Nothing Surprises Me Anymore
The whole Bible can be printed in the space of a period. We've went from kilobytes, to megabytes, to gigabytes, to terabytes, and beyond in data storage. For example, consider that the moon shot used 4 kilobytes of memory (https://www.metroweekly.com/2014/07/to-the-moon-and-back-on-4kb-of-memory/) and the minimum a computer today uses is 4 million times that. And sure you've heard of seconds, milliseconds, microseconds, and nanoseconds, but now were into picoseconds, a second divided a trillion times, and femtoseconds where one second is divided a quadrillion times. So, nothing surprises me anymore. I'm the kid who has seen all his presents ahead of time.
Nothing surprises me, not the minuteness of the Lord. When Mary visits Elizabeth, Baby Jesus is no more than 7 days old (Buls, ILCW Gospel Texts, C, Festival, 9). Jesus is smaller than a grain of salt. The wisest man in the world says, "'But will God really dwell on earth with men? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you'" (2 Chron. 6:18). And Yahweh, Jesus before taking on flesh and blood says, "Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool. Where is the house you will build for Me? Where will My resting place be? Has not My hand made all these things, and so they came into being?'" (Is. 66:1-2). He whom the heavens cannot contain is in a human womb. Him who has the whole cosmos in His hands is tinier than a grain of salt in your hand. Not surprised at how small, how minute, your Lord becomes for you? Think smaller still.
Jesus being conceived by the Holy Ghost in the Virgin Mary is part of His humiliation. This is the State where though Jesus has all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Col. 2:9), He doesn't fully use His divine powers as a Man. He doesn't so that He may keep the Law in place of fallen humanity not using any of divine powers to do so, and so that He may fully suffer in place of mankind as a man which would be impossible if He used His divine powers fully. But understand this, Jesus humiliation is not that He took on flesh and blood but the way He did so. God could've taken on flesh and blood any number of ways. He didn't have to go through gestation, labor, and delivery. He could have popped into the world 3 months old, 3 days old, 3 years old, or 30 years old. But if He had, any person below the age He came would be unredeemed. And the sufferings and trauma of pregnancy and birth would be unredeemed too.
We express that the humiliation is not the incarnation by not bowing at the words of the Nicene Creed "who for us men and our salvation came down from heaven" but beginning our bow, if we choose to worship in this way, at the next phrase "And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary." And Elder pointed out years ago that the fact God the Son came down for our salvation was not part of the humiliation but expresses God so loving the world that He sent His only begotten Son into it.
Nothing surprises me; I should modify this. Truth be told, I'm surprised by the crowds streaming into the Moesch on Lamar every Friday afternoon. I'm surprised that Google, Netflix, and Amazon know more about me than most people do. But the things of Christianity; the things that have to do with us men and our salvation? No surprise there. Neither the minuteness of God nor the magnificence of the Lord surprise me. Not Mary she magnifies the Lord. Not in the modern sense of "make something larger than it is" but in the archaic sense of the Latin it comes from: "extol, glorify." As David says in Psalm 34, "O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together". What for? For giving life where it is impossible to be. Mary and Elizabeth represent God's gift of life where it's humanly impossible to be. In a married woman who along with her husband is well past childbearing and in an woman who has never known a man. These are pictures of life for people like us who are dead in our trespasses and sins.
Twice Scripture says Abraham -also long past childbearing considered something's deadness. In Romans it's his own dead body and the deadness of Sara's womb. In Hebrews it's the deadness of Isaac once he does what God commands and offers him as a sacrifice. Hebrews says he concludes that God could even raise the dead. You are to look at the 2 women in our text, and consider, conclude, contemplate that if God can give life here, there is no place in your deadness that He is can't give life. Nothing in your life, about your life, about you, about others around you that screams "impossible" makes it impossible for the grace of God, the mercy of God, the love of God in Christ to give life. You may be Zechariah going home from his temple service not believing it is possible for he and his wife to conceive or you may be the Virgin Mary who believes it will be done to her as the angel told her, either way God's power is not limited by unbelief or magnified, in the modern sense, by belief.
