In this series, we read Scripture together with Blumhardt (1842 – 1919), a pastor and theologian who inspired Barth, Bonhoeffer, and Moltmann.
And Mary said,
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (Luke 1:46-55, NRSV)
With this song of triumph on our lips, we approach Christmas and then the end of another year. It is finished. For each one of us every day of the year has been recorded. It is with earnestness that we think of this – deep earnestness. What have you experienced? What has been the substance of your days? How is it with your works? On this day we are reviewed for what we are, and we must humble ourselves. All that we human beings think and do is covered up by so much that is material, mundane, and wrong. Even our good intentions cannot give us a proper direction. On all sides we see how poor and weak we are.
This casts us down. God knows how to bring us low, even if we resist him. But let us not resist; let us see ourselves as we are. May God grant that his Spirit awakens in us the recognition that each of us belongs in the dust. Because our outer self is often permitted to play a part of sorts in this world, it is unfortunately only too hidden from us that our innermost being is gripped by perversities of all kinds.
A person may have a good name, or some standing, or a special ability which enables him or her to be something. But today, dear friends, I entreat you before the Living God to reject all that and look to your inner being. Either you are gripped by the Lord Jesus and your earthly self gradually turns completely toward him, or you are gripped by Satan and your soul turns more and more toward darkness.
Rejoice in Jesus, Not in Yourself
Oh, if only we might receive light, dear friends, for at the end of this year we want with one accord to be found to be people who are gripped by the Savior. Even if we are afraid, we must not lose courage; we can still see the light of life. Whatever condition we may be in, we have the name of the Lord Jesus and we can rise up in the triumph of his victory. But for God’s sake, let us not have Jesus just in words, in Christian rhetoric, in churchgoing and outward respectability, or in complacency, self-love, and inward pride – no! Let us have him only in truth. He who has Jesus in truth can be triumphant; he can shout for joy and give praise and thanks, for he will be victorious.
However much our earthly being is laid low, however much we earthly beings bow down in the dust before the light of the Savior which comes closer and closer to us, we can still glory in the mercy of the Lord, the power of the Lord which works at all times and creates a kingdom for this Lord. What would we be if we could not proclaim this – if the lowly could not know that they were saved; if the poor could not experience tremendous things and find mercy through what the Almighty wishes to bring about! It is remarkable that whenever we detect the slightest evidence of our beloved God, we shout for joy. However weak and sinful we are, however wrong, however lowly, a simple sign from above, a gesture of mercy, makes us joyful and glad. A single deed of our God makes us happy above all happiness in the world and places us in the ranks of those who are justified in the sight of the holiness of God.
That is our joy today, dear friends. We rejoice in the Lord, not in ourselves; in his deeds, not in our deeds. We may strip away the weaknesses of our own life and its perversities, stretching and straining until we have completely left them behind, and put on the mercy of the Lord, the kindness of the Lord and his deeds, and rejoice forever in these.
The Joy of Being “of Low Estate”
It is a remarkable thing that we can rejoice like this in the Lord, in the One who made heaven and earth. How does this come about? The lowlier I become and the more the Lord is seen in me, the greater is the joy of my soul.
It is not like this with the mundane relationships of the world; there it is just the opposite. When two people are together and one sinks lower and lower while the other rises higher and higher, the one who sinks lower is annoyed at the other one, even though he might be helped by him. He thinks, “Oh, if I could only make as much progress as he does. It hurts me to see him climb higher while I sink lower.” That is how it is on earth.
Our relationship with the Savior, with God, however, is just the reverse of this. The more we are made low and the Savior elevated, the more we fade into the background and the Savior comes into the foreground, the happier we are. The proof of an inward relationship with God is that in our innermost heart we want God to be great. It is as if my innermost being were God and God were my innermost. That is how it is with the Savior. Man should be so intertwined with the Living God that the decay of the outward man – that is, of our own nature in this world – should be a matter of pure joy and delight, for in this God will be exalted through the Savior Jesus Christ. For this we can surrender everything.
This is what Mary has experienced and, because of this, she magnifies the Lord. Her soul and her spirit rejoice in the Savior, the Man who helps, the Son of God Himself. Before him she is nothing and through him she is everything. What makes her blessed is that henceforth all will sing praises for the great things God has done for Mary. This is her possession, her wealth, her treasure; this is what moves her spirit.
That is how it should be with us, dear friends. Praise God, we can say that the Lord has, in some way, “regarded our low estate.” He is gracious and sends signs of his mercy upon us. He has seen our weakness and has done deeds. This is what we want to celebrate and exult in today. Here is our life and our joy; here is our place of struggle as well, and finally our complete victory too. Oh, if only there were more people who would truly seek their joy in becoming small and in God’s becoming great, who could see themselves as decaying and the Savior becoming alive in them – people whose hearts rejoice when they hear of the Savior. Pray for us, too, that more and more we may become people who experience something of the Savior.
God’s Power Is Gentle
God allows himself to be obstructed in many places, wherever people do not surrender themselves to his purpose. If in spite of this he wanted to intervene, he would have to come with judgment, chastising, and raging, and this he does not want to do. The Savior is, and will always be, gentle. He is never rough. Even if you were the most godless people, God would not beat you to death – that is not what he is there for. He allows himself to be obstructed. He waits, with patience. But he remains on the scene; you must admit that whenever you want to, you can find refuge in the Lord today. He is simply always there.
Let unbelieving people laugh and scoff! Humankind will not be parted from his God. Humankind belongs to God, God belongs to humankind, they belong together. The way is there in the Lord Jesus. God does not permit this way to be blocked, and neither do we. There are enough people who are ready to defend it. The gates of hell cannot prevail against us (Matt. 16:18); nothing shall bar our way. And if we cannot achieve it, then the almighty hand of God will have to come down – and we shall go forward! Let me repeat: man belongs to God and God belongs to man; everything else is foolishness.
Don’t Think of Your Sins – Praise God!
This is what we praise and rejoice in this season. May God grant that in our dust – for we will not forget that we are dust – we may have and hold on to this trust; and that even while we sigh because of our nature, our poverty, and lowliness, we can always extol the deeds of God. We gladly remain lowly. We assuredly do not want to be exalted. Quite the contrary, the Savior should chastise us much more to keep us from becoming hypocritical Christians. We are glad to humble ourselves. Let him take everything from us. The only thing we want to hold on to is that he increases, that he acts, that he means something to people and that they each receive through their Savior the same courage, the same strength, as we have been given.
That is our wish for the coming year. Do not think only about your sins, your misery, your death, and about all your misfortunes. Think about all those great and small things which you know came from the Lord! Praise the Lord, thank the Lord, thank the Savior. Pray that Mary’s song of thanks springs more and more to your lips because of increasing help, increasing counsel, increasing deeds, through more and more rays of light falling into your heart. Pray that we may not cease thanking the Savior and that at last the cries of the world shall cease and be lost in the pure cries of praise and thanks to the Savior. We want to become a people from whom ultimately nothing is heard but the praise, thanks, and jubilation of those who belong to the Savior, to the glory of God the Father in Heaven.
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From Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt: Sterbet, so wird Jesus leben: 1888 – 1896, (Zurich: Rotapfel Verlag, 1925), no. 43, trans. Jörg Barth and Renate Barth, © 2013 The Plough Publishing House.