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Advent IV: The Humble Exalted

In today’s texts, Israel’s ruler comes from Bethlehem, a place too small to be listed among the clans of Judah. A teenage girl named Mary ushers God into the world. Jesus doesn’t bring thousands of bulls and goats to the altar to atone for the sin of the world; He just brings Himself. And the place where the Holy Spirit was moving in power and glory two thousand years ago was not the temple in Jerusalem but out in the hills at a baby shower for a barren woman and a virgin!

When Mary sings that God has scattered the proud and brought down the mighty while exalting those of humble estate, this is what she is talking about. God uses small, despised, forgotten things to upend big, proud, rich leaders and rulers. This is God’s special glory: showing His strength in your weakness by exalting those of humble estate.

The lectionary texts are all variations on this theme: Look to little Bethlehem, Micah says, that’s where this new shepherd-ruler will come from. And when wise men came from the ends of the earth to worship the newborn king, this is the verse that Herod’s scribes remembered. Proud Herod trembled and raged to hear it, but all the murderous might of Jerusalem couldn’t defeat the little baby from little Bethlehem.

Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55 transposes this same truth into the key of praise, leading us to magnify God and rejoice in what He does. Because God exalts the humble, He will not overlook you! Even if you are poor and lowly and weak, even though you don’t have much to offer God, God still has blessings for you. God’s blessings aren’t given on the basis of merit, but on the basis of mercy. God doesn’t help us because of who we are, but because of who He is: a merciful God who opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble.

Our passage from Hebrews is a little more indirect, but it still makes the same point. To deal with Israel’s sin, thousands of priests killed hundreds of thousands of animals and shed millions of gallons of blood every year. So if you told an Israelite that God was going to deal with sin once for all for the entire world, what do you think he would have expected? You would need an entire army of priests and all the animals in the world to deal with sin once and for all!

But when Jesus came, He didn’t bring thousands of animals to thousands of priests. God prepared a body for Him in Mary’s womb, and that’s all He needed to complete the work of sacrificial atonement forever. All it took was one man doing the will of God by offering his body to take away the sins of the world.

And now let’s talk about that baby shower. Satan had had huge success in corrupting the kings and priests in Jerusalem. But while he was focused on Israel’s stronghold, God was doing His great work in the hearts and wombs of two faithful, Spirit-filled moms. These women changed the world when they gave birth to the great prophet and to the Messiah, because they believed that God would fulfill His word. What the world sees as weak and humble, God uses to glorify Jesus and build His kingdom.

This is what God does: He takes the weak and the small and the humble, and exalts them and blesses them through faith in Jesus. And since that is the case, the application is to humble ourselves and believe that God will fulfill His promises.

And this is the ultimate way that God scatters the proud and exalts the humble: God’s blessings don’t come to the righteous; they come to the wretched. Salvation doesn’t come to the holy, it comes to the humble. We don’t bring righteousness and holiness to God in order to receive salvation as a reward for obeying the best or offering the most sacrifices. We come with repentance and in humility, receiving His blessings by faith alone, as a gift of His grace.

Because it is always and only God’s power that exalts the humble, there is no room for pride. There is no use for riches. All the power and might in the world cannot save us. In fact, we are barren, like Elizabeth, when it comes to righteousness. We are virgins, like Mary, when it comes to holiness.

But just like Mary and Elizabeth, God’s blessing comes to us when we receive Christ by faith as the gracious gift of God through His Holy Spirit. God looks on your humility, and blesses you by filling you with Christ. And so blessed are you who believe that Christ has fulfilled what the Lord has spoken.

Posted on Thursday, December 27, 2018 by CJ Bowen