The Great Swap
Text: Luke 1:46-55
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A common plot device in stories throughout the ages is trading places between two people. In this commonly featured part of stories, a person switches bodies or appearances with someone, or they get to live someone else’s life for a while. Sometimes it’s done for the effect of comedy, as in any number of movies. Sometimes it’s done so that a main character can gain some important information or learn a lesson, like the grass always being greener on the other side of the fence, or walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. From Greek myths to romantic comedies, from Shakespeare to Les Mis, from Harry Potter to H.P. Lovecraft, the idea of switching places with someone else is very common.
The reason why this concept shows up in so many stories is because the idea of swapping places is part of the story—the grand story of creation and redemption, the story of God and His people. In fact, it has a central part in that greatest and most beautiful of stories.
Today we observe the Feast of St. Mary, Mother of our Lord. Mary was a girl of humble means. She was not from a powerful family in Judea. She was not wealthy. We know this because she was betrothed to a carpenter, Joseph, and not a member of the nobility. And yet, God chooses this handmaiden to be the mother of the Messiah, Jesus, the Son of God. Mary recognizes that this is a great reversal, an enormous swap in station, and she sings about it: “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…He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away.” With the good news that the Messiah was coming into the world through her womb, Mary knew that the great reversal was on its way. Those faithful who had been mocked by the arrogant world would now be lifted up. Those who had lived in ease, enjoying friendship with the world even though it meant forsaking the One who created it, would soon find themselves left out in the cold, hungry and in need. The mighty, like pompous King Herod, would be brought down from their thrones, and those whom the world wouldn’t even think about twice: Mary, her ancient cousin Elizabeth, her fiancé Joseph—these would be the ones that people would remember and honor for ages to come as the family of the Savior.
It was nothing new that Mary was recognizing. The prophets had foretold this reversal, this swap, for millennia. We heard Isaiah’s prophecy this morning, and you can be sure that Mary was familiar with it as she sang her song. He prophesied, “Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot.” And it goes even further back, all the way to the beginning. In the Garden of Eden, when it appeared that the tempter had won the day; in his hour of victory, God Himself proclaimed about the proud serpent that he would not stay in triumph on high. Rather, “on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The tables would turn and those who were uplifted in pride—the evil one and his minions who seemed to win—they would be cast down and crushed. Meanwhile those who appeared to lose—the race of mortal humans, the promised Offspring of the woman, the Messiah, struck by the poisonous serpent—these would be the ones who would have ultimate victory.
And that’s what we celebrate on this feast day of St. Mary, mother of our Lord. Notice that title we give her connects her honor to Jesus. We don’t celebrate her as a type of messiah or intercessor or folk hero. We celebrate her and all that God did for her and through her in Jesus. We give thanks to God for her because it is through this lowly girl that the Messiah came into the world to lift us all up, Mary included. We look to her example of simple humble faith when the good news of the coming Savior was proclaimed to her, the faith that said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
For it is through Jesus that the greatest swap of all would happen. He who knew no sin would be born into this world sinless, and yet He would become sin for us. We would be declared innocent. He who had all of heaven and earth at His command would be born and housed in a stable rather than the splendor of palaces or temples. The Son of Man would have no place to rest His head, even though the foxes have holes in the ground and birds have nests and we have an eternal home with the Lord. He who had everything would become nothing, bowing His head even to the most humiliating death on a cross, the death of a convicted criminal, even though He had done nothing wrong; and we would receive everything: forgiveness, life, salvation, peace with God, the love of our heavenly Father.
This swap is not simply to teach us a lesson, like the grass being greener or anything that trite. It wasn’t done as a philosophical thought experiment. The swap that happens with Jesus and us, the swap that begins in the womb of Mary, happens so that we really do receive all that belongs to Jesus—heavenly riches, eternal life, faith, hope, and love. It happens so that He really does receive all that used to be ours—our sin, our pain, our death, our just desserts for telling God that we want to find our own way apart from His way. This swap is part of the greatest story, but it is also so much more than just a story. It’s a reality. These things are yours. You can sing with all the confidence and joy of Mary that your soul magnifies the Lord because He remembered your humble estate. He brought down the mighty who had threatened you from their hellish thrones, and He exalted you, naming you His blessed child in Baptism. He has filled you, the one hungering and thirsting after righteousness, with good things, with His body and blood here at the rail; meanwhile the satanic serpent, so rich in worldly things, has been sent away hungry and eternally empty. Your God has helped you, His servant, a child of Abraham and Israel by faith, in remembrance of His mercy.
Your God has done all this for you, through His Son. The greatest reversal of all has happened. It happened when Jesus became man. It happened when He took on your sins in Baptism. It happened at the cross when He died in your place. It happened at the tomb, when He rose to lift you up out of death forever. So learn from Mary. Sing about the greatness of this reversal. Pray, laugh, rejoice, talk to family about it, as Mary did with Elizabeth. Look back at all the times God lifted you up. Look forward and know that however low your path goes, He will always do it again. The swap is always waiting for you, as it has through the ages, as it will at the end of time, when we, the last, will become first, to sit in joy with our Lord forever. In the name of Jesus, who gives us all that is His, Amen.