See how Mary goes from the Lord graciously doing great things for her to what He does in the world? Aren't you the tinniest bit surprised that neither the proud, the powerful, nor the rich stand in His way? Aren't you at least mildly surprised that the proud who delight in pointing out how Christianity is disproved, a drug for the weak, and no match for what they call science are scattered? No? No surprise that the God who brought down Egypt, Babylon, Greece, Rome, Germany, Russia, and more can with a mere nod of the head bring down even the most powerful persecutors of the Gospel? Aren't you surprised to see God send the rich empty away? What else is the admitted despair and hopelessness of many of the world's rich?
And please tell me that a little bit of wonder if not surprise flickers in your head at the thought that the scattering of the proud, the overthrow of rulers, and impoverishing of the rich are all done by God in flesh and blood? The Mighty One does great things in the flesh and blood of Mary. He performs mighty deeds with His arm. Only in Jesus does God who is Spirit have arms! The humiliation is Jesus not always fully using His divine powers as a Man in order to redeem us. The exaltation is Jesus always using His divine powers as a Man to show us our flesh and blood has been redeemed. The exaltation is when we lift our head in the creed. It starts with the resurrected Jesus descent into hell and goes on through the Ascension and culminates in His Second Coming to judge. We live by faith in the Jesus who was resurrected to prove that God accepted His sacrifice in our place. And we live in the reality that sin, death, and devil lie under the foot of humanity in Jesus. See your foot be it tiny, big, ugly, or beautiful firmly on the necks of sin, death, and devil, and watch them squirm.
Nothing surprises me anymore about the things of the Faith anyway: not the minuteness of God; not the magnificence of the Lord, and not the magnanimity of our God and Savior. Elizabeth is blown away by the mother of her Lord coming to her. But the Lord Himself comes to me in Water that touches my body; in Words that vibrate my eardrums, and in His Body for Bread and His Blood for Wine. The Lord Himself doesn't just come to me; He gives Me Himself for the food of forgiveness, and it's a yawner. Nothing to see here. Nothing to be surprised at. Nothing to fall down on my knees in thanksgiving, worship, and wonder over.
Not surprised that the Lord brings mercy to the fearful? Your sins have placed you in the road of judgment. You see the headlights of death and damnation barreling toward you. You can't move; you can only scream. You hear the roar of the onrushing judgment. You stiffen, you freeze, and what's this? The headlights didn't belong to one truck of judgment, but to two motorcycles. One named grace, the other mercy speeding by. If you see this figure pictures the reality your sins have put you in, if you believe what you confess each Sunday, that you deserve not only eternal punishment in some distant future but temporal punishment, today, right now for your sins, the fact that judgement mercifully passes you by should produce a least a sigh of relief if not surprise. Because this means God for Jesus' sake is on your side. This means you are not lost, not cut-off, not in the place where mercy never comes, but the place where the Lord's mercy endures forever.
There is one part of Mary's Magnificat that has stood out over the years. TLH using the King James translation has "He has holpen His servant Israel." "What's holpen?" people have asked in surprise. It's the past participle of Middle English helpen.' Modern English translates the Greek with "helped." But more than help or holpen is here. The Greek word has the element of taking hold of, embracing, taking up for, or receiving again someone. Again, are not you the least bit surprised that there is a physical picture here? That the God who is spirit has physical contact and is not repulsed by sinners? You know of the Rhesus monkey studies of the 1930's where monkeys were isolated from physical contact with others and how bad they did? I told you about a 13th century experiment where infants were raised in total isolation and all died (Collins, Gary, Fractured Personalities, 35-6). With people this is called "The Forbidden Experiment". With monkeys it's called "The Pit of Despair" probably because it always ends either with the monkey's death or psychosis (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Language deprivation_experiments).
And while you can translate that the Lord "embraced His servant Israel", the first meaning is child, even little child. It's a tender word. The Lord has embraced His child Israel to remind him, you not God, what mercy is. Mercy is God reaching out to you in Jesus' name with no reservations, no reluctance. A toddler can be so agitated, afraid, upset, startled that he will dance about, thrash about, maybe even run into things. The solution is to embrace he. He won't want to at first, but you hold him firmly and he will eventually relax. Your embrace is relief. It's mercy expressed by flesh and blood to flesh and blood. A toddler probably won't be surprised by their parent's embrace; an adult can be by the embrace of God in Christ. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fourth Sunday in Advent (20181223); Luke 1:39-55