Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Weak Made Strong

Audio of this sermon can be heard here.

I'm not as strong as I used to be, and I bet you're not either. I suppose my physical strength peaked when I played high school football. I haven't lifted weights since then, but, more than that, age slowly takes its toll on everyone. Sure, it's impressive when 83-year-old Jack Palance does a one-armed push-up on stage at the 1992 Academy Awards to demonstrate to the producers in the audience that older actors might be worth the risk, but no one who lives until she's 83 is as physically strong as she was when she was 23. It just doesn't work like that. Just ask Usain Bolt.

Eventually, human beings give out. Our strength wanes. Our speed retards. Our looks fade. Our memories blur. Our accomplishments, no matter how impressive, whether built of steel or language or insight, will erode. One day, even Robert Frost's divergent roads will slip out of human memory. It is a principle of the universe in which we live that all things--all matter and energy--are moving on a steady decline. But God has something different to say about that.

In the Incarnation, God declares a new law--one that does not replace the laws of thermodynamics but that transcends them on a different plane of existence. In God, the Virgin Mary declares, the powerful are brought down from their thrones while the lowly are raised up; the hungry are filled with good things while the rich are sent away empty; the lowliness of the humble is regarded as blessed because of what God is doing. That doesn't make sense, of course. In our experience, the weak don't become strong. The humble aren't exalted. The rich and proud may eventually return to the dust just like the rest of us, but our future isn't one of increase but decline. Except that in God our weakness becomes strength, our humility becomes blessedness, because of what God has done for us.

"In the fullness of time," Paul writes, "God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children." In order for us to escape the limitations of our human nature and the ravages of decline that come with it, God had to become a human being. In order to reverse the inevitability of our weakness, God had to become weak. God had to unite himself to us so that we might be united to him. That which is broken and flawed inside of us is changed when it is united with that which is perfect and complete in God. Because God became man, we become like God.

That's why Mary sings her song of transformation not as if it will happen one day but as it takes place within her womb: he has lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things; he has helped his servant Israel in remembrance of his mercy. And just as that transformation of humanity took place inside of her, so, too, is that same transformation taking place within us. It has taken place. It is taking place.

As the redeemed people of God, we have to look upon the world the way that God sees it--the way that Mary saw it. We must see how the lowly have become blessed, how the poor have been made rich, how the weak have been made strong. We cannot see that truth unless we look with the eyes of faith. Although we still inhabit this life, we also exist simultaneously in a different realm. Every day, we must die with Christ to this world so that we can be raised with him in the next--not when we die but now. The union of divine and human is not a moment locked in the past nor promised in the future. It is true now. See how God's nature has already been put upon you, and let that transformation, which began so long ago, be continued in you today.

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