What is going to be the biggest musical hit this Christmas? Apparently the all-time, best selling Christmas song is Band Aid’s “Do they know it’s Christmas?” closely followed by Slade’s “Merry Xmas Everybody” and Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”. But beating them all is Mary’s Song. Known as the “Magnificat anima mea Dominum”, it is one of the earliest Christian hymns, sung in hundreds of thousands of churches of all denominations, every week for at least 1,500 years.
And today we are going to see why. As we saw last week, Mary had some serious liabilities – she was pregnant, she was young, she was poor, she was unmarried, she was from a dubious neighbourhood. And that was just the start of her problems. Besides all that, she faced divorce by Joseph, rejection by her family and death by stoning. Good reasons why, when the angel left her,
“Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.” (Luke 1:39-40)
Luke 1 wonderfully records the providential work of God in providing Mary with a friend who would understand. The narrative of not one, but two, miraculous conceptions woven together in parallel, as the mothers support and encourage each other.
- Both begin with an introduction of the child’s parents.
- Both mention specific obstacles to childbearing—Elizabeth’s barrenness and Mary’s virginity.
- The angel Gabriel made both announcements, each time to someone living in a small, out-of-the-way location..
- In both there was a fearful first reaction to Gabriel’s words and a statement of reassurance from him.
- Then there is a description of the coming son and,
- In each case, an objection raised—by Zacharias, unbelief; by Joseph, lack of understanding.
- Last, Gabriel’s promises confirmation that his announcement will come to pass.
“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”” (Luke 1:41-45)
As soon as Mary hears these words of Elizabeth – before she has even had an opportunity to explain the purpose of her visit – Elizabeth refers to her as “the mother of my Lord” and pronouncing a blessing on her for believing the word of the Lord spoken to her. So the questions are quieted, the anxiety is abated, and the doubts disappeared, and Mary knew in her spirit that what had happened to her was for real.
In God’s plan for the redemption of the world, he provided Mary with someone close by who could empathize with her, someone who believed in her, someone to hold her hand, through the confusion, through the rejection, through the embarrassment, through the shame and through the pain. Someone who would be a blessing to Mary. Mary was not going to be alone through her pregnancy. And neither need you be through whatever it is you are going through today.
If you are feeling desperate like Mary, who can you turn to? God will provide. And if you can see someone like Mary, struggling in their faith or their circumstances, will you reach out to them as Elizabeth does? Be available? Listen? Bless in practical ways? Even take them into your home? Today? This Christmas? If the context of Mary’s song is God’s wonderful providence, his timely provision, lets consider its content and reason for its popularity. Mary’s song is actually a song of love, a song of faith and a song of hope.
1. Mary’s Song of Love
“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, 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. ” (Luke 1:46-49)
Praise erupts from her innermost being like an overflowing fountain. The moment that she and her people had waited for so long has finally arrived. God has heard the cries and the longings of His children and the work of salvation has begun. Mary’s song draws on scripture from Genesis, from Job,
from the Psalms, and from Isaiah. It highlights how her understanding was shaped by a deep knowledge and love for the Word of God. Mary read and memorized the Scriptures as a lover would passionately memorize and consume the letters from her beloved – they not only stimulated her thinking but transformed her heart and mind and soul. From the depths of her being she gives expression to her wonder, her amazement, her adoration, her worship and her love of God that He has singled her out to accomplish His mighty purposes.
This is surely how we should read and study and memorise the Scriptures, not from compulsion or obligation but out of love. Mary’s song of love.
2. Mary’s Song of Faith
“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.” (Luke 1:50-53)
Mary’s love for who God is and what he was doing in and through her, motivated her to believe that he could and would do the same to those who also fear him “from generation to generation” Faith grows out of worship, it flows from adoration of God. Worship takes our eyes off ourselves and onto the Lord God Almighty, the High King of Heaven – it dwells on His might, on His power, on His mercy and on His grace.
