December 15, 2019
Prayer for Illumination:
Gracious God, sometimes we see your hand in little events, and sometimes we see it in the broad sweep of history. Stir our hearts, that we might be people of hope; help us seek you in your Word; and keep us from growing weary as we wait— that we may not miss the glory of your appearing. Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus. Amen.
In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
56 And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home. 
This time of year brings a change in the music most radio stations play. When I worked as a radio producer, our normal programming was replaced with Christmas music. I worked Christmas Day and it was wall-to-wall Christmas music. I have to confess, there are some songs that are played this time of year I really cannot stand. I cannot stand “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” or “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”. I don’t like them. Some of you might and that’s ok. Those songs just don’t help me get in the Christmas mood.
But there are some Christmas songs I absolutely love. I love “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”, “The First Noel”, and Handel’s “Messiah”. I love those songs. Do you know why? Those songs very clearly tell us the gospel. Those songs express our hope and longing for Christ.
This passage is one of the first Christmas carols. It’s one of the oldest Christmas songs. There are some songs that are older from Isaiah, like Isaiah 9. But this is one of the first Christmas songs. Traditionally, we’ve called this the “Magnificat”; that means the great song in Latin.
The song Mary sings is rich in theology. Mary sings about God’s love for her and God’s character after Elizabeth confirms what God has already spoken to her. Those are our three headings; community and God’s word, praise for God’s love for us, and praise for who God is.
Community and God’s Word
We pick up the story a few days after Gabriel had visited Mary and told she would conceive and bear a son. And she has left Nazareth for Judea. That’s a roughly 100 mile journey that would be made pretty much all on foot. It would have taken 3-4 days. Why would she make that journey? There was this implicit command in verse 36 when Gabriel said, “And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren”. He implicitly commands Mary to go to Elizabeth and see that God has done just as he said.
Mary goes. She submits to God’s will. But if you notice, she doesn’t respond in shouts of praise. She simply says in verse 38, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word”. She submits but I don’t think she fully understands what is happening. I think she doesn’t fully understand what is happening.
Mary knows that by submitting, she will face exclusion and been ostracized. She will be an unwed mother. In first century Palestine, that was a big no-no. That would have brought her shame and derision. And then there’s Joseph. Joseph, her betrothed, what will he do? Would he divorce her? She was probably thinking that. She wasn’t to know Gabriel would go to him and tell him Mary had been faithful and her child was the result of God working in her. She doesn’t fully understand what is happening and how this will work out for her good and the good of all who believe. But she submits anyway.
At times that’s all we can muster. At times we can only submit to God’s will but not fully understand what’s happening and how it fits in the bigger picture. And that’s ok. Often times, on our own we can’t fully see what God is doing. But we still submit.
May reaches the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth and Elizabeth say, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
By coming to Elizabeth, Mary is able to get some answers. By going to another person, Mary is able to get some comfort; she is able to get answers; and she is able to have someone speak into her.
Elizabeth confirms what Gabriel told Mary. She calls Mary “mother of my Lord”. That’s what Gabriel said in verses 32 and 35. He tells Mary that the child is about to conceive is God. Elizabeth is confirming that. She is confirming Gabriel’s words by calling Mary’s son Lord. She is confirming that Mary’s son is God incarnate.
Biblically, two witnesses are required to confirm a matter. Moses says in Numbers 35:30, “If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses. But no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness.” Deuteronomy 19:15 makes the same point. There Moses says, “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.” Jesus confirms this himself. In John 8, he says “In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true.”
Having two witnesses confirm a matter does two things. First, it prevents someone from ruining someone’s life with a lie. Some who has a grudge against someone can’t tell a lie and see that person get thrown in prison or killed.
The second thing having two witnesses does it that it confirms the truth. If you have two people tell you something, it usually confirms that is true. If two separate people say to you “you are a good cook”, chances are you’re a good cook. If two separate people say to you “you are good at math”, chances are you’re good at math. If two separate people say to you “you are short tempered”, chances are you have a short temper.
