Songs of the Season: Mary’s Song (Luke 1:39-56)

songs of the season email1. Blessing from being at the centre of God’s fresh activity

(a)John the Baptist points to Jesus even in the womb! (Gen 25:22-26; 2 Sam 6:9)

• Mary, Mother of God?
In Luke 1:43 Elizabeth greets the Virgin Mary as the "mother of my Lord." Theotokos literally means God-bearer or the one who gives birth to God, or simply Mother of God. It does not mean that Mary is the Mother of God from eternity, that is, the Mother of God the Father. It refers only to the birth of Jesus. God, of course, has neither origin nor source, and is therefore "without a mother."

Christians believe God the Son is begotten of God the Father "from all eternity", but is born "in time" of Mary. At the Incarnation, the Second Person of the Trinity took on human nature and this was being made possible through the cooperation of Mary. Therefore Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully human.

So calling Mary “the Mother of God” affirms the completeness of God’s incarnation. The Council of Ephesus decided on this in 431. There were those who wanted to call Mary, Christotokos ("the one who gives birth to Christ"). Such people claimed that Jesus was two distinct persons, the human who was Son of Mary, and the divine who was not. But this view, a heretical one, destroys the perfect union of the divine and human natures in Christ and prevents the salvation of humanity.

As Cyril of Alexandria wrote, "I am amazed that there are some who are entirely in doubt as to whether the holy Virgin should be called Theotokos or not. For if our Lord Jesus Christ is God, how is the holy Virgin who gave [Him] birth, not [Theotokos]?"

Theotokos ("the one who gives birth to God") reminds us that Jesus is one person who is both God and man, divine and human, and is therefore able to save the world. Thus the significance of Theotokos lies much more in what it tells us about Jesus than any declaration about Mary.

•  Mary, Queen of Heaven?
"Queen of Heaven" is a title given to the Virgin Mary by Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and Orthodox Churches. For them, is a consequence of Mary being proclaimed Mother of God. Mary is "Queen of Heaven" because her son, Jesus, is King of Israel and heavenly King. Mary is the Queen Mother!

A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth

There is no biblical warrant for thinking that these verse from Rev 12.1-5, refers to Mary. In fact, they speak of Israel or Judah. The Bible often refers to nations and tribes as female characters (Matt 2:18; Rev 17). Since Jesus is the Alpha and Omega (Rev 22:13) and through Him all things were created (Col 1:15-17), Mary cannot be considered the Queen of Heaven

There is also no biblical evidence for other things claimed by some about Mary, for example, her sinlessness, the circumstances surrounding her conception and birth, her continuing virginity following the birth of Jesus, her annunciation into heaven through angels, the gathering of apostles around the dying virgin Mary, the funeral procession, her empty tomb and, Mary in heaven

(b)God’s mercy to Mary is repeatable (1.50; Ps 103:2-6)

2. Amazement from being used by God in his fresh activity (v50)

(a) Humility is the response to blessing (Ex 4; Prov 1:7)

(b) God rescues the humble and brings down the proud (1.51-3; Deut 4:34; 1 Sam 2.5; Jer 17:11)

(c) God keeps his Word (1.54-55; Is 41:8-9)

3. Joy and some sorry for those who believe that God does what he says

(a) When God breaks in there is joy (1:46; 1 Sam 2:1)

(b) But joy tingled with sorry (Luke 2:34-35)

(c) “Humble Joy”
– in the Holy One (Psalm 111:9)
– in the Mighty One (Zeph 3:17)
– in the Saviour (Mic 7:7)

I asked God

Quite a few people asked to the text of a prayer/reflection we used last Sunday.  So here it is.

I asked God to take away my pride.
And God said “No”.
He said it was not for Him
to take it away,
but for me to give it up.

I asked God to make my child whole.
And God said “No”.
He said her spirit was whole,
her illness was only temporary.

I asked God to grant me patience.
And God said “No”.
He said patience is a by-product of tribulations.
It isn’t granted, it is earned.

I asked God to give me happiness. And God said “No”.
He said He gives me blessings, happiness is up to me.

I asked God to spare me pain.
And God said “No”.
He said suffering draws me apart from worldly cares
and brings me closer to Him.

I asked God to make my spirit grow.
And God said “No”.
He said I must grow on my own.
But He will prune me to make me fruitful.

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life.
And God said “No”.
He said He will give me life,
that I may enjoy all things.

I asked God to help me love others, as much as he loves me.
And God said
“Ah, finally you have the idea!”

