesn’t? 

What in the world is God doing? For many of us, that action is within the Church. Too often institutional maintenance is the sum total. Buildings and budgets can become idols, rather than means to spread the Gospel. Committees and meetings can engage people in ministry, or they can suck the joy out of visions of service with fossilized procedures. Confessions of faith can give public witness to our shared faith or become measuring rods to test the orthodoxy of others on doctrines or issues.

For both Mary and Elizabeth, God was doing a new work through them, but it was the same old, old story of a faithful God keeping the promises made to the world.

Mary will always have the glory of being the mother of Jesus, our Lord and Savior, but she also had to carry the great burden of standing at the foot of His cross, watching His earthly life end. An old spiritual says it all: “You can’t wear the crown if you don’t bear the cross.” Her heart will be pierced, as Simeon predicts in Luke 2:35. 

To be chosen by God for a holy task often means, at one and the same time, a crown of joy and a cross of sorrow. God chooses a person to use that person. Are you listening for your call?

Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at sgr3@cox.net