Lord Have Mercy

If all good things must come to an end, I’m so glad this ending comes after Christmas. The trees have been hauled out, all signs of taped-up paper and bits of ribbon bagged and dumped. Carols have faded from the airwaves as we get back to “life as usual.” We put a big fat period at the end of the Magnificat and find two more dots after it. You can’t be too careful trying to protect your endings around here—God has a way of spilling them over into continuations of His story. You want a period and discover an ellipsis. This is the frustratingly great news of the kingdom: all good things don’t come to an end.

Mary wraps up this breathtaking hymn of praise, but her last word reverberates down through the generations and into our own souls (where it expands and bursts out of us in a million exuberant pieces).

He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.

(Luke 1:54-55)

At first glance, it’s easy to shrug this final sentiment off. Most of us aren’t, after all, Abraham’s offspring. Unless you’re of Jewish descent, this proclamation of hope can feel a lot like clapping for the person who won the trophy you wanted at the eighth-grade awards banquet. You know you should be happy for them, but your heart’s not really in it.

At second glance, you realize that every individual who clings to Christ is now in on this family promise. We’ve been officially adopted, grafted into the line of mercy. We might not be able to trace our physical lineage to Israel, but our spiritual roots go right back to father Abraham. (He had many sons. Many sons had father Abraham. I am one of them, and so are you, so let’s just praise the Lord. Right arm.)*

Sorry. I couldn’t resist.

So you and I have been caught up in this work, and it applies just as much to us as it did to the Hebrews of Mary’s day. If that’s the case, we’re loaded with hope because nothing relies on us anymore—it all hangs on the faithful and enduring mercy of God. What’s so great about that, you ask?

The Interpretation of St. Luke’s Gospel puts it this way:

“Grace is love toward those who do not deserve it because of their guilt; mercy is love toward those who are in misery as a result of their sin and guilt. When the mercy is here stressed, the grace is not excluded, the contrary is rather true; for the mercy always presupposes the grace and rests upon it. Mary’s conception of this mercy is a favor that extends “unto generations and generations”… It does not appear now and then but goes on and on in the succession of the generations of men who are made wretched by sin. The idea is that the conception of the Messiah lies in this mercy line; all God’s mercy during past generations led up to this crowning mercy, and all God’s mercy throughout coming generations flows from this supreme mercy.”

We’re in the riptide, friends.

There you are, going about your daily business, maybe making a call or sweeping up Cheerios or signing a document, and BAM. You remember you’re breathing. Inhale. Exhale. Mercy. You look around. Mercy. You sit down. Mercy. The fact that you exist, that you haven’t spontaneously combusted, that you keep on existing right there in all your beauty and brokenness? Sheer mercy.

Let’s not even get into all the tangible evidences of God’s compassion to you. Just focus on the spiritual ones. There are so many promises in Scripture, each a lifeline of mercy. God’s presence, continual work in us, wisdom, character, and return are truths we can bank on. If that doesn’t knock the wind out of you, it’s time to dig deep into how each applies to your life. Study. Wrestle. Ask. Remember. Dwell.

The only work that truly matters has been finished on your account. Grace behind you, mercy ahead. This is what leapt forth from Mary’s comprehension, causing her to lift her voice in exaltation at the vast goodness of God. It’s time to join the song.

*If you’re scratching your head at this point because you were fortunate enough to escape this church ditty as a kid, you’ve been left in peace for far too long. Here’s a video.

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