Habakkuk: A Case Study

1. THE PROPHET’S JOURNEY

1. He got up early (1:2)
He determined to pray and to “take counsel with his God” before he prophesied to his community. He began to call out to the Lord about the state of the nation.

2. He began to take careful note (1:3)
He got involved. He observed first-hand awefulness of the nation. But God did not seem to be answering Habakkuk’s prayers; in fact, it seemed God wasn’t even listening to him. Greg Haslam says:

I think that in large quarters of the church today, there is a gnawing suspicion that God is not listening to us or our prayers for mercy and revival either. Far from being able to come up with the keys to success and the faith to turn this situation around, some leaders and churches seem to have given up on spiritual warfare altogether. They have resigned themselves to inevitable defeat and the triumph of evil.

Habakkuk was sinking deeper and deeper into doubt and fear, and two negative views become focussed in his mind:
(i) prayer seems pointless and
(ii) God seems powerless.

3. He started get passionate (1:3-4)
His first complaint is: "How long, 0 Lord?" He cannot keep bringing the burden of a nation to God in this way, with no answer at all from him." The second complaint is "Why?..." He needed answers!

But God had not forgotten him. The Lord did speak to Habakkuk. There came, in the end, an answer to the prophet’s longing for a word.  Hbakkuk was so shocked that God would use a godless people to punish his holy nation that he erupted immediately into his third complaint: "How could you?"

Habakkuk may have seriously complained, but he also listen carefully to God’s reply. Habakkuk was genuinely looking for divine help to strengthen his shaken faith.

The abiding value of the book of Habakkuk is that it presents a picture of a man who believes and yet questions." It is alright to question God. You may gain valuable insights from him that you would never have obtained in any other way.

To confront God directly in this way requires a good degree of spiritual maturity, insight and sensitivity. This is why we need to grow in the prophetic.

2. THE PROPHETIC TASK: WATCHING AND WAITING (Hab 2.1-4)

Watching and waiting are mandatory or anyone who wishes to be prophetic.

1. Watching needs faith to see something differently
Growing in the prophetic implies that you have faith that God will speak.

2. Watching is best done “higher up”
The primary calling of a prophet is to listen to God on behalf of others, and discover a higher divine perspective. So the prophet goes higher, standing on the ramparts above the clamour and cacophony of human voices. Prophetic people are more interested in what God has to say than they are about human guesswork, opinion or speculation.

3. Watching can be a solitary task
Prophetic listening is a private and intimate activity of solitude and silence. He is a God who speaks, and a God who surprises us.

Haslam, again,

Sometimes we are taken by surprise as a word from God arrives in our hearts. Prophetic people acquire the habit of always listening, always watching, keeping a detachment in their hearts whatever they are about, because God doesn’t always wait for the silence. Yet sometimes finding a place of silence and solitude is part of the preparation of our hearts. Just as God called Abraham his friend into the desert, Moses his prophet and Jesus his Son, so he calls us into wilderness silence and solitude, to wait, watch and listen for his revelation. Moving in the prophetic was never about instant fixes; it takes time, and it takes self-discipline. (My emphasis)

4. Watching means waiting
Habakkuk waited.  Prophetic people must have the self-discipline to wait. We need to wait for the moment when God is ready to speak. God does nothing in a hurry. Daniel waited three full weeks before his answer came (Daniel 10). Jeremiah was put in a vaulted cell where he "remained a long time", before the word for King Zedekiah came to him (Jeremiah 37:16).

5. Watching and waiting is a very responsible task
The prophet, along with my God, is the watchman over Ephraim" (Hosea 9:8).

Prophetic people carry responsibility for the wellbeing, comfort and safety of many others. The watchman’s task is to be alert to spiritual reality – to look out for danger and deception as well as for God’s voice. Every congregation needs watchmen whose eyes and ears remain open, who can read the signs of the times and also listen to Word of God.

6. Watching and waiting require obedience 
A prophet’s word must be trustworthy and honest; we have to know we can rely on prophetic people to see truly and report faithfully. When God speaks, the prophet’s task is to convey accurately what God said, resisting the temptation “to edit it, modify it, add to it, soften it, distort it or simply remain silent”.

3. THE PROPHETIC VOICE

1. Prophecy means seeing and sharing vision from God
God has access to our imagination.  We have to learn to trust God, and open our visionary capacity to receive the Holy Spirit’s perspective upon how things can and should be. .

