mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior,
Jesus Christ. Amen.
can be awe-inspiring—intimidating, even—to be in the presence of
greatness. Time and time again, you’ve probably heard stories
of people who had the opportunity to meet someone famous or powerful
or wealthy, and they found themselves in such a state of shock or fear
that they were unable to speak.
heard it said frequently that people experience this sort of awe when
visiting the White House, regardless of which President occupies the
office at the time, and irrespective of whether or not the individual
agrees or disagrees with that President on matters of government policy.
same thing happens sometimes around people like Warren Buffet or Bill
Gates, or around Hollywood personalities, or famous musicians.
Even though these celebrities are human beings just like us, people
can get a little bit star-struck. Even though all these people
have accomplished is fleeting and will fade away in the sands of time,
we realize that there’s something unique and special about their lives
and their work.
night, a restaurant where we were eating dinner had one of their televisions
tuned to a Little League game on one of the ESPN channels. It
was a regional final game that would determine which of the two young
teams would continue on to the Little League World Series. I found
it interesting because exactly 40 years ago this summer, my Little League
team won the state championship, then the sectionals, and then got to
the same regional final level as the teams that were playing on TV this
past Friday night.
my team fell one game short of going to the Little League World Series,
but it was a great experience even so. I still communicate occasionally
with some of my teammates from that summer, either by email or on Facebook.
One of the great memories I still have of that time is something that
happened a few weeks after we’d gotten clobbered and eliminated from
the tournament. You see, every year in the late summer, the Detroit
Tigers would hold “Champions Day” at the old Tiger Stadium.
They’d invite teams from all over Michigan and northwest Ohio who
had won various championships to come to a game for free. The
Tigers would announce the teams’ names over the public address system
at the ballpark—Little League, Pony League, high school teams, Connie
Mack league, American Legion, college teams, and so on. It was
a fun and glorious day, walking through the tunnel of the stands and
seeing that emerald-green grass on the field.
made that day extra-special for our team was getting to do something
that none of the other teams did. You see, my dad had a few friends
in the Tiger organization. In later years, he even did a little
part-time scouting for them. What he did that day, however, left
me speechless—literally. He told our coaches to bring our team
of 12-year-olds down to the concourse outside the Visitor’s locker
room. Now, the visiting team that day was the old Washington Senators.
We didn’t know why we should be waiting outside the Senators’ clubhouse.
We knew the names of some of the Washington players, but we were all
Tiger fans and would’ve preferred to see Tiger players, not someone
from the Senators.
few minutes later, though, a tall, powerful man with a leathery tan
and the largest hands I’d ever seen emerged from the door wearing
a Senators uniform. He had lots of gray hair among his brown locks,
so he was obviously too old to be a player. Who was this?
He had to be the manager or a coach.
wasn’t until he spoke with a loud baritone voice that we started to
put two and two together. The larger-than-life character who loomed
over us was none other than Ted Williams, perhaps the greatest overall
hitter there has ever been in baseball. What started with curiosity
for us, and had moved through doubt and skepticism, soon gave way to
intense wonder. Ted Williams is the last man to hit .400 in major
league baseball, an incredibly difficult feat. He still rank near
the top in many hitting categories, despite missing several seasons
of his career while he served as a combat fighter pilot in World War
II and again during the Korean War. When he asked us a few questions
about baseball and our team, most of us could only stammer unintelligible
answers or just stand there and nod with our mouths wide open.
Such is the awe that comes when being in the presence of the great and
we sometimes have such reactions when we come face-to-face with other
human beings—fallen sinners like we are, in spite of what they might
have accomplished in this life—how much more should we stand in awe
in the presence of Him who has created and governs all things?
The fact is, though, that Christians and unbelievers alike have a variety
of reactions to being in the presence of almighty God—and not all
of these reactions are appropriate or healthy.
these reactions are dependent upon how God manifests Himself to us.
When God comes revealing a great deal of His power and glory, people
are rightly intimidated. Our human reactions also will be governed
by how self-aware we are—how honest we are about who and what we are.
When we are fully aware of our sinfulness, our weakness, our complete
dependence upon God—for creation, for life, and for sustaining it—then
we also can feel insignificant and fearful.
these two factors come upon us together, it can be truly frightening.
For some, this fear triggers a false bravado in which they can become
belligerent with God. Witness, however, the reactions of Adam
in the garden after the Fall; of Moses on the mountain with the burning
bush; of the people of Israel when God revealed His power in the cloud
on the mountain; of Isaiah when he had seen the Lord on His throne in
the temple; of the mob and the soldiers when they sought to arrest Jesus
in Gethsemane, and He revealed to them that He was the great “I AM.”
reactions are right and true for those confronted by the Lord in a state
of sin. We, too, should be fearful and hide, remove our sandals,
cry: “Woe is me; I am lost!” and draw back in fear and fall
to the ground. A world that doesn’t believe in any god at all
has no such reaction, for it doesn’t recognize the Lord as holy and
among world religions, there are those who view their gods as being
little more than creative spiritual forces to be respected but not feared,
and certainly not as omnipotent and just rulers. Others wishfully
imagine gods who are so benevolent and full of love that no accountability
exists for either what they do or what they believe.
among many Christians, there has been a decline in the sense of awe
and high regard in which God is held. Instead of giving honor
and praise and glory to Him to our utmost, too often we offer Him our
moldy leftovers instead of our first-fruits. We scratch out a
little time for Him occasionally instead of making Him the focus of
our lives. We give Him a half-hearted effort instead of devoting
the fullness of our talents and energies to His kingdom.
was overcome with awe and fear at the sight of God in His dwelling place.
