December 25, 2014
This time of year we read of Mary magnifying God; we sing of Mary holding the baby Jesus.
But put yourself in Mary’s shoes. A young woman, probably about sixteen years old, planning to be married to the local carpenter, looking forward to a quiet life in a backcountry town.
Sure, she and her fiancé are descendants of King David – but there are lots of descendants of David. And there hasn’t been a king in this line for hundreds of years. Augustus Caesar is king, and Herod is his regent.
Mary’s quiet life is shattered when the angel Gabriel appears, crying out, “Greetings, O favored One, the Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:28). Mary is frightened – the usual response to angels in the Bible. And she is confused. She has no idea how she is especially favored – how she is a recipient of grace.
So Gabriel continues, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (v30). The word translated “favor” is often translated “grace” in the New Testament. The same Greek expression is used more than 40 times in the Greek translation of the Old Testament commonly read in the first century. For example, both Noah and Moses are said to have “found favor” with God (Genesis 6:8, Exodus 33:17). Always, as in the case of those two men, when someone finds favor with God, it is undeserved. Mary is not full to overflowing with grace; rather, she is undeservedly favored by God. Gabriel is telling her, “Mary, God is graciously giving you a privilege far, far beyond your deserving.”
The angel then explains this grace in v31-33.
And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name 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 father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.
The Jews have been waiting hundreds of years for the promised Son of David to arise and reign. Mary now hears the startling message: Her son is to be the long-awaited Messiah. She, a young girl from nowhere, is chosen by God to mother the Messiah who will reign forever.
Mary believes the angel. She does not doubt. But she is confused. She asks in v34, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” She’s saying, “I don’t get the biology here.”
Gabriel tells her it will be a miracle:
The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy- the Son of God. (v35)
God will cover her, He will fill her, He will perform a miracle – and she will then give birth to the Holy One, the Son of God.
Gabriel then graciously gives Mary a sign she can check out of God’s power at work: Her barren, elderly cousin Elizabeth is pregnant. So “nothing will be impossible with God” (v37). Even for Mary to become pregnant without ever having sexual relations with a man.
It’s at this point that I want you to put yourself in Mary’s shoes. How could Mary have reacted?
She could have said, “What? Me? Pregnant? What will Joseph think? What will my parents think? Can’t you just leave me alone and pick some other girl?”
Does that sound familiar?
That’s more or less how Moses responded to God’s call at the burning bush (Exodus 3).
But Mary instead says, “I am the servant [or “slave”] of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word” (v38).
Mary receives great grace from God – the privilege of bearing the long-awaited Messiah. It is a great privilege. But it is also a great upheaval. It is completely out of the blue, completely unexpected. All her plans, all her dreams, now changed.
But young Mary responds with great faith and wisdom.
Mary knows she will become pregnant soon, so verse 39 tells us she “went with haste” to Elizabeth. No one else is likely to believe her story that her pregnancy is God’s work. She wants to share her joy with the one person she knows who has experienced something similar.
When Mary arrives and greets her cousin, John the Baptist in utero leaps, and Elizabeth exclaims that Mary is blessed among women. She concludes by explaining why she is honoring Mary – and thus why we should honor her: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (v45).
Elizabeth honors her:
- Not because she was perpetually a virgin, for Scripture says no such thing
- Not because she is co-mediatrix, for Scripture says that is impossible, there is only one mediator between God and man
- Not because she is full of grace, overflowing with merit that we can tap into, for Scripture says, “There is no one righteous, no not one”
Rather, we should honor Mary because she is a woman of faith. She believes. She acts on that belief. Her plans were turned upside down. And yet she followed God faithfully.
She then expresses her response to God’s work in a marvelous song. For our purposes here, just note a few sentences:
Verse 46-47: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
How can Mary magnify the Lord? Isn’t He already as big as he can get? As John Piper helpfully notes, we can magnify God the way a telescope magnifies stars. The stars are incredibly large, yet look tiny to us. Telescopes help us to see them closer to the size they really are. So Mary praises God, giving Him a portion of the worship He truly deserves.
And note that Mary magnifies the Lord through her joy. She could have responded to Gabriel by moping and saying, “Oh, well, I guess if that’s God’s plan I just have to go along. I can’t fight against Him. But I sure wish I could have lived out the quiet life I had planned.” That would have diminished God rather than magnifying Him.
Instead, she sees that God has lifted her out of the mundane, and given her grace for a great task. So she rejoices, and magnifies His Name.
She explains why she is so joyful in God in v48-49:
For he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
God could have ignored a young girl from an obscure town. But He looked at her. He graced her with His favor.
Look at how Mary returns to this theme at the end of her song:
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent empty away (v51-53).
God is the only strong one! He always takes weak ones – like Mary, like Esther, like David, like Daniel – and exalts them, showing that He is the source of their strength. He always takes the proud, the mighty – like Pharaoh, like Nebuchadnezzer, like Jezebel, – and humbles them, showing that their power is nothing.
Worldly power, worldly accomplishment, worldly pride are all nothing. Indeed, to the extent that they make us think we do not need God, they are worse than nothing: they are dangerous.
God always keeps His covenant, He always shows mercy. But He shows that mercy only to the humble – to the one who admits he needs God’s mercy.
As Mary sees this – as she sees that she deserves nothing from God, but like so many throughout history, she receives great mercy from Him – she overflows with joyous praise.
She could have bellyached. She could have focused on all her plans gone awry. At this point she doesn’t even know how Joseph will respond. But she rejoices in God Her Savior. She humbles herself. And magnifies God.
What about you?
Will you humble yourself? Will you admit your need for Him?
Will you thus magnify God?
He who is mighty, He who is faithful, He who expresses covenant love to His people, will do great things for you too.
You might say, “I’m not chosen to be the mother of Jesus. I’m not chosen to do anything important – so how does this apply to me?”
God has given you a task, a vital task. You are like Mary, in that no one else can perform your task.
Furthermore, like Mary, you will only accomplish God’s task by setting aside some of your own plans.
Mary found favor with God. But finding favor with God did not lead to an easy life for her – and it won’t for you.
Always, like her, we need to live a life of humility, rejoicing in God our Savior, even as He upsets our plans and leads us through suffering. For He has looked with care at your humble estate, and has chosen to use you for His good, wise purposes.
This is true for every person who is part of God’s covenant people. We all can know for sure that He has done great things for us, and will continue to do them in the future.
So: Are you within that covenant? Are you a recipient of God’s promises?
You can be. That’s why Mary became pregnant: For your everlasting joy.
Fear the Lord. Be humble. Acknowledge your sinfulness. See Mary’s Son as your treasure. Admit that you have been proud, exalting yourself, your own plans, your own thoughts. Admit that you have diminished God. Admit that you have thus violated the reason for your existence.
Repent. Turn. Seek joy in Him. See Jesus as one who became man, lived the life you should have lived, and died to pay the penalty for sins. See Him as the One who reigns today, who will return to bring in His eternal Kingdom.
Then, like Mary the woman of faith, rejoice in God your Savior. Find joy in humility – and thus magnify the Lord.