Sermon, January 11, 2009, Luke 1:46-55


Genesis 12:1-3

Luke 1:46-55

What has happened?

One of the most frequently asked questions these days is “What has happened?”two-roads-yellow-wood

  • to the first $350 billion that the banks took?

  • to the $50 billion that Bernie Madoff was entrusted with?

  • to my own investments? (one of my retirement funds has lost 50% of its value in the past year).

  • to consumer confidence?

Consumer confidence” is where I want to begin today. What has happened to “consumer confidence”? Two things have happened:

First, we consumers have lost confidence that we will be able to afford things so we have stopped buying so much.

But something much deeper has happened: we have bought into the notion that we can be defined as “consumers.” Perhaps that is at the root of our troubles. The news constantly refers to us in phrases like “The American consumer is nervous”.

I do consume – I need things, I buy things – but that does not make me a person who should be defined as a “consumer.” I get hair-cuts: am I a hair-cut-ee?

Somehow, we have allowed ourselves to be known as, and constantly referred to according to one aspect of our lives, our consumption of material things. Perhaps it is the level of confidence that we have put in our things that has led us to this crisis of “consumer confidence.”

That brings us back to the original question: What has happened? We have become prosperous – that has certainly happened.

Has it not also happened that we have put too much confidence in that prosperity? And now that confidence has been lost. Has it happened that we have allowed our values to become distorted?

We need to hear the message in the text before us today because it calls us back to higher values – and we have never needed that call more than in this time.

We call the song that Mary sang by the Latin name, the “Magnificat” because it begins with her words of praise “My soul magnifies the Lord.” She continues, “and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.

What has happened – to produce such praise?

Mary has not just “come into money.” What an odd phrase we use: “come into money” – as if money were a place, a room to come into, in which all of our problems were solved.

Money is not that room.

  • We can never buy our way into healing of family problems.

  • We cannot buy healing of broken relationships.

  • We cannot buy back years lost to bitterness, or addictions, or trivial pursuits – or to anything else.

Even if we could come into the money room, it would not be the solution room; the healing room; the room of our salvation.

But Mary is not magnifying and praising God for that reason. She is a poor woman who can only afford to offer a dove at the temple – and she is engaged to a man who offers the same.

Mary’s praise – our praise – if we have our values lifted up to this level – is joy in the Lord God.

“… my spirit rejoices in God my Savior

Why does Mary find a reason to praise God as her Savior?

Because she knows which answer to give to the question: “what has happened?”

2 Possible answers to “What has happened?”

There were two alternative answers, like “two roads diverged in a yellow wood”  that people gave to that question in Mary’s day – and we will see that we are in a remarkably similar position today.

What has happened? The first answer goes something like this:

  • What has happened is a disaster; a catastrophe.

  • Our economy is in tatters because we are under the boot of Rome.”

  • We spend our meager funds traveling back to our hometowns to fork it over in taxes to Rome so Caesar and Pilate and the rest of them can eat cake.”

  • That is what has happened; and so now we know where the solution is: it’s in the room with the swords and spears.”


There are precious few songs of praise coming from that room.

That’s one answer to the question “what has happened?”

Mary’s Answer

But Mary has another answer, and hers produces a song of praise. Her song is in fact the other answer. The song is all abut “what has happened.”

Six times in her song she says of God, “He has

48 he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

51 He has shown strength with his arm.

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;

53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,

When the answer to the question: “What has happened?” is a reflection on what God has done – then the answer is a song of praise – even from a poor person.

What has happened? Mary sings:

49 the Mighty One has done great things for me.

You know the rest of the story: Mary will give birth to Jesus. He is the fulfillment of that ancient promise to Abraham. Through Abraham’s descendent Jesus, all the world will be blessed.

And we are blessed. Jesus has come. He has redeemed us from the dark narrow room of confident consumerism we were in and has brought us in to the presence of God – the Father.

In this place there are songs of praise and joy because of what has happened.


What has happened? Mary sings of reversals – many reversals of what was expected to happen.

Jesus has taught us to see the world differently in a reversal that only the strength of God’s mighty arm could accomplish.

The reversal we have experienced is this: we do not put our confidence in consuming material things: in money.

We do not “come into money” to find a solution; we enter another room. In this room, instead of the hungry languishing, they are fed. The humble, instead of being despised, are treated with dignity. The empty are filled with hope.

In this room, people share their resources instead of hoarding them. – which is the reverse of what happens in the Darwinian “confidence in money” room in which only the strong survive.

In this room, people invest their time, their talents and their treasure as wise stewards according to values far higher than Bernie Madoff could have imagined.

What has happened? With Mary we can say,

49 the Mighty One has done great things for me.

The last question

In recessions like this, people ask, “What has happened?

There will be one more time when we will ask the question, “what has happened?” It will be at the end.

We are mortal. When we come to our end, when we are lying on that bed and we ask ourselves – “What has happened with my life?” what will the answer be?

No amount of zeros and commas behind the numbers in our bank statements will get us off of that bed. Neither will the zeros and commas make “what happened” meaningful or significant.

This is why stewardship is so significant for us. Right now, before our end comes we have the opportunity to build the answer we will be asking ourselves for at the end.

What has happened – what did my life mean?

I want my answer to be, “I was so blessed; blessed with so many days of life; blessed with the knowledge that God loves me and has prepared a place for me, that I can say with Mary,

49 the Mighty One has done great things for me.

I want my answer to be that I was a faithful steward of God’s blessings throughout my life. I want to be able to say that my use of my money was reliable declaration of my values – which it always is.

This is stewardship season in which we examine our giving. We do not start by asking how much will be left over, how much we can spare. Rather, we begin by asking: what are my values? Where is my confidence? How will my pledge demonstrate those values?

How can I demonstrate that I am best defined, not as a consumer, but as a Christian – a disciple of Jesus Christ?

I believe that in spite of this recession, God is and will be with us. We will be able to stand here next January, and look back, and say, “What has happened.

49 the Mighty One has done great things for me.


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