Elizabeth is the second person to tell Mary that she is the mother of God. She confirms what Gabriel told Mary. At this point, Mary wouldn’t be showing. If she’s pregnant, she’d only be a few days along. She couldn’t look at say, “You look pregnant”. And its doubtful Mary told anyone about her encounter with Gabriel. This information has been revealed to Elizabeth by the Holy Spirit. So it must be true. Elizabeth has truly confirmed God’s word to her.
God uses community to speak into us and to confirm what he is doing in and through us. As Americans, we tend to be more independent and individualistic. That’s part of our culture. And sometimes that creeps into our faith. I’ve heard people say, on more than one occasion, “All I need is my bible and I’m good. I don’t need to attend church. I’m good on my own”.
God often uses community to speak into us and to confirm his work in us. While we may not understand some of what God is doing in and through us, our friends and family might. Our friends and family can so often see things about us that we can’t quite see. They can see the bigger picture while we are focused on the individual pieces. God often uses them to speak into us for that reason.
When I started thinking about entering ministry, it was the result of friends seeing the bigger picture and speaking into me. The first person to say something about me entering ministry was a friend who I served with on a mission trip. She noted that I knew the bible as well as the leaders and was better than most at explaining it. At that time, I was thinking I would be a radio producer. But she saw the bigger picture and was able to speak into me. Then after the trip, several of my college friends made similar statements. They saw that I enjoyed teaching our small group and that I could explain the bible well so they suggested that I enter ministry. Again, they could see the bigger picture when I could just see the individual pieces.
The same goes in times of trial and difficulty. Our friends and family have often gone through similar things. They have often been where we are. And God has brought them through those dark days. And because God has done something similar in their lives, they have wisdom to share with us as we experience those trials and difficulties. By God’s grace, they can see the bigger picture while we just see the individual pieces. And that allows them to speak into us. God often uses community to speak into us.
God also uses community to confirm how he is working in our lives. Those same friends and family who can see the bigger picture are also able to confirm how God is transforming us. They can confirm how the Holy Spirit has curbed our temper or made us more forgiving. They can confirm that the Spirit is making us more like Christ.
Do you know these brothers and sisters? Do you allow them to speak into you? Do you see how important this community of saints is for your growth? It is through community that God confirms his work in the lives of his people.
Praise for God’s Love of Us
Now that Elizabeth has spoken into Mary and confirmed God’s work in her, Mary begins to praise God. She responds by singing, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed”.
She praises God. She praises God because God has shown her favor in choosing her to bear the Christ and that she is blessed because of that. Now, as Protestants we’ve often not done that. We have overreacted to the veneration Mary receives in the Roman church. They almost worship her. And in response, we have often denigrated her.
Mary is blessed. She is one who bore the Christ. If we are proud of our children who are carpenters, nurses, and serving our country – and we should be proud of them – how much more so Mary? Her son is God incarnate. She is the mother of God. She is blessed. Let us recognize that.
While as Protestants we need to recognize that Mary is blessed among women, she is not perfect as is taught in the Roman church. She calls God “my Savior”. She needs a savior just as much as you and I do. She was born with original sin just as you and I were. Mary needs saving just as much as everyone else does. She is not perfect.
Even though she is not perfect God has looked upon her in her “humble estate”. Mary is a no body. Mary is a poor young woman. She’s poorest of the poor. When she and Joseph go to dedicate Jesus at the temple, they offer two pigeons. That is what the poorest of the poor offer. The Mosaic Law says this is what you give if you are well-to-do; this is what you give if you are middle-class; this is what you give if you are poor. And they give the offering that the poor give. God looks on her in her humble estate.
That is what it means for God to love someone. That is what grace looks like. Mary recognizes that and praises God.
Every Christian is like Mary. We are all in need of a savior. We are all in a humble estate. And seeing that God has loved us even when we didn’t love him should cause us to say “my soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant”. That should be our praise. God has looked upon us in our humble estate of sin and misery and caused us to come to faith.
