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22 December 2012 | Feature Article



LUKE 1:39-56
Christmas is a depressing time for most people. An article written by a director of the California Department of Mental Hygiene warns: “The Christmas season is marked by greater emotional stress and more acts of violence than any other time of the year.”

Christmas is an excuse to get drunk, have a party, get something, give a little, leave work, get out of school, spend money, overeat, and all kinds of other excesses. But, for the church, Christmas is an excuse for us to exalt Jesus Christ in the face of a world that is at least tuned to His name.

I would like to continue from where I ended last Sunday's message. The title of today's message is, “Mary's Song of Praise to God.”

After Mary has submitted to God's divine purpose for her life, she wastes no time to visit Elizabeth to ascertain the angel's message. After a trip of about three or four days, Mary arrives at the house of Zacharias and Elizabeth in a village in the hill region of south of Jerusalem. The meeting with Elizabeth shows Mary's obedience, since it reflects her desire to observe the sign the angel had given her in verse 36. Mary hurries to obey what God is taking her. This reveals that Mary was a reflective and contemplative young woman. There is something about Mary that each of us needs to learn. When the angel discloses God's plan to Mary, she does not run to her friends or family members and broadcasts to them what God is going to do in and through her. I believe that Mary did not even break the news to Joseph.

Verses 41-42, when Mary greets her, Elizabeth's unborn baby leaps for joy through the incomprehensible working of the Spirit of God to salute the Son of God, who has been conceived in the virgin's womb by the same Holy Spirit. Though it is natural for an unborn child frequently to make movements during the sixth month of pregnancy, the movement made by the child was nevertheless extraordinary.

There is a mystery surrounding verses 41-44. The first mystery is the statement that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In those days, the Holy Spirit did not fill people as He does today. The Holy Spirit would come upon God's chosen man or woman to accomplish some feat for God, then, He would leave. Second, I believe the same Holy Spirit gave a spark of revelation to Elizabeth about the condition of Mary. I also believe that by this time Joseph was not aware that Mary was pregnant. Third, the Holy Spirit filling Elizabeth was temporary, because this event happened before the Day of Pentecost. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit seizes Elizabeth and she salutes Mary as the mother of the Messiah. Elizabeth is thrilled by the unexpected and magnificent revelation and shouts with excitement: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (v. 42).

The humility that Elizabeth demonstrates in feeling honored just to be in the presence of the yet unborn Messiah is expressed more fully by her son, John the Baptist when he says, “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30). Joyfully and wholeheartedly, Elizabeth acknowledges that a much greater honor has been conferred on Mary than on her. However, Elizabeth shows no sign of jealousy. This is a word of advice to every mother. Be thankful to the Lord for the child/children He has given you and do not be envious of someone else's children. God knows what He is doing, and His plan for your life is the best. However, some of you do not wait on God for His plans for your life to materialize.

In humility of heart, Elizabeth utters her amazement that she is so privileged as to be visited by the mother of her Lord. Elizabeth rejoices together with her baby in the womb, in the greatness of the coming Redeemer. In this special encounter, there is peace that exists between these two women. Peace reigns among those who serve God, as each understands his/her place in the plan of God.

Elizabeth knows God does not owe her such a central role, yet she is amazed at God's involvement with her. In asking, “Why am I so favored?” (v. 43), she understands that she is but a humble beneficiary of God's grace. Elizabeth accepts God's gift to her in grateful worship. However, when she meets Mary, to whom a still greater gift has been given, she does not become jealous or unsympathetic. While jealousy would have darkened her life, her humble attitude opened for her the gates of true, deep and jubilant joy. When you elevate yourself constantly, you engage in wrecking your own life. However, if you sincerely humble yourself, you find richness of life and happiness. The Bible teaches that God exalts the humble but He brings down those who are proud in heart. Elizabeth at her old age knows that she does not deserve what God is doing in her life.

Verse 45 is the first recorded beatitude coming from human lips in the Gospel of Luke. This verse is the essence of response to God to trust His word to be true and live in light of that belief. To be blessed is to be happy because God has touched one's life. Such divine benefit rains down on those who trust God and His promises. Blessing emerges from God's ability to bring His promises to completion. However, to partake in His benefits, we must be confident that God does what He says. The first sign of such faith in Mary is her willingness to let God use her. Are you willing to let God use you? Or you have a sign in front of the door of your heart that reads, “busy do not disturb.” The second is Mary's immediate visit to Elizabeth, who herself serves as a sign that God keeps His word and can give life (vv. 36, 39). A major theme of the first two chapters of Luke's Gospel is that God does what He says. Therefore, when God steps into your life, you should trust that He would do as He has promised.

Music is the universal language of the heart. I do not know about you, but whenever the Lord does something for me, I burst into music to praise and thank Him for His goodness. Mary began to utter praise not when the angel Gabriel brought her the wonderful tidings but when a woman like herself called her “mother of my Lord” (v. 43). The message of Gabriel was at once confirmed when Elizabeth, in whom the promises of the Lord had already been unmistakably realized, greeted her with joy. Mary's spontaneous reaction to this is to sing this beautiful hymn. Mary's hymn is one of the three hymns in the infancy narrative (others are known as Benedictus, Luke 1:67-79, and Nunc Dimittis, Luke 2:28-32). The Latin names come from the phrases that begin the hymns. Mary's hymn is known as the Magnificat. Mary's hymn is full of theology. This shows that Mary was a young lady who knew the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament. Mary's hymn has a close connection with the song of Hannah, the mother of Samuel. However, Mary's hymn is essentially different from the triumphal song of Hannah. While Mary sings her happiness with deep humility and holy reserve, Hannah surrounded herself to a feeling of personal triumph over her enemies.

