Fourth Sunday in Advent December 18-19, 2021
“Slow Down” Luke 1:39-56
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Why are you here? Didn’t you look at the calendar this morning? This is Christmas week. Don’t you have some stuff to do? Cookies to bake? Presents to buy? Cards to send? I’d really would like you to stay but I’m not sure if some of you can afford to just be still for one hour.
Why do we overload ourselves every year? We overcommit. We overextend. We overschedule. What insanity. It raises our blood pressure. It robs us of needed sleep. Is this what God had in mind when He invented Christmas?
Here’s the word for today – SLOW DOWN. If you don’t slow down you’re going to miss another Christmas. Now you might get everything checked off your list, the pies might come out perfectly, and your packages might arrive on time, but you might miss the real Christmas. You’ve probably missed a few of them before but I don’t want you to miss another one. Slow down.
It is Mary, the mother of Jesus, who is going to show us how to slow down. Our reading is from Chapter 1 of Luke. What a world-wind this teenage girl would be on for the next nine months. Just before our reading was the angel who shows up with words that troubled Mary greatly, “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.” (Luke 1:31) This pregnancy was quite impossible – she had not been with any man. But she is told that God would do a miracle to bring this child into the world. “Nothing is impossible with God.”
Then in chapter 2 we have the most marvelous account of the birth of Jesus. “And while they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and placed him in the manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:6-7)
After the shepherds had come to see Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, after being scared to death by the multitude of angels, this is the response of Mary, “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)
Mary pondered, thought, and considered everything. She took time to slow down. The last nine months left her amazed at what was happening in her life and in this song called The Magnificat she speaks of what lies in her heart.
She slows down and glories in the greatness of God. “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name.” (Luke 1:46-49)
Find some quiet in these days and just consider the qualities that God has. He is good. He is kind. He is generous. He is loving. He does marvelous and mighty things. Your heart, like Mary’s, will be filled with praise.
Mary slows down and thinks of how God reverses what we would expect to normally happen. Speaking about God’s unique ways she says, “He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:51-53)
She saw the reversal in what God did for her. She says that she is among the humble, but God lifted her up. She recognizes that all generations will call her blessed. Think of that – Mary’s name is mentioned every week by billions of people. We acknowledge that our Lord Jesus was “born of the virgin Mary”. We call Mary greatly blessed.
Slow down and acknowledge that God is doing a great work – either by humbling us, or by lifting us up. God can slow us down or even stop us when we are taking the wrong path in life. As we think about our misplaced priorities or the times we have invited evil to come and have its way within our homes or our lives, we ask God for a new path in life. We must slow down or stop when we have not let God have His rightful place in our hearts.
A writer from many years ago, O. Henry, could capture the weakness or the greatness of human conduct and character in his short stories. O. Henry wrote a story about a boy and a girl, living in a small town, who went to school together as children. The young boy sat next to the young girl and he admired her. He admired her beauty, how she dressed and how she would take care of her hair. Her speech was delightful and her character was perfect.
But in time the boy moved from that small town into the city. He became a thief, a pick-pocket, and he grew to be a miserable young person. One day he was able to snatch an old lady’s purse and he was rather proud of how he did it and the amount of money and goods he now possessed. But then he looked up and saw that girl he once knew walking down the street. She is just as radiant and pure and innocent as when he had known her before. He then he saw himself, clearly, maybe for the first time. He saw someone who had become ugly, vile, and weak. In the moment of his shame, he said, “O God, I wish I could die.” God was slowing him down so he could see clearly himself and his need for a new start.
Slowing down to see self clearly is important. That time of slowing down, repenting, can begin the great reversal in us. And then God, in His plan, “Lifts up the humble and fills the hungry with good things.” Isn’t cleansing the reversal of being dirty? Isn’t forgiveness the reversal of guilt? Isn’t life the reversal of miserable death? When Mary slowed down she could see what God does to the one who seeks God and to the one who rejects Him. Martin Luther said about this, “God is the kind of Lord who does nothing but exalt those of low degree and put down the mighty from their thrones, in short, break what is whole and make whole what is broken.”
Slow down!! That’s what a police officer has said to me a few times in my life. That is what God says to us. Mary knew something very important – God was in control. God had a plan and His plan was perfect. In those days when she first found out about God’s plan that she would conceive through the Holy Spirit and would deliver the very Son of God, she responded with a willing heart, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38)
In your life and mine we are only able to truly celebrate days like Christmas, or any of the other 364 days in each year, by knowing that everything is in God’s hands. We are joyful to pray, “Lord, Your will be done.” We are confident that submitting to the plan of God in our life is good and right. It is the best way to live.
The Denver Museum of Nature and Science has an exhibit called, “Survival of the Slowest”, until January 9. We normally think of the survival of the biggest and strongest and fastest. The Cheetah, the Jaguar, the Lion, the strength and size of the Elephant, those animals can survive. But this exhibit shows that the tortoise, the sloth, or the slow-moving porcupines have been given by God what they need to survive. There really is the survival of the slowest. Like Isaiah said, “Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
So, this Christmas, slow down so you can truly celebrate Christmas. Don’t let Christmas go by without standing in awe and wonder of everything that Jesus has done for you and for your eternal salvation. Don’t miss what God is doing to bring you down or lift you up. And don’t miss saying with joy and confidence, “Lord, this day and everyday, may Your will be done.”
Lord, Slow us down. Bring us a wonderful Christmas. Amen!!