|The True Beauty Of The Season Luke 1:39-56
St. John's - East Moline 12/20/15
Intro.: In the movie, Shallow Hal, a terrible womanizer has a curse put on him which no longer allows him to see the outer shell of women. Instead, he is only able to see what their inner self. This curse ends up becoming a blessing as it leads him to fall in love with, and totally commit himself to, a woman he would have otherwise found repulsive.
This movie draws attention to a prevailing problem in our society. Women are too often considered only on the basis of what they look like, instead of who they are. There are so many advertisements for diet plans, fitness routines, cosmetics & surgeries, all aimed at convincing women that their life can be better if they improve their appearance. Models and starlets jump off of the covers of the magazines at the grocery store counter, as if to say: "If you do not look like me, then you are ugly and will never find happiness." This superficial barometer of beauty, keeps us from recognizing true beauty when we see it.
In today's Gospel, we meet two women whose pictures you will never see on a magazine cover. In fact Luke never gives a physical description of them. We don't know if they had full lips, high cheekbones, or hourglass figures. And yet their beauty reveals the true beauty of this season.
I. The Beauty Of Mary's Humility.
The first of these women was probably very young, maybe even a teenager. Her name was Mary. She was engaged to a man who was perhaps much older, a carpenter named Joseph. As you know, she suddenly found herself to be with child. Not because she had put the cart before the horse, but because an angel had come to her. He told her that her child would be conceived by the Holy Spirit. Mary, a virgin, had been chosen to become the mother of her Lord and our Lord. Her true beauty was in the humility by which she received this burden and blessing. She said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." (Lk. 1:38)
To strengthen her faith the angel had told her that her cousin, Elizabeth, would also have a child in her old age. So, of course, Mary hurried away to the hill country to visit Elizabeth. She went to see what the Lord had done for her cousin and to tell the good news of what He was doing for both of them and for the whole world by placing in Mary's womb the promised Messiah - Immanuel, that is God with us.
II. The Beauty Of Elizabeth's Character.
Elizabeth was married to Zechariah, a respected priest who served in the temple. Unlike Mary, she was much older. But she was no less beautiful in God's eyes. Luke says that she was a righteous woman and blameless in all her ways which is a beauty more precious than jewels.
When Mary came to Elizabeth's house she saw that she was expecting, just as the angel had said. Immediately, she told Elizabeth all that had happened. With excitement she told her about the angel and the promise of the Holy Spirit coming upon her so that she would conceive. She explained to Elizabeth that this child was the Son of God, and how she was told to name Him Jesus, which means "The Lord Saves."
Look at the beautiful way Elizabeth reacts to Mary's greeting. She was not jealous that Mary's news was greater than her own. She was not put out by the fact that this young, unwed girl would give birth to the Savior instead of her, a mature and reputable wife of an honored priest. Quite the opposite, she was excited and gave thanks for Mary's wonderful blessing. She said, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!" (v.42) There were no ill feelings at all. Rather, she considered herself to be honored that Mary and her unborn Savior had come to her. She said, "Why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (v.43) She would probably never make People magazine's 10 most beautiful women, but in God's book, she makes the list.
III. The Beauty Of The Unborn Child.
What is most amazing about Mary's coming to Elizabeth in today's Gospel is that something even more beautiful happens. Elizabeth's unborn child expresses faith and worships his Savior in the sanctuary of his mother's womb. Elizabeth tells Mary, "For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy." (v.44) In the gladness of this season John the Baptist was already pointing to the Lamb of God who was coming to take away the sins of the world. This helps us to see the beauty of infants and even unborn children, and reminds us why we baptize even little babies. By the working of the Holy Spirit Elizabeth's child was leaping for joy, because His Lord had humbled Himself to become a little baby, just like him.
The beauty of both of these unborn children helps us to understand that human life in all its stages has been sanctified by God and touched by our beautiful Savior. Let this be a lesson to us not be so shallow when it comes to measuring the beauty of others. There is beauty in the unborn child, beauty in the godly mother, beauty in the one who has become wrinkled and grey while growing in the wisdom of the Lord. All human life is made beautiful by the One through whom it was created, by the One whose death redeemed it, and by the One whose incarnation sanctified it.
Compare the beautiful scene of our Gospel with the ugliness of sin in the world and often in us. It is hideous because it continually gazes with self-admiration in the mirror without giving any thought for others. The world says that the unborn child is dreadful. It says that, a woman should not have to carry a child that she doesn't want, especially if it gets in the way of her own plans. In the ugliness of sin, life becomes all about me, myself and I. Rather than praise and gladness, it is marked by grumbling and sadness. Unlike humble Mary and grateful Elizabeth this leads our lives to be filled with jealousy and resentment. This ugly spirit, which is repulsive to God, manifests itself as we begin to measure others only on the basis of what they can do for us; how good they can make us look.