Verses 46-49 are the first stanza of Mary's hymn, in which she describes her personal emotions and experiences. Her praise is personal; her soul and spirit offers praise to God, who has been gracious to her. She sings of the worshipful gratitude of her own heart to God, her Savior. She magnifies the name of the Lord. Then, she gives the reason for her rejoicing: God has so richly favored her, His handmaid, not withstanding her humility as a simple inhabitant of Nazareth. That from henceforth she will always be called blessed. I feel pity for people who claim to be Christians but do not have an attitude of gratitude. Ladies and gentlemen, any good thing that comes our way comes from the gracious and providential hand of God. Sometimes some people think they deserve God's blessings and their lack of gratitude blocks the flow of God's blessings upon their lives. Mary was not like that. The attributes and titles she ascribes to God shows Mary's humble spirit. Her humble perspective forms the basis of her gratitude. The exemplary character of Mary grows out of her understanding of God's character. God owes her nothing; she owes God everything. All the good things that come from His hand are acts of grace.

In spite of her humble position, Mary will be honored by all generations. God the Almighty has done great things on her behalf. Generations will see her as an example of a simple human touched by divine power and presence. Today, you and I are reading and studying what the gracious God did for Mary more than two thousand years ago. We are also beneficiaries of the blessings that God bestowed on Mary. In Mary's song of worship, it is God, who is unique. God is the one set apart and who is worthy of praise. For Mary, God's name is wonderful because His character is true.

Mary's hymn becomes more animated when she sings of God's glorious deeds of redemption and of His omnipotence, holiness, and mercy. God shows mercy to those who fear Him. To “fear” God means to cherish reverence and respect for Him, not to be afraid, but to honor Him lovingly by avoiding what is contrary to His will and by striving after what pleases Him. The righteous, those who look and turn to God are the objects of His blessing. The blessings enumerated in verses 50-53 come to those who look to God for care. God's mercy shows His loving-kindness. Such love is faithful as well as gracious (Psalm 103:2-6, 8-11, 13, 17). With these words, Mary's hymn reaches its climax, where she sings of the mighty reversal of things which in principle have been accomplished by the entrance of God upon the course of history through the coming Messiah, the promised Son.

In God's choice of two persons of humble life Mary and Elizabeth, Mary sees the powerful revolutionary principle according to which God is going to renew everything through the Christ. This principle entails a complete reversal of all human opinions of greatness and insignificance. The proud, those who exalt themselves and take no account of God, He puts down, beaten by His mighty arm. Those who stand in opposition will face God's mighty power to bring down. Therefore, God will deal with the proud. His arm will be raised against them (Deut. 4:34; Psalm 44:3; 89:13; 118:15). The powers that be, oppressors who tyrannize over the poor and lowly, are deprived of their power and high standing, while those who are truly humble are exalted to great things. Whatever earthly authority exists, it pales in comparison to the mighty and decisive exercise of divine authority. The hungry those who realize their own need and yearn for spiritual food are blessed. However, the rich, those who are self-satisfied and proud are put to shame in the imaginations of their hearts. Here is God working on behalf of pious downtrodden. This shows that God will not stand by and allow the righteous to be put to shame. On the contrary, He will vindicate the righteous at the right time. Often it is those in need who are most spiritually sensitive to God and who are gifted with faith by Him. God promises them that despite their current deprivation, they will experience great reward in the future.

This is the last stanza of Mary's hymn. Here she points out that everything that she has sung earlier in the hymn is the result of the fact that God is true to His promises of salvation through the coming Redeemer, made from of old to Abraham and his descendants (Gen. 12:1-3). God is acting for His people Israel, and His actions reflect His mercy. One of the lessons of the infancy narrative of Jesus is that God keeps His word, including the promises He made to the nation of Israel. Mary knows that the promises of God abide, and this is evident in her praise. God's loving-kindness is central to those to whom God has made Himself known.

After spending almost about three months with Elizabeth, Mary returned to Nazareth. By this time, she was pregnant for three months and Joseph her betrothed husband did not know. Joseph being a righteous man was planning to call the betrothal null and void when the same angel Gabriel went to him that Mary had not been unfaithful, but the seed she had taken is the activity of the Holy Spirit. And you all know the rest of the story, at the edict of Caesar Augustus, Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem where the baby Jesus was born.

My question to you is this: “Is God up to something in your life?” How are you cooperating with God to bring about His purpose in your life? Are you a vessel that God can use? Are you dedicated to Him? Have you saturated your mind and heart with His word like Mary? Are you humble enough that God can stoop down and bless your life?

This Christmas, God wants to give you a gift of His precious Son. God wants to offer you the gift of His salvation in the person of Jesus Christ. The gift is yours. All that you have to do is to receive this gift. Merry Christmas.

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