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Lord, Have Mercy!

December 16, 2021 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – Luke 1:50-55 (NRSV)

“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.”

Focus

In the season of Advent, we wait for the coming of the Lord. We remember how the Jews anticipated the first coming of the Messiah and we renew our hope for his second coming. Our confidence in Advent is not based on worthiness, however, but on God’s mercifulness. May you live these days with the joy of knowing God is rich in mercy toward you.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.

Devotion

I expect you’re familiar with the expression, “Lord, have mercy!” Some people say this when something unfortunate happens to some unsuspecting soul. If a tree is blown over onto a person’s house in a hurricane, somebody will say, “Lord, have mercy!”

Others say “Lord, have mercy!” in more religious contexts. In liturgical churches, you’ll often hear: “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy, Lord, have mercy.” Eastern Orthodox believers faithfully pray the so-called “Jesus Prayer”: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Perhaps the prayer that is put to music more often than any other is the Greek prayer “Kyrie eleison,” which means “Lord, have mercy.”

Mercy. It’s one of the most essential and wonderful aspects of Christian faith. It’s also central to Mary’s psalm in Luke 1, known as the Magnificat. As Mary summarized what God has done for his people, she begins by saying, “His mercy is for those for fear him from generation to generation” (1:50). Then, after celebrating how God has turned things in this world upside down, Mary adds, “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy” (1:54). God’s mercy frames Mary’s praise of God. Everything God does for us is an instance of God’s mercy.

It is sometimes said that grace is getting good things we don’t deserve while mercy is not getting bad things we do deserve. If, for example, a person is guilt of a crime and deserves five years in prison, but the judge gives a one-year sentence, we might say the judge showed mercy. It’s certainly true that God’s mercy entails our not receiving the due penalty for our sin. But divine mercy is so much more than this.

What exactly is God’s mercy? This question is not easy to answer because God’s mercy has so many facets. To put it simply, we might think of God’s mercy as an expression of God’s compassion. God feels for us and with us. God loves us with a persistent love. God is in our corner. And so God acts with mercy; that is, with kindness, gentleness, and, as needed, forgiveness.

As I reflect on my experience of God’s mercy, I think of things I have done that have been unwise, sinful, or both. My life could have been such a mess of regret, disappointment, and shame. A certain sort of god might have said, “You’re getting everything you deserve, pal.” But we don’t have that kind of god. As Paul writes to the Corinthians, our God is “the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation” (2 Corinthians 1:3). God saved us through Christ because God is “rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4). Of course Paul wasn’t the first to see God this way. In Exodus 34:6 God reveals himself to Moses in this way: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”

In the season of Advent, we wait for the coming of the Lord. We remember how the Jews anticipated the first coming of the Messiah and we renew our hope for his second coming. Our confidence in Advent is not based on worthiness, however, but on God’s mercifulness. May you live these days with the joy of knowing God is rich in mercy toward you.

Reflect

Can you remember a time in your life when someone extended mercy to you?

Can you think of a time when you were merciful?

When have you experienced God’s mercy in a particularly striking way? What was this experience like for you?

How do you need God’s mercy today?

Act

With your small group, a wise friend, or a spiritual director, talk together about God’s mercy: what it means, how you’ve experienced it, where you need it today.

Pray

[Pray the following prayer several times, slowly, letting the words you are praying penetrate your heart.]

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. . . .

Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Concern for the Poor (Luke 6:17-26; 16:19-31)


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