2. Prophecy needs to be written down
This preserves the details so that they are not forgotten or mislaid somewhere on the long journey from reception to fulfilment. It also prevents distortion in the retelling from one person to another. Recording prophecy helps us to build our faith because of what God has said to us over many years..

Prophecy should be so clear that he who runs may read it, and so memorable that he who reads may run with it.

3. Prophecy has a deadline
There may be only partial fulfilment, with much more still to come. One preacher expressed our frequent frustration in waiting for God like this: "The problem is, I’m in a hurry … and God is not!"

4. Prophecy requires faith from the hearer too
Prophecy requires both faith to receive it, and obedience to act on it. It drives us into action.

a) Faithfulness:True faith means perseverance in believing what God has said. God is looking for faithful people.

b) Life: Prophecy helps to keep the church faithful. Prophecy helps to keep the church alive. That’s why it’s worth all the watching and the waiting, and that’s why we need the prophetic.

When God is Silent!

silent1. People are silent when:

  1. They are angry or upset
  2. They disagree with something we have said or done
  3. They are taking time to think before responding
  4. They feel it would be inappropriate to laugh, or cry!

 

2. God is silent when:

  1. He is not ready to speak
  2. He is testing
  3. He has already spoken
  4. He wants me to make an important step first
  5. He knows I’m not listening
  6. I forget what He has said
  7. Something is hindering my ability to listen to him 

3. Yet he still speaks!

  1. In nature (Ps. 19:1-3)
  2. In Bible (2 Tim. 3:16; Ps. 119:105)
  3. By Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8)
  4. Through miracles (John 20:31; Heb. 2:3-4)
  5. Through circumstances (Rom 8:28)
  6. In Jesus (John 1:14; Heb. 1:1-2)

4. How to live when God Is silent! David: A case study 
Times of isolation are hard on people because God created people for relationship. Separation from God causes an uneasy sense of alienation. This sense of "lostness" makes us unsure and takes away confidence. As a result, we try and second guess God in everything and begin feeling bad when things don’t then work out.

David experienced a time when God seemed silent. God had told Samuel to anoint David as the king of Israel. Yet fort he next thirteen years,  Saul continued to be king and, during much of that time, Saul was actively trying to kill his divinely appointed successor.

David’s world fraught with danger and, at times, he felt that God didn’t even hear his prayers. He wandered in the wilderness, driven from his home and unable to worship God in the tabernacle. He expressed his feeling at this time in many of the psalms including Psalms 42 and 43.

If we just focus on our current circumstances, we can miss what God is saying. We may get our eyes set on things instead of looking to the promises of God. Our circumstances can blind us to the reality of God at work in the midst of our circumstances.

A better response is suggested by the hymn writer who wrote,

"When darkness hides His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
my anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
all other ground is sinking sand."

We can identify with David when he said:

"I say to God my Rock, "Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?" (Ps 42:9). 

So, David remembered his anointing and waited his time. Three times in these two Psalms he rebuked himself:

"Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God." (Ps. 42:5, 11; 43:5).

David remembered the previous days he had enjoyed in communion with God.

"My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God." (Ps. 84:2).

This enabled him to reject the critics who taunted him with the continual question, "Where is your God?" (Ps. 42:3).  David took the certainty of what he knew and that enabled him to encourage himself (Ps. 42:5, 11; 43:5).  As a result, he never gave up seeking God. Despite the circumstances, he affirmed:

"As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  When can I go and meet with God?” (Ps. 42:1-2).

Practically then during these times, we should:

  1. Follow the last command
  2. Rely on a clear and accurate memory

You choose (Joshua 24)

I will not have time to cover the “Is The Matrix A Christian Film?” issue at our baptismal service today.  I showed the first two or three minutes of the film to illustrate the point that we all face the choice between freedom and slavery.  Of whether we live in a “world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth”, or one in which “I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it”.

It’s a gripping moment.  But I need to be careful here for those who know the film well. The world of The Matrix is in the power of an evil force – true. It devours humans, while keeping them distracted with material pleasures – true. And a small band of brave humans know the truth, and seek to free the race from destruction – true.

On the other hand, there are many syncretistic themes:

1.  Neo, "the One," is clearly depicted as a type of saviour, who dies and rises from the dead. Morpheus, is a kind of John the Baptist; a woman is called Trinity; and the camp of freed humans is Zion.  But in the film, salvation means the absolute opposite what it does in traditional Christianity.  For Morpheus, reality is ‘all in your mind’ and this illusion of reality is much closer to Buddhism. Faced with the problem of the world as being an illusion, Nero’s role is much more like that of the Buddha, who is given extraordinary powers to help humanity become enlightened.