The revelation of God’s holy presence in His house was cause for alarm,
until the Lord’s caused Isaiah’s sin to be taken away. It
should be the same for us, but it’s much harder for us to experience
that same sense of awe and fear because we don’t perceive God’s
presence and God’s work in the same vivid way Isaiah did. For
this reason, our prayers and our praise don’t seem to inspire or motivate
us to the degree some wish to experience. Feeling their faith
is inadequate, they embark on an endless journey for a deeper, more
genuine spirituality. But this really only satisfies their minds
and their flesh, and does so only with empty and shallow things.
that with the prayer and praise offered by Mary, the Mother of our Lord,
who we commemorate on this feast day. Yes, the role of Mary in
the plan of salvation has been much abused and taken to extremes in
both directions within the Christian Church. It runs the gamut
from virtual cult-like devotion and a deification of her as co-Redeemer
and grantor of grace at one end of the spectrum, to shrieking and panicked
search for escape at the mere mention of her name at the other.
be clear, however: True Christians worship the triune God alone,
revealed to us through the Scriptures in the person of Jesus Christ,
the Word made flesh. We give no such worship or dignity to any
fellow creature or thing of creation. Yet to ignore the role of
Mary in God’s plan is to do violence to the Word of God. We
can no more throw Mary out of the Bible and ignore her than we can get
rid of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, John the Baptist, Peter, or
lives and actions of each and every one of these, and more, are recorded
for us in the inspired Word of God so that we might come to saving faith
in Him who is the offspring of Mary and God Himself—the Babe of Bethlehem,
the Prophet from Nazareth, the Crucified of Calvary, the first-born
of the grave who now sits at the right hand of His heavenly Father.
can sit here today in our post-modern skepticism and say: “Well,
yes, of course it was easy for Mary to be confident in her faith, and
to praise God for her pregnancy and for the blessings He had revealed
would come to her and to the world through her child. After all,
she was spoken to directly by God through His messenger Gabriel.
She had tangible physical contact with God by bearing His body within
did that make it easy for Mary? Living in a culture in which mothers
who conceived children out-of-wedlock often had their pregnancies as
well as their own lives terminated by a harsh barrage of rocks?
Not having fatherless motherhood celebrated as it is in our day?
Not having public support and even governmental approval to conveniently
duck accountability for an inconvenient child? I think not.
wasn’t Mary’s amazement at the angel’s appearance, or her wonder
at the miracle of her conception that gave Mary faith or led her to
that song of faithful praise we call the Magnificat. As
we see throughout Scripture, miracles don’t universally create faith.
The Sinai desert was littered with the bodies of millions of Israelites
who had witnessed the plagues in Egypt and had seen the Red Sea part
before them. The same generation that saw Mary’s Son heal the
blind, the lame, the deaf, and the demon-possessed didn’t raise a
hand to save Him.
miracles don’t generate faith, because faith itself is a miracle;
a wondrous and powerful blessing of God that comes to those on whom
He would bestow it. It comes only through the Holy Spirit working
through the Word to move hearts—first to fear, then to trust, and
finally to love God above all things.
what we see in the account of Mary: First the messenger has to
acknowledge and confront her fear; then she is given God’s trustworthy
promises, and finally in the words of the Magnificat we see her
express her love for God in praise and thanksgiving. Mary’s
song is the church’s song, and if it is the Church’s song then it
is your song—precisely because Mary’s story, is the Church’s
story, is your story: that God will come to dwell with you, His
people. That within you, the Lord will miraculously come to life
and through you He will accomplish great things—in your life and in
the lives of all who are confronted by the reality of His presence.
Mary’s experience with God is unique, and special, and perhaps seems
more “real” than what we might experience in our relationship with
God. For some, that makes Mary worthy of excessive devotion and
can even infringe upon the worship we owe her Son alone. For others,
Mary’s unique experience, like many other wondrous experiences recorded
in the Bible, becomes an obstacle to their faith. They feel something
is lacking in their faith or in God’s gifts. If they don’t
see miracles; if their heart doesn’t burn within them; if they don’t
give or receive healing; if they can’t speak in tongues—if they
just don’t see God revealed in some special way; if they don’t
feel special in some unique way, their faith isn’t right or
God is revealed to you in special ways—we just sometimes
forget that what we humans think is special means “spectacular”
or “impressive” rather than God’s way, which can be “simple”
and “effective” and “necessary”.
are no less receiving God’s Word from His messenger when you hear
the preaching of His Word than did Mary when the angel spoke to her.
You—no less than Mary—have the Holy Spirit come upon you and overwhelm
you when you are drowned in the waters of the font. You—no less
than Mary—have the very body of the Son of God entering and dwelling
in your flesh when you receive His body and blood from His altar.
was God’s chosen vessel to carry His Incarnate Word to birth and to
nurture and care for Him as a child. You, as a member of the one,
holy, and apostolic Christian Church—the body of Christ—are likewise
part of His chosen vessel to convey that same holy, life-giving Word
to a world that desperately needs His nurture, His care, His forgiveness
mercy extends to you and to all those who fear Him, in this and all
generations. The Mighty One has done great things for you.
Glorify your Lord, and rejoice in God your Savior. Holy is His
name, Jesus—son of Mary; Son of God. Amen.