And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”
Last week we spoke about the angel Gabriel predicting John the Baptist‘s birth. Gabriel had declared that John would be the promised Elijah returning to usher in the day of the messiah’s return. When Gabriel appeared six months later to Mary he said,
“you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end”
These words clearly pointed to what the people of the time were expecting in the coming messiah. Jesus was the second half of Gabriel’s announcement, that prophesy was being fulfilled in that Elijah and the long expected messiah were finally arriving. Gabriel visited Elizabeth first, then Mary. During the Angel’s visit to Mary he told her about Elizabeth and her miraculous pregnancy as well. Mary immediately went to visit her and when she arrived in Elizabeth’s house John leaped for joy in his mother’s womb.
Elizabeth was ecstatic when John recognized Mary and Elizabeth praised her. Mary responded to her in song. This song is often called the magnificant and has been rendered in many ways throughout Christian history. It is the scripture passage quoted at the beginning of this post. Mary’s song echoes another great song in scripture, the song of Hannah. Hannah sang this song when her son Samuel was born. She had been barren and prayed to God for a son, promising to dedicate him to the Lord if he was born.
Then Hannah prayed and said:
“My heart rejoices in the Lord;
in the Lord my horn is lifted high.
My mouth boasts over my enemies,
for I delight in your deliverance.
“There is no one holy like the Lord;
there is no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.
Do not keep talking so proudly
or let your mouth speak such arrogance,
for the Lord is a God who knows,
and by him deeds are weighed.
“The bows of the warriors are broken,
but those who stumbled are armed with strength.
Those who were full hire themselves out for food,
but those who were hungry are hungry no more.
She who was barren has borne seven children,
but she who has had many sons pines away.
“The Lord brings death and makes alive;
he brings down to the grave and raises up.
The Lord sends poverty and wealth;
he humbles and he exalts.
He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes
and has them inherit a throne of honor.
“For the foundations of the earth are the Lord’s;
on them he has set the world.
He will guard the feet of his faithful servants,
but the wicked will be silenced in the place of darkness.
“It is not by strength that one prevails;
those who oppose the Lord will be broken.
The Most High will thunder from heaven;
the Lord will judge the ends of the earth.
“He will give strength to his king
and exalt the horn of his anointed.”
Mary’s use of the prophet Hannah’s words tells of the importance of what both she and Elizabeth had experienced. They both conceived by the grace of God when conception shouldn’t have been possible. Elizabeth was too old and Mary was too young. Mary harking back to Hannah was also significant because Hannah dedicated her son to the Lord, and both John and Jesus were to be given to the Lord. Both the song of Hannah and the song of Mary praise God’s greatness and both use language which inverts the ways of this world.
Mary says that God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. Hannah says that those who were full hire themselves out for bread but those who were hungry cease to hunger. Mary says God has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. Hannah says God makes the poor rich so they can inherit a seat of honour as nobles. Both are praising a God who does what Jesus and John also did, give hope to the poor and criticize the rich. Last week we read from the book of Isaiah a prophesy about John the Baptist and the messiah. Isaiah said
A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord[a];
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.[b]
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
This recurring theme in Isaiah’s prophetic words, in Hannah’s prophetic song, in Mary’s prophetic song, is essential to understanding what the messiah was to do. The messiah was to come and turn the world upside down. The messiah was to come and challenge everything about this world that was contrary to God. As Paul said in his letter to the Galatians, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” The ways which we separate ourselves were to be abolished. The messiah came to erase questions of race, social status, and gender.
This requires a radical shift in consciousness. Human nature is to divide the field, to create categories of in and out, us and them, right and wrong. But it was known in Hannah’s time, it was known in Isaiah’s time, it was known to Mary, it was known to John and it was known to Jesus that the rich would be made poor, the mountains would be made low, and that all people together will inherit a seat of honour in heaven.
If you doubt whether Jesus actually taught this simply turn in your bible to Matthew chapter 5 and read the beatitudes. Jesus says Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. The messiah was hope for the poor, for the oppressed, for the misunderstood, for the forgotten. The messiah came to reassure humanity that there is neither jew nor gentile, slave nor free, male nor female but people were not ready to hear it. People are still not ready to hear it.
But Mary heard it, and so did Hannah. Both these incredibly important and prophetic women knew what God was really about and both understood the importance of praising the Lord in song. Hannah starts her song with the words “my heart exults in the Lord” and Mary starts her song with “my soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour” Both are filled with joy at what God has done, both are ecstatic as they make a joyful noise to the Lord. They are not burdened by the knowledge that the messiah will change everything. They are not upset that the world they know and are comfortable with is changing. They are simply glad that God has blessed them with a child, and that their child will be able to serve God’s kingdom and teach God’s wisdom.
And so should we sing. So should we rejoice in what God is doing within us and through us. When the Lord makes the mountains low and raises the valleys, do not despair, but rejoice. When God turns everything you know upside down, do not be resentful or afraid, but magnify God’s name and let your heart exult in what God is doing. Sing a song of praise to your maker and rejoice in the messiah. It is John who made a highway for our God, who knocks down the mountains and raises up the valleys, but that is just the prep work. It is in the messiah, in Jesus the Christ, that the fulfillment of God’s kingdom is found.
So turn to the messiah after you have repented with John. Let go of the categories which separate you from the people around you. Do not worry about being a this person or a that person. Do not find your identity in the colour of your skin or the language you speak or the gender you were born as. But identify yourself as what you truly are, a child of God, nothing more, nothing less. So sing with your creator, sing songs of praise that one day the world will have let go of categories and embraced the truth. Sing songs of praise that God has created within you the spirit of Christ. Let that spirit out into the world to prophesy the truth that we are all one in Christ Jesus.
Be like Mary, be pure and humble. When the angel came and explained everything to her, she simply replied Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word. She accepted God’s word and rejoiced in song. So be like Mary, be willing to accept the miracles which the angels declare to you, be the sort of person that is able to accept Christ within them, be humble enough to say here I am, a servant of the Lord. Mary is a shining example we should all live up to. She had found favour with God and therefore was able to receive Christ within her.
Be like Mary, live a life which allows you to find favour with God. Be the sort of person that is pure enough of heart to receive Christ within. As we journey through Advent remember that Christ is eternal, Christ has always been, is now, and is yet to dwell inside you. We must first repent like John to make ready the highway for our God, but the goal is not to live our lives in the desert it is to live our lives like Mary. Mary who was wholesome and pure. Mary who was devout and faithful. Mary who was a simple girl, not much different from you or I. Mary who sang her heart out before the Lord.
So sing to God. Praise God in all that you do. Live like Mary, like an innocent young girl, from a small town. By the standards of this world Mary was nothing special, she was an unwed teenage peasant having a baby in a barn. But by God’s standard she was the most perfect human in all of creation. So, as we journey through Advent, let us sing like Mary, let us love like Mary. Let us humbly accept the Christ child within us and follow the words of angels as we walk this road of faith with our Lord who guides us from above and who is born within us. Who is a mighty king in heaven and who is a helpless child in a manger. Who loves those the world despises and humbles those the world exults.
So, sisters and brothers, as you go about your day today, I encourage you to remember Mary. I encourage you to live like Mary. Be brave, be humble, be wholesome, and most importantly be willing to receive Christ inside you without any hesitations, even if it seems impossible. Let the words and life of the mother who is a child, the most loved of God who is nothing in this world, the humble recipient of Christ himself speak to you as she has spoken to countless people over the centuries. And, my dear friends, do not forget to sing, do not forget to praise and magnify how wonderful is your God.