2. The Christian view of salvation, as we have seen in the story of Joshua, depends solely on the grace of God. Within the Matrix, those people controlled by the machines have no guilt from which they need to be saved. Their slavery is no fault of theirs. They are therefore unwitting victims of the aggressor computers. Christians believe that salvation is necessary because of real individual guilt caused by sin which prevents us from knowing God. In fact, humans are indeed culpable for their sin!

3. Neo’s death and resurrection are simply not the same as Christ’s death and resurrection. Neo does not die for other humans. He dies only for himself. Neo did not die for the sins of others. His death accomplished nothing for the other people trapped in the Matrix. Neo can only be their example not their saviour.

It may look, at the end of the film, as if Neo evades death, but his "resurrection" is not into a world where death has been overcome by a miraculous divine love, rather, he has been saved by an earthly intervention – a sort of tender CPR – quite within the bounds of physics and chemistry.

And of course, Neo "died" in the artificial world of the Matrix and so he had not died in reality. Christ’s death was for real!

You get the picture!  The Matrix is a cracking film – one of my favourites.  But like most stories, it needs to be treated with care. o think about these issues in more depth, try the essays hidden deep in the Warner Brother site.

Actually, in my view, The Matrix gets things completely upside down!  In The Matrix, normality is seen as a deceptive lie, generated by evil forces. Real reality, the way Neo and the others discover it, is ugly, dirty, and grey. Therefore, Neo and the others must resist the desire to return to the “illusory world of flowers, birdsong, and sizzling steaks. Courageous humans instead must remain resolutely in their muddy realm, wearing their dingy clothes”.

Christians don’t believe that this whole world is deceptive illusion (maya). We believe that it was created good — very good — and filled with the presence of God. "The heavens are telling the glory of God" (Ps 19:1). All creation reveals his presence.

In fact, and this is the point of my sermon, the closer you draw to God, the more the beauty of reality unfolds. The Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards said:

God’s excellency, his wisdom, his purity and love, seemed to appear in everything; in the sun, moon, and stars, in the clouds and blue sky; in the grass, flowers, trees, in the water, and all nature."

Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote

"The world is charged with the grandeur of God; it will flame out like shining from shook foil."

And the Quaker founder George Fox found that, after his conversion, the world smelt different!

The grey world that The Matrix presents as "real" is actually a phony one. "Facing reality" does mean facing grim and unpleasant truths. Our world is not like it is to distract us us from uglier truths, but to awaken in us a desire to know and serve for the one who himself is Truth. But the goal isn’t to live in an ugly world, but see the Kingdom of God break into our present one.  Commitment to Christ is the foundation stone to see world differently.

Commitment is sensible.  It make sense (Jos 24.14a, Rom 12.1-2)

Commitment is exclusive. If the choice is not for God it is between the competing non-gods of this world.  To choose them is be choose to be stupid! (Jos 24.15) 

Commitment is cautious.  We cannot serve God in our own strength. It has to be by his grace and power!  (Luke 14:25-33) 

Cell outline

1. Look back over Joshua 24:1-13. What is the value of recalling history? How could your story be used to have the same impact?

2. What choice or challenge did Joshua put before the people in v 14-15? What choice had Joshua himself made? Why do you think he only gives them two choices?

3. What can we learn here about our power of choice? Is there freewill in choosing Jesus as saviour or does God choose us? What other passages other passages can you think of which confirm this? ( Hints: Genesis 2:16,17; 3:1-7; 1 Corinthians 10:13; Hebrews 4:15; 11:25; 1 Kings 18:21; Psalm 119:30).

4. What can we learn here about parents’ responsibilities in leading their families? (Hints: Proverbs 22:6; Ephesians 6:4; Titus 2:4; Genesis 18:19). How do your family’s commitment to the Lord impact on your other relationships?

5. Why did the people make the choice they did?

6. What does Joshua warn Israel will happen if they fail to worship the Lord?

Going Deeper

1. How do you demonstrate commitment? Why has commitment to a cause become more difficult in the 21st century?

2. Is a commitment to Christ the same as behaving Christianly? How would you differentiate between them?

3. What lesson do you learn from this passage regarding your own household?

4. What will you remember from the whole of this series from Joshua? Are you now more or less like to agree with John Bright that “You simply cannot preach from this book, and you ought not to teach it to children. Shield our gentle ears from violence such as this!”

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