Pastor Gregory L. Jackson
Mid-Week Advent, Thursday, 7 PM Central
The Hymn # 558 All Praise to Thee 4.44
The Order of Vespers p. 41
The Psalmody Psalm 100 p. 144
The First Lection 1 Timothy 3:16
The Second Lection Luke 1:46ff
The Sermon Hymn #251 We All Believe 4.87
Merciful, Gracious God
The Prayers and Lord’s Prayer p. 44
The Collect for Peace p. 45
The Benediction p. 45
The Hymn # 70 Hosanna 4.55
KJV 1 Timothy 3:16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was
manifest in the flesh,
justified in the Spirit,
seen of angels,
preached unto the Gentiles,
believed on in the world,
received up into glory.
KJV Luke 1:46 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, 47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. 48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. 49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. 50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. 51 He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. 52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. 53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. 54 He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; 55 As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever. 56 And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.
Merciful Gracious God
There is only one truth, and God reveals that truth to us. He is the source of all truth. Any falsehood is against His nature. For instance, when people claim the universe evolved--or that Creation and evolution blended somehow—that is an attack on the nature of God as Creator.
What is given to evolution as a skilled designer, randomly over time, is taken away from God the Creator.
Nothing helps us more than to start with God as the Creator. When we meditate on the Holy Trinity at Creation, Gen 1:1, everything else can be seen in perspective. People look for purpose, to comprehend many different mysteries, and Creation is the foundational mystery.
The term mystery is used for the teaching of God revealed by the Holy Spirit. Although every person has some sense of God and Creation, the actual Creation by God through the Word, in six 24-hour days, is revealed by the Holy Spirit alone, and not discerned by human intellect and reason.
The relationship between the Word and the Holy Spirit is revealed by the Scriptures and adds additional insight. God works through the Word at all times and always accomplishes His purpose.
Recently I saw a photo of pilgrims in Tibet, walking toward their special place of worship, the palace of the Dalai Lama. They were crawling on their hands and knees to get there, because it is a practice of their religion. It probably gave them enlightenment and atoned for their sins, but it was pitiful to see. People live in darkness and suffer for the paganism they hope will save them.
The truth is revealed in the Word of God. That truth emphasizes that God is merciful, loving, and gracious.
The novelist Wm Makepeace Thackeray had a great saying in Vanity Fair, and it applies to our view of God. He said, “If a man frowns at the world, the world frowns back. If he smiles at the world, he finds it a jolly companion.” Luther said much more about God. Those who understand through faith the true nature of God realize how He is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”
Luther was often plagued with the weight of his responsibilities, and he suffered many spiritual onslaughts. He called them “Anfectungen” in German. He overcame them by dwelling on the true nature of God and by enjoying the blessings of life, his large family, and his monastery-home filled with guests.
If we condensed Luther’s thought into a few paragraphs, it would be focused on the Gospel of forgiveness through God’s grace. Luther knew how burdensome it was to try earning God’s forgiveness through works. He suffered physically from those efforts as a monk, but more importantly he suffered emotionally. He saw the loving, patient God as stern, unforgiving, and always angry at him for his many short-comings. The more he confessed and engaged in mortification, the more he hated God.
Mary’s prayer, the Magnificat, is one of the most beautiful poems in the Bible. I heard a skeptical professor make fun it, as if a maiden could not have composed such a masterpiece. Mary was brought up on the Word of God and inspired by the Holy Spirit. Later I often thought of how little the professor understood from the Magnificat. If the first response is “I don’t believe its origin,” then the entire work is in doubt and subject only to criticism. That is also a good illustration of how the Word blinds and hardens people who handle it as if they are juggling bright colored objects at a circus. I have seen swords, chain saws, hammers, and many other objects tossed around. When people juggle the Word, they consider themselves very entertaining. But the more they juggle it, they less they regard it. Finally they hate it and only mention it to attack it and God. The fault is not with the Word but with the juggler.
That is why many well-meaning rationalists start out by explaining the Word according to human reason and end up rejecting it on the same basis. If the Word must be reasonable to man, the mysteries are gone. The Trinity becomes One God (one person). Jesus becomes a Good Teacher. Holy Communion becomes a Memorial Meal. Good works are necessary because faith does not matter. Man must make up for his terrible sins because he is guilty and there is no salvation outside of those redeeming works. Thus the rationalist puts himself on the road to Tibet, crawling on his hands and knees for enlightenment and atonement. Very sad and very common.
Only God can reveal His true nature, and that can come only through His revelation in the Scriptures. We need to know what they say and to interpret them in their plain, simple words. The truth of the Word is available to everyone who reads the Word of God. The orthodox Christian faith does not require a single book or commentary to help it, since everything is revealed plainly. However, the Confessions and faithful books help us by guiding us past the previous errors, which are so often repeated. Clergy must be students of the Word and doctrine to maintain this truth.
Mary’s song of praise is instructive because it is so true. She was nothing in terms of status but is now the most important feminine figure in the world.
For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
Some rail against her. Others want to make her another member of the godhead. She was humble and faithful, so she suffered terribly but also received great homage from mankind. Mary would say to people today, “The Magnificat is about God, not about me.”
49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.
People doubt God’s love and His power. This is a clear confession of the might of God and power to do great things, which we can hardly imagine. He is answering our prayers before we even ask them (Isaiah) and He gives us far more than we can even ask for or imagine (Ephesians).
God’s name is holy because there is no one who compares. When we confess His name, we also mean that simply using His name makes Him listen to us. We can and should call upon Him in every time of trouble and distress. Because of His love and power, He delivers us from trouble – beyond our ability to comprehend. Afterwards we see, yes, only God could do that.
50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.
Fear is an expression of respect. Lack of respect is often displayed in a foolish display of bravado, such as the skeptic who makes fun of the Scriptures and asks why God has not struck him down. Perhaps God is giving him time to repent. A believing family is given many blessings unknown to others.
51 He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. 52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
God can and does overturn the mighty in a second. The prouder they are, the faster they fall. At the same time, He raises up the humble and faithful.
53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.
The contrast is great. He cares for the hungry and takes away from the greedy.
54 He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; 55 As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.
His promises are forever, never broken, never forgotten. Our faith is built upon all the Promises of God, from first promise of the Messiah in Genesis 3.