IV. The Beauty That Comes From The Lord.
The scene in our Gospel is so much more beautiful, because it is not selfish and artificial. It is created by the Lord, Himself. It is the loveliness of faith, which is a gift from God. Let us look again at Mary, who received this word from her Elizabeth, "Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her." (v.45) Mary does not give into vanity. She does not exalt or magnify herself. Instead, she stands in awe of what the Lord has done for her. Her beauty that seems to come from within, actually came from above. It was wrapped up in the promise spoken to her and in her trust that it would be fulfilled. Throughout the history of the world the Lord had kept His promises. Over and over again He had raised the lowly and shown kindness to the poor. Mary knew that through her child, God was going to do mighty things for her and for all people.
And so with great joy Mary began to sing her song: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed." (vv. 46-48) The days were coming when she would see the proud scattered and the mighty knocked off of their thrones by her Son. In Him, she would see the humble exalted and the hungry filled with good things. Her Son was the promised Holy One of God, her Savior. He would help and forever save in His mercy all who put their trust in Him.
This is how Mary received a beauty that no make-over could have ever match; by looking to the Lord instead of at herself, by seeing only the beauty of His love and mercy. Society teaches young women to look in the mirror and judge themselves by their outward appearance. Unfortunately this leads to either vanity or despair, but never to true beauty. Mary and Elizabeth, were so different from the shallow mean-girls of all ages we see all around us today. They were women of substance and gentleness because of their faith. They did not look vainly into the mirror at themselves, but were genuinely happy for one other as they both looked to Christ. They were truly beautiful because they looked into the face of their Lord; reflecting His uncreated beauty instead of theirs.
V. The Beauty Of The One Who Had No Beauty.
So what does this mean for us living in a shallow, superficial society consumed by vanity? Well, let us begin by finding the true beauty of this season. In the few days we have left, and in our celebration of the days of Christmas, let's get beyond the outward appearances of beauty; the fake tinsel and the artificial lights. Instead let us consider the true beauty of the women and children of our Gospel. Let us fix our eyes, especially, on the Child of Mary and find splendor in the cross that He would take up for us.
This means teaching our children the countercultural values about which Mary sang in the Magnificat. Earthly beauty is a gift from God, but it does fade. So, let us move away from the vanity of the mirror and the ugliness of pride and jealousy. It is so much better if we adorn ourselves with Christ and put on his Spirit of holiness. What last beauty we find and share when we place Christ before our eyes and before the eyes of our daughters and sons.
It is not an outward beauty, nor a beauty that the unbelieving world can grasp. Our Lord could have chosen to be born in beautiful Jerusalem or glorious Rome. Instead, He chose to be born in lowly Bethlehem which was least among the cities of Judah. He could have chosen to come into the family of the high priest or the imperial family of Caesar, but he chose to be born into the family of a carpenter and have a poor young maiden as His mother. I have no doubt that Mary was beautiful as His mother or that Mary had a beautiful child. But what is more important is that He became a beautiful Savior, who was willingly pierced and marked with scars for us. As Isaiah would say of him, "he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him." (Is. 53:2) And to the unbelieving world this is true, but for us, That is true beauty! [Cross] As He endures the ugliness of the cross we see His truly beautiful heart!
Concl.: And now by grace through faith, you have been given the eyes of Shallow Hal, to look beyond the phony outward beauty our society seems to worship, to see the true inner beauty of that heart and worship in the greater beauty of this season. In faith, I can look out upon you and say with Elizabeth: "Why is it granted to me that you should come to me?" I look out and I see people that God has made truly beautiful, also. You are the Church, His bride adorned in the gorgeous robe of His righteousness. In His great love, through baptism, He has washed away all the stains of sin that once made you repugnant to God, to present you to Himself without spot or wrinkle or any such blemish, but holy and blameless in His sight. By the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word He continues to draw your attention away from yourselves so that you may look to Him in faith, and so reflect His love and mercy. Here in the Sacrament of the Altar, as you feast upon His body and blood and proclaim the beauty of His death on the cross for you, He takes away your own blackened hearts and fills you with His pure and truly beautiful one. This is the true beauty of this Season: We have a beautiful Savior who comes to make us into His beautiful people. Amen.