We heard in the Gospel lesson that Mary, the Mother of God, was and shall be from generation to generation called “blessed.” She is hailed as “blessed” because she believed in the Word of God. The Word, which had been proclaimed throughout the ages, now was spoken to her directly by the angel Gabriel. He announced to her the fulfillment of the age old promise: that the Son of God would be born from her womb. Mary believed that word, and now all generations call her “blessed.”
Today, however, I want you to reflect upon the joy that filled Mary’s soul and caused her to sing, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” This joy is what every Christian possesses and to which Saint Paul referred when he said, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Every Christian possesses this joy because, like faith, Christian joy is a gift of God.
When Elizabeth declared, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” she pointed us to the source of Mary’s blessedness: her faith. Mary voiced her faith when she responded to Gabriel’s Good News, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” The content of that Good News is found in her majestic song, “He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation.” And, “He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His offspring forever.”
Faith in God’s mercy moved Mary to exult and sing, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Her joy was a fruit of the Holy Spirit who fills with joy everyone who trusts in the mercy of God. Elizabeth experienced the same joy when God took away her reproach by giving her a son named John. St. Paul wrote about the same joy in Romans 15 when he said, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Indeed, it was Abraham’s joy, too, as Jesus said of the Patriarch, “Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” Our faith is full of joy because God remembered His mercy that He spoke to the fathers and to Abraham and his offspring.
What was the mercy spoken to Abraham and his offspring? It is the promise of the Messiah who would redeem the world from sin and death. From the first Gospel promise made in Eden, and proclaimed through the prophets thereafter, God swore to send the Seed of the Woman who would crush Satan and destroy his evil power. John the Baptist was the final prophet to proclaim this promise. But now that promise is fulfilled as that holy Seed became incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. Jesus, the Word made flesh, came down from heaven in deepest humility to take the sins of the world to the cross. This was St. Paul’s message to the Philippian Christians when he wrote, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
St. Paul had promise of mercy in mind that when he wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” He wrote that joyful admonition to help the Philippians hold fast to the faith in the midst of the suffering and sorrow of this world. His word is for us, too: “Rejoice in the Lord always.”
Yet, if we are to rejoice always, we must repent always. This is essentially what Martin Luther wrote in the first of his 95 Theses, “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘Repent’, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of penitence.” The penitent sinner confesses that, far from being overjoyed in the Lord, he is overly annoyed with the Lord. The sinner’s hostile annoyance with God stems from our lack of true fear, love, and trust in Him. The penitent sinner recognizes his miserable condition that hungers for the mercy and righteousness of God. To such hungry souls God gives good things. The Scriptures declare, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” God forgives all who come to Him confessing their sins and seeking His mercy in Christ. God covers the unrighteous with the righteousness of Jesus. So St. Paul professed to the Philippians that he wanted to be found in Christ, “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”
For the sake of Christ, God forgives the humble and contrite sinner and raises him up to the heights of joy in His love. Therefore, says St. Paul to his beloved brethren, “stand firm in the Lord” and “Rejoice in the Lord.” Now joy is a fruit of faith; it is like blessedness because they both have at their root gladness in the Lord who delights in His people. But Paul says that a gentle, forbearing spirit is also the fruit of faith. This Christian “reasonableness” is that which he wrote about in chapter 2 when he said to have the attitude of Christ, and “Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world holding fast to the word of life...” The Word of Life, which first took hold of us in our baptisms, is our salvation and our strength.
Now we can let our “gentleness be known to all men” because “the Lord is at hand.” Our life of penitence, faith, joy, and gentleness comes from knowing that the Lord is near. Not only near in the sense that He will come again soon at a time when we might not expect Him, but also in the sense that He is near to us in His Word and Sacraments. One of the ways to let our gentleness be known is by drawing near to God in worship where we confess our sins, receive His forgiveness, and profess His Holy Name. This gentleness of faith is especially found at the Lord’s Table where God’s nearness comes right into our mouths in the Body and Blood of Christ. Here at the Altar of God our fears are dispelled in the forgiveness of Christ and we depart in His peace.
It is in this context that Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” The word that is translated “thanksgiving” is eucharist, which is another name for the Lord’s Supper. The connection to the Sacrament, if not direct, surely is implied. At the Lord’s Table, God draws near to us and we draw near to God. In His forgiveness, we may truly be anxious in nothing, as we give thanks to Him for His mercy, and depart in His peace. And clearly, by means of His Word and Sacraments, God would guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. For in these holy Gifts we find the source of our hope and joy in Christ, who is our Peace. In Him we say with Paul, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”