Bursting with God-news (Luke 1)

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“And Mary said, I’m bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior God. God took one good look at me, and look what happened— I’m the most fortunate woman on earth! What God has done for me will never be forgotten, the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others. His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before him. He bared his arm and showed his strength, scattered the bluffing braggarts. He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold. He embraced his chosen child, Israel; he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high. It’s exactly what he promised, beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

 (Luke 1: MSG)

What is the “God-news” with which Mary bursts?

It’s the astonishing claim of a fatherless pregancy; the radical assertion that God has initiated something new and unheard-of.

Well, not quite unheard-of. Seven centuries have passed since Isaiah prophesied that “a virgin wll conceive “(Isaiah 7:14).  He understood it as a sign against Israel’s enemies. that God would step in to sort out an impossible situation. The name “Emmanuel” with which the new baby is to be designated, means “God steps in ” (more or less).

And Mary takes all this from her own perspective: “I’m the most fortunate woman on earth! What God has done for me will never be forgotten, the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.” There’s nothing here of the fear of what others might say. That’s an aspect upon which the Bible hardly reflects at all, expect for the calm  aside in Matthew 1:19: “Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”

Now, the traditional view is that Matthew’s gospel reflects Joseph’s perspective, and Luke’s gospel adopts that of Mary. And there’s a massive difference! The former speaks in hushed tones of an unscheduled pregnancy; the latter in a ringing exclamation, -“bursting with God-news“!- that God is on the move, even as the baby stirs within her.

And what is the content of the “God-news”? Mary lines it up with precision. It is grace to her, mercy to her people and justice to her world. This is the fruit which will develop from the tiny implanted seed within her.

God’s grace is shown in her choice. He has chosen her, of course, but equally, she has chosen Him. The angel announced God’s choice: “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you,”  but she responded with obedience and trust. “Let it be to me according to your word.”

And (as it is with us), through obedience and trust, God is enabled to exhibit mercy to her people. The gift of mercy implies this is undeserved. Their long years of disobedience have made it so. But the gift has to be received, and opened. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God –  children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1)

Surely “His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before him.”

But even in the grace of choice, and in the flowing of mercy, there is another side. There are those who do not “recieve” the God-news. They are the ones, no doubt, for whom Joseph thought he ought to “divorce her quietly.” They stand against it. They could understand a king like Caesar (or even Herod) but not a king like Jesus.

And right from the first, from this prophecy emerging from Mary’s pregnancy, there is a narrative of “us” and “them.” “We” are those who have believed and have acknowledged what God is doing here, surprising as it may seem. For when is God not surprising? And “They” are those who do not recieve it. “They” have an anti-God agenda, even if it only looks like “looking after number one” or being “substantial citizens” of “solid reputation” with “a proper pride.”

So this difference between the two begins to look like an economic difference, and some have read it so, as a split between the haves and the have-nots, but it is a little more than that. Charles Wesley summed it up as “The humble poor believe.” You don’t have to be materially poor to receive this, but,as Jesus said “Oh how hard it is for the rich to enter…”!  It’s so complicated when you get wrapped up in all the stuff you are lugging around. My advice to you, he said to the rich young ruler, is to “sell all that you have, give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven.” “And he went away sorrowful, for he had much wealth.” The sheer size of your bank account is not what’s at issue: it’s the confidence you put in it. If it makes you secure and self-assured, then Mary’s song is for you.”He bared his arm and showed his strength, scattered the bluffing braggarts. He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold.”

It’s not that you’re rich, exactly; it’s that you can so easily become callous. And it’s not that you’re poor, exactly; it’s that your lack of material resources readies you to be  humble and believing.

And all this?  “It’s exactly what he promised, beginning with Abraham and right up to now.” What did He promise? Genesis 12 starts thus: “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (verses 2-3).

This promise had multiple components, including the promise of multiple descendants, fame, divine protection and that Abraham through his descendants would be a blessing to all people. Abraham’s son, Isaac, and grandson, Jacob, were “heirs with him of the same promise” (Hebrews 11:9).

But the bottomline is that God’s choice and grace create opportunities for blessing”all the families of the earth.”  The possibilties are limitless.

We are summoned, like Mary, to recieve the God-news and to let our hearts burst with the joy and wonder of it; we are called like Abraham to leave the old ways to which we’ve become accustomed it, and to set out in response to the speaking voice of God.

And God is poised to bless.

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