2009-12-24 - The Magnificat
Christmas Eve 2009
Luke 1:46 And Mary said:
I was given a fresh look at this very familiar passage a few days ago. This text has been read and reread this time of year for hundreds and hundreds of years. It had become familiar to the point where I needed to be pushed back away from it and really see what is held in the words of this remarkable young woman.
It is very likely that Mary was no older than fifteen or sixteen years - quite possibly younger. She had been betrothed to Joseph, probably arranged by their parents, which was as binding as a marriage. To break off their espousal would require a legal divorce. There seems to be a level of caring and respect between the two. Even though Mary had met Gabriel who had informed her that she would be pregnant with the Son of God, the ages promised Messiah, it must have taken a great deal of courage to tell Joseph that she had not been unfaithful and that it was the God's Son she was carrying.
It took a lot of trust that Joseph would not simply laugh in her face. He had not had his meeting with Gabriel yet, and had no way of knowing the truth of her statement except that it came from her. Joseph still struggled with his decision regarding what to do about Mary's apparent infidelity. It seems to me that a part of him wanted to believe Mary. Again this is supposition on my part. There was trust between them and he did not want to believe she had lied to him. Maybe it was her confidence in her statement. I have no idea. In the end human logic prevailed that she must have been unfaithful. What are the odds? They were astronomical - one woman out of all the women in the history of Israel would carry the Messiah. He could have had her stoned for her apparent sin, but he decided against it. The only thing I can think is that he really cared for Mary greatly.
Mary had the faith to stay with the truth in the face of incalculable odds that anyone would believe her. Her betrothed husband is described as a righteous man (Matt 1:19). She must have had some fear that he would at least leave her. Here her trust in God is evident that whatever would happen He would provide for her. In her culture she would have been considered an adulteress even if Joseph forgave her.
Now look at the words this young woman speaks. She first praises God in the same way as Hannah (1 Sam 2:1) and King David (psalm 34:1) of whom she is a descendant. She then places herself as a a bondslave - a person bound to service without wages. This is a picture of someone who believes that God is Who He says He is. It is a picture of who we should be. In Luke 1:38 responding to Gabriel she says, "I am the Lord's servant, ..." She has just had her life completely turned upside down by the messenger of God Almighty with the most unlikely, long-awaited news, and she remains humble placing herself completely in His hands. In the remainder of the magnificat she praises the Lord for His strength and mercy and protection of His chosen people Israel twice quoting from the Old Testament. It is dubious she had those pages in front of her. She recognizes that all this is being done by God in His mercy to fulfill His promise to Israel. It is easy to think this teenager from Nazareth is just a simple, uneducated girl. That hardly seems to match the woman we read in these verses.
We often say that the first announcement to the world of Jesus' birth was to the shepherds around Bethlehem. There is no intent to take anything away from these men who were the first to visit Jesus after His birth, but Mary was the first to receive the news. Their reactions to the news was the same - praising God. She had been prepared for this task and as much as possible for the joy and heartbreak that it would bring with it. God had moved the pieces on the board and placed this one of His most favored pieces into position at this special time. She met the news and her messenger with great faith and courage. Part of her reward was a message to Joseph by Gabriel that allayed Joseph's concerns assuring him that Mary had spoken the truth. That moment turned Joseph's life inside out as well.
Read these lines again and see the promises that are laced throughout Mary's words. Many of those promises carry over to the church - God's mercy and protection. The faithfulness of the Father to humble the proud and raise up the humble. And there is a reminder near the beginning that especially at this time of year, but all year long as well, our spirits should rejoice in God our Savior. The Son humbled Himself and took on the form of frail human flesh, veiling His power and glory to reach out to a lost and dying world in order to remind us that God cares about us, our struggles and the details of our lives - enough to die in our place to save us.
My soul exalts the Lord.
Grace and Peace,