Praise for Who God Is
She sings a little bit about her and how God has looked upon her. But most of the song is about God. She says a few things about God’s nature. She sings “for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name”. She says that God is mighty and that God is holy. We looked at mighty last week. We saw that God is far more powerful than we imagine. He is the one who spoke everything seen and unseen into existence. He is the one who sustains everything. He is mighty enough to cause a virgin to conceive. He has the power to bring someone to faith.
Mary also says that God is holy. Holiness is one of God’s attributes. It is one of his defining characteristics. He is pure. He is undefiled by sin. When Isaiah cries out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” he is seeing God in his holiness.
How often do we sing of God’s holiness? Better yet, how often do we recognize God’s holiness? Holiness is a concept we don’t like to talk about. The holiness of God causes us to see our sin for what it is. The holiness of God causes us to see ourselves as who we truly are, sinners. And we don’t like to see that about ourselves.
But God is holy. God is pure and undefiled by sin. We should praise him for this. We should sing songs that describe God’s holiness and perfection. We should sing of it often.
Mary continues her song. She sings, “And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; 52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate”.
She sings of God’s mercy. This is the gospel. The gospel is not God saves those who are good and punishes those who are bad. That is moralism. What the bible teaches is not moralism. The bible makes very clear that we cannot earn out way to salvation.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is that God saves sinners out of their sin. God shows mercy to those whom he shows mercy. And the ones he shows mercy to are those who fear him. They are the ones who admit that they are not holy; that they do not deserve anything good but cast themselves solely on the mercy of God.
Those who are humble, God exalts. That’s what he has done with Mary. Mary recognizes her humble estate. She recognizes she is not the powerful of the world. And she praises God for exalting her by making her the mother of the Christ. Those who are humble, God exalts.
Those who are proud, God humbles. Look back to Daniel 4. Nebuchadnezzar, the great emperor, was proud. He ruled one of the most fearsome empires in the ancient world. He built some of the one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the hanging gardens of Babylon. He made a statue of himself that was 90 ft tall. He was a proud man.
Then one morning, as he was walking on the roof of his palace he said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” Dan. 4:30 Before those words had finished coming out of his mouth, God humbled Nebuchadnezzar. He made him act like an animal until Nebuchadnezzar recognized that God was the one who caused him to be emperor.
Do you see? The gospel is not something that favors the rich or those with pedigree over the poor. Every other religion teaches that if you are good, you will be saved. Every other religion teaches that if you are rich, you more favored by God.
Pastor Tim Keller says this: Christianity comes along and says, “No, salvation is a supernatural act of grace.” The gospel comes along and says that the nicest and most decent people, the people with the connections are every bit as lost as the prostitutes and the pimps, and if you are a prostitute or a pimp, and you come to him, you become a prophet, a priest, and a king before him. That’s the gospel. That lifts up the poor, but it pulls down the rich.
Do you see? Anyone who humbles him or herself, regardless of their status, and recognizes that salvation is only possible through Jesus Christ God will exalt. It doesn’t matter if that person is a pauper or a prince; anyone who humbly confesses that God must save them through the person and work of Jesus Christ will be exalted. It doesn’t matter if that person is a pimp or a prostitute; anyone who humbly submits to Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life will be exalted. In Christ, all who humble themselves will be exalted and wear a crown.
But anyone who does not humble him or herself will be humbled by God. Anyone who, like Nebuchadnezzar, tries to assert that they are the master of their own fate will be humbled. Anyone who asserts that they are able to stand before God Almighty on the basis of their works will be brought to their knees and humbled.
Mary understands that. She sings that. She has experienced the mercy of God and so she sings of it.
It’s Advent. And so we sing Christmas songs. Do the songs we sing at this time of the year tell of God’s love for us; how he has shown us mercy even though we don’t deserve it? Do the songs we sing profess our love of God because he is holy? Let us sing those songs. Let us sing songs that express our love for God and share of God’s love for us.