December can be a hectic month. Calendars fill up with end-of-year activities, social obligations, holiday preparations and celebrations. The stress of the season begins to take its toll. Temptations to overdo and overspend begin to mount. All of these things can edge God out of the celebration of Jesus’ birth. How can we keep from losing focus during this busy season? What can we do to keep Jesus front and centre in our lives? Well, for starters we can let Mary’s perspective encourage us to keep our eyes on God.
Advent is God’s promise of mercy. Can we remember what it feels like to know mercy? To feel mercy toward others? To extend mercy? Even if we can’t, God does. Those we would assume are against God are actually remarkable witnesses for God.
Mary didn’t need a pulpit to preach a message of hope for the future, of justice ringing out across the land, and of the day when Jesus will return to shouts of welcome. Mary’s song of God, also known as The Magnificat, rang out then, and it still rings out today. Her song of joy about the coming birth of her son tells us what God has already done. He has humbled the proud pulled the powerful down from their thrones, sent the stuffed away empty-handed, lifted up the disempowered and filled the hungry with good things.
Mary’s song expresses great confidence in what God is about to do. God is a God who has acted in history and is present today. Because of her willingness to submit to God’s plan for her life, “all generations will call her blessed.”
Mary’s song mentions three attributes of God:
- He is all mighty and knows everything that goes on in our lives.
- God is holy. Can you imagine what people in her village were saying? “Did you hear that Mary is pregnant? She said that the Holy Spirit conceived the child in her! We don’t believe that. She must be put to death by stoning?” Her reputation and Joseph’s honour were at stake, but Mary could say in her innocence, “Holy is His Name.”
- God is merciful. She sang of personal mercies and gave humble, sacred thanks. She knew she was sinner and deserved to be punished for her sins, but she also knew that her son would die to pay for her sins and for the sins of the whole world.
Verses 52 and 53 speak of God turning things upside-down. In many parts of the world, Christians read these verses as a promise of revolution, which is quite unlike the way we deal with the Magnificat. Jesus said that he came not to bring peace but a sword. His birth changed everything. He brought down the mighty and raised up the lowly.
The words of the Magnificat are the most revolutionary words even spoken. The Messiah would bring the mighty low and raise the humble and lowly. Jesus reverses all human values, and this scares the members of the establishment. This is the type of revolution that we need today, and it will be caused by Christ’s love for us and our love for our Christian brothers and sisters.
God isn’t influenced by wealth, honour or office when He confers favours on His people. He looks for the humble and contrite. He will give His rich blessings to those who feel they need them and who will bless Him for them. Even Mary recognized herself as a lowly human in need of a Saviour; she was not divine, nor did she believe herself to be. She was simply divinely blessed.
Mary isn’t the only humble person who has been used by God. People are often raised by hard work, talent and God’s favour from humble places such as a farm or a mechanic’s shop to places of great trust in the church or government. If these people have the right feelings, they won’t hate their former jobs or their former co-workers. They won’t think less of their parents or friends. God in His mercy lifts up the humble out of sheer grace.
Mary, in her natural humility, was now able to sing about how proud she was that God had chosen her to bear His Son. In true humility, she praised God that she was especially blessed. She went on to say that her spirit rejoiced in God her Saviour. In order for a person to have a Saviour, they must be a sinner. Mary was a sinner just like all of us. The child she carried in her womb was God in human flesh. He was born so that He could die on the cross in order to pay for all the sins of humanity. In doing this, He became the Saviour of the world.
The phrase, “that fear Him,” doesn’t mean that we are to be scared of God. It is the fear that a child has of a kind father-a fear of hurting his feelings, dishonouring him by our life, or by doing anything which he would disapprove of. Those who fear God will receive His mercy and wisdom, and so will his or her descendants. Truly pious people will also praise God so that others are made partakers of His mercy and goodness.
The theme of mercy plays a significant role in the events leading up to Jesus’ birth. Pure love and compassion prompted God to go to such great lengths to respond to the miserable plight of His people, sending His own Son to save them.
Apparently Mary knew Scripture and understood that her Son was the fulfillment of the divine promises made to Israel down through the centuries, beginning with God’s covenant with Abraham. The words of the Magnificat reveal that Mary’s heart and mind were saturated with the Word of God. She knew that she needed the true God as her Saviour.
We know how unlikely and impossible we are as choices for doing God’s work in the world, or to be God’s messengers. This is how God works. He chooses people to do His work in the world not because they deserve it or look the part, but because God likes to surprise us. He looks for hearts that revel in God’s greatness, hearts that know that all we can depend on is God’s divine mercy.
The Magnificat is a roadmap for anyone who is facing the storms of life. Mary started by admitting her own need for a Saviour, and that is a good starting point for us as well. Mary trusted that God keeps His promises from generation to generation, and we can trust God as well. We can choose to embrace the joy of God’s plans for us no matter how hard or sorrowful they are. We can trust that God will make a path for us, and that He will sustain us, carry us and rescue us.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p.1384)
- Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament. Part of Wordsearch 12 Bible software package.
- Larsen, B. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 26: Luke (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1983; pp. 37-41)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- John Van Schepen, “Mary’s Song.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Tony Robinson, “Lowly.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Dave Wyrtzen, “Blessed Through the Ages.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Sharon Betters, “Mary’s Song of Praise: The Magnificat.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Shelley Cunningham, “Luke 1:46-55.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Jill Carattini, “Theology as Doxology.” Retrieved from sliceW@sliceofinfinity.org.
- Kathy Sweeney, “Are You Prepared to Answer God’s Call?” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
- Karoline Lewis, “A Merciful Advent.” Retrieved from workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4225
- David Tate, “Luke 1:39-45 (46-55).” Retrieved from http://blogs.baylor.edu/truettpulpit/2015/12/14.luke-139-45-46-55/
- Alan Brehm, “Song of Hope.” Retrieved from http://thewakingdreamer.blogspot.com/2013/01/sing-of-hope.html
- Gordon Fram, “Mary’s Magnificat: The Mercy of God.” Retrieved from biblearchaeolgy.org/post/2008/12/11/Marys-Mangificat-The-Mercy-of-God