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Changing our Status through Christ

Luke 1 vs 46-55 and Galatians 4 vs 4-7

 

A sermon preached by Canon Simon Everett

on Sunday, 12th August 2018

at Lady St Mary Church, Wareham

 

My soul doth magnify the Lord,

and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

For he hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden.’

- The opening words of the Magnificat, as sung in the BCP Evensong.  Sometimes called the song of Mary, they are the words spoken or sung by Mary as she meets her relative, Elizabeth.  It is a psalm of praise, full of OT imagery, said in response to Elizabeth’s words of blessing on Mary and the Christ child that she carries.

They are words of humility before an Almighty God who is both merciful and just, who brings down the mighty and proud but lifts up the humble and weak.  It is no wonder that they have found such a prominent place in the hearts of the ordinary people of our Land, and in the churches and cathedrals of the world.  They stand as a reminder to the rich that if they get too full of their own importance they will be brought down a peg or two (or three!) and to the poor and dispossessed it is a reassurance that their plight is known to God.  Wonderful words indeed.

But what struck me as I read them, and then the short reading from St Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, is the contrast between the two.  Even though Mary’s song comes as part of the Gospel of Luke, part of the NT, you could argue that it should really be found in the OT – For although the Christ child developing in her womb will bring about the New Covenant, it is the old Covenant that holds sway at the time of this utterance.  As Paul says, Jesus was born ‘under the law, to redeem those under the law.’(v4,5)

And this shows in the way that Mary addresses God as her Lord and Saviour and herself as a servant.  Contrast this with Paul who stresses to the Galatians that they are no longer slaves (same root as the one Mary uses) but sons (and daughters) and therefore heirs, and more than this they are to call God, Abba, (an intimate term for father, that younger members of a family would use (it has the affection of our word daddy, but with more gravitas!))

Paul makes it quite clear to the recipients of his letter, ‘…you are no longer slaves, but children, and if you are children of God, then you are heirs’. (v7)  Isn’t that wonderful to think that we who believe are heirs of God.  But what exactly does that mean?  You have to read on into chapter 5 if you want to know that, but in short, it means that in the power of the Holy Spirit we have the means to become the people we were always meant to be – sons and daughters of God.  It means we have been set free from the prescriptive law that inhibits freedom of spirit.  In Christ we have the freedom to live lives that are pleasing to God because we have the Holy Spirit as our guide and inspiration.

Taking a step back Paul explains how this change of status came about in verse 4 ‘… when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.’  In order for the slaves of the first century to be set free a payment was required, and it was on the cross Christ paid the price to redeem us from the slavery of sin.  Christ the only perfect human being ever to live, took our sin that we might go free.  And more than that he continues, ‘Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts…’ in short this means that Christ became what we are in order that through his death and resurrection, we might become what he is.

I find that mind-boggling.

So we are no longer slaves but children of God.  Mary sees herself as a slave, Paul as a son and heir – it is a marked difference.  Mary addresses God as her Lord, - as a servant would address her master, Paul addresses God as Abba, Father.  This is the difference Mary’s son, the Christ child, brought about.

I suppose in some way you could equate it to the changes we have seen in the royal family in recent years.  Until fairly recently there was a rather stiff and starchy feel to relations within the family, the Queen would always be referred to as Her Majesty, even by her own children.  But then more recently we heard Prince Charles call his mother, mummy, even if it was rather mischievously, with an embarrassed chuckle.   It was a similar change that was brought about by Jesus, who has paved the way for us into the Father’s presence, so that we are no longer kept at a distance, but now we can enjoy the closer presence of God our and address him more intimately as Abba, Father.

However, we still have a fine line to tread – just as I am sure Prince Charles does too.  Just because he called the Queen Mummy, I don’t think it means he can take liberties with her Majesty! And it is the same for us with God. Yes we can draw near to him and call him Abba, and enjoy a Father’s love, but that does not mean that we can exploit or take advantage of God in improper ways.  God is God, and we forget that at our peril, but by the grace of Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, we have access to his love and freedom to become more Christ-like.

We cannot just barge our way into God’s presence and get all pally with him, but neither should we be like the obsequious Uriah Heep, too ‘umble to draw near.  The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says “Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.’ Hebrews 4:16)  And one commentator says, ‘Prayer is our approach to God, and we are to come “with confidence”.  Some Christians approach God meekly with heads hung low, afraid to ask him to meet their needs.  Others pray flippantly, giving little thought to what they say.  Come with reverence because he is your King.  But also come with bold assurance because he is your friend and counsellor.’

So there is a difference in the way Mary and Paul address God and see themselves in his standing, but one thing they both have in common, both know the greatness of God and that He had done great things for them.  They knew that God would be close to them, even in them.

In certain parts of the Church, most commonly in the Orthodox Church Mary has a title “Theotokos” .  It is a Greek word that was used by the early Church Fathers and eventually became a title.  It means, the one who carries God or God-bearer.  This has led many to give devotion to Mary, but this misses the point.  As the late Bishop Michael Perham says, ‘The insight of Mary as theotokos is worth holding on to because, at the very heart of faith, she is not the one who matters.  She is simply a vessel for the divine, the means by which God came uniquely among a people in a way that has changed everything.’

Mary is simply a model for all Christians.  Christ’s glory fills the universe, but he is not seen on earth as he was in the days of his incarnation.  His glory fills the universe, but he is hidden among his people; hidden, not in their wombs, but in their hearts and minds and bodies, and wherever they go they carry Christ into the dark, hurting places of the world.  In other words, for all the uniqueness of Mary as theotokos, every Christian is also called to be a god-bearer.  Which is exactly what Paul is saying when he says, ‘God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts.

And so our challenge is, to carry Christ into every place and every circumstance where his love and compassion and life are longed for.”

Let’s go to it.  Amen.


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