And love for who God is strengths and deepens faith – because faith keeps its vision focused on the word and promises of God and not on our circumstances.
“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1)
Faith is believing that because God has declared something, it is already an accomplished fact, even if the tangible and visible evidence is not immediately apparent to our visual, tactile and other senses. Mary proclaims that God has already scattered the proud and arrogant; He has pulled down the mighty from their thrones and has exalted the poor; he has satisfied the hungry with good nourishment, and sent the self-sufficiently wealthy away empty-handed. But as she sings these words her personal circumstances were no different – she was still a young peasant girl from Nazareth, the Romans and king Herod still ruled Palestine with an iron fist, taxing the people for the Emperor, the rich still had their wealth and the poor continued to struggle. But steeped in scripture, reassured by the words of the Angel, corroborated by her cousin Elizabeth, Mary’s song displays her love for who God is and faith in what God was and would do in and through her. Which of God’s promises do you find too incredible to believe? Are your circumstances limiting your faith in God’s word? Mary’s song of love is also a song of faith.
3. Mary’s Song of Hope
“He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.” (Luke 1:54-55)
Mary could sing her song of love and faith because she had a vision of the changed society God was bringing into being. A world where all wrongs will be righted, where every injustice will be corrected, where the oppressed and downtrodden will be lifted up and those who have exalted themselves will be humbled. Mary’s hope is based in the promise God made to her ancestor Abraham and to all his descendants. The promises that inspired her vision are found in Genesis chapters 12 and 17 where God promised he would establish His everlasting covenant with Abraham and through his seed would bless all the nations of the earth.
The Apostle Paul explains how the promise made to Abraham which Mary sings of would be fulfilled through her son.
“The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ… If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:16, 29)
At Christmas when we sing of the angel’s song of “peace on earth” and experience a glimpse, albeit briefly, of what the world will become. The apostle John was also given a vision of the world as it will become.
“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:1-5)
Our hope, like Mary’s is firmly anchored in the faithful, sure and certain promises of God. Whatever our unpredictable or precarious circumstances, God’s promises will be fulfilled. This is our hope we sing of today. Mary’s song was a song of love, of faith and hope because in a unique way God had singled her out to carry the eternal Word in her womb. Through her, the life-giving Word would become flesh – become a human being and be Emmanuel – God with us – God among us and one of us. Now here is more amazing news.
Why has Mary’s song probably been sung by more Christians than any other in the whole of church history? Because like Mary, God has also handpicked and personally selected you and me for that very similar purpose. The eternal Word of God seeks to continue becoming flesh – continue being expressed through willing and responsive men and women, boys and girls and dwelling among us full of grace and truth. Your body and mine was especially created to be the dwelling place for God – the means by which He makes Himself known to others in our homes, our families, our schools, our communities, every place where we live and move and have our being. That is why the Apostle Paul has to remind the Corinthians,
“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
And so again this Advent season, He comes to us – the least likely individuals in the least likely of places and He says to you and me: “Greetings Jonathan! Greetings Kathryn! Greetings Bruce & Jill, Peter & Kristin… You who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you!” God forces Himself on no one. He takes the initiative and He makes the invitation. Mary responded by saying, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” And we are here today because we have experienced God’s transforming love, we may have a steadfast faith and a sure and certain living hope, because Mary said “Yes”.
But our own hurting and broken world awaits your response. Will you let Mary’s song of love, faith and hope, become your own prayer of dedication? Not just for Christmas, but every day? Let us pray Mary’s song together.
“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, 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.” (Luke 1:46-55)
I am deeply grateful in particular to Johann Neethling for his sermon ‘The Song of Mary’ which has blessed me richly and from which I have drawn inspiration and content in this sermon. I have also been blessed by Mary Lewis’ sermon “Something bigger than both of us” and John McArthur’s book, God in the Manger (Word Publishing, 2001), chapter 4.
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