A sermon, based on Luke 4.14-21, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany, January 27, 2019
Often the fulfillment of a prophecy or promise involves a trail of events. As often, only when looking back can that trail be seen and known…
God sends the angel Gabriel to Nazareth to announce to Mary that through the intervention of the Holy Spirit, she will become Theotokos, God-bearer; the child to be named Jesus, meaning, “God saves.”(1)
Then, spurred by this amazing news, Mary visits her relative, Elizabeth; also pregnant, though differently amazingly, for she is older and had been barren. That child, hearing Mary’s voice, leaps in Elizabeth’s womb; thereby foreshadowing his coming ministry as John the baptizer, the herald of the Messiah.
Elizabeth, alert to the joyful movement of her child, pronounces Mary, “the mother of my Lord,” which confirms for Mary the angelic announcement about the identity of her child and, therefore, her role in God’s plan of salvation, leading Mary to proclaim,(2) “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!”, singing of God who will grant mercy to those who revere a higher power than human will, scatter the proud who trust in their own wisdom, lift up the lowly oppressed by worldly principalities, fill the hungry banished from the tables of the world’s banquet feast of plenty, send the selfish, callous rich away empty. In other words, God will rewrite, re-right the created order gone wrong in the hubristic hands of humanity.
Then in response to a decree of Emperor Augustus for a population census, Mary and Joseph journey to Bethlehem. There, Jesus is born. Shepherds come paying homage, telling a fantastical tale of the appearance of angels testifying to the birth of the Messiah. Mary treasures and ponders their words in her heart.(3)
Then, according to custom, Mary and Joseph present Jesus in the Temple. The elderly Simeon, clinging to a God-given promise that he will not die before he sees the Messiah, takes Jesus into his arms, praising God, “Lord, now your servant can depart in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation” and prophesies that Mary will suffer because of the life and death of her son.(4)
Doubtless, Mary shared this sanctified trail of stories with her son. Stories about her son. Even more, stories about God. About the power of God. About how God uses power to right all wrong. About how God will use her son.
Jesus, embracing the lessons his mother had embraced and the life, his life she had embodied in her womb, inaugurates his ministry. He enters his hometown synagogue and receives the scroll of Isaiah. No wonder, given his tutelage at his mother’s knee, that he searched for the passage that speaks of the role of God’s servant: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…anointing me to bring good news to the poor…to the captives…to the blind…(to) the oppressed…to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” of God’s liberation and restoration of all whom the world has mistreated and disregarded.
Jesus then interprets, explains the scripture: “Today, this prophecy, the promise in me, in my ministry of teaching and preaching, healing and reaching out to the least, the last, and the lost, is fulfilled.”
This is the epiphany, the revelation of God in Jesus. And we, his followers, in our time, are inheritors of his legacy. Mary’s sanctified trail of stories that became Jesus’ sanctified trail of stories is our story. Therefore, our ministry, as individuals and as a community, is to proclaim the good news, to do nothing less than right the wrongs of the world, for in us this scripture continues to be fulfilled.
(1) Luke 1.26-38
(2) Luke 1.46-55
(3) Luke 2.1-19
(4) Luke 2.22-35
The Annunciation (1892), Arthur Hacker (1858-1919)
The Embrace of Elizabeth and the Virgin Mary, an early Eastern Christian fresco of the Visitation, St. George Church, Kurbinovo, Macedonia
Adoration of the Shepherds (1609) Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610)
Simeon’s Song of Praise (1631), Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669). Note: Joseph and Mary are in the temple to dedicate their newborn baby Jesus to God, where the child is recognized by Simeon as the long-awaited Messiah. The old man takes him in his arms and bursts into a song of praise. The divine light that floods Simeon appears to be shining from the child himself.
Jesus Unrolls the Book in the Synagogue (1886-1894), James Tissot (1836-1902)