The gospel according to Luke starts out by Gabriel announcing to Zechariah that even in her advanced age, Elizabeth, Zechariah’s wife, was going to give birth to a son, who is to be named John. Six months later, Gabriel announces another miraculous birth, this time to Mary. He tells her that even though she has not had any relations with a man, she would become pregnant and bear a son, who will be named Jesus.
Gabriel makes it clear that this son of Mary will be the long-awaited Messiah, by telling her, “32He 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 ancestor David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Gabriel also tells Mary that her cousin, Elizabeth, is miraculously with child, so Mary visits Elizabeth. When Mary greets Elizabeth, John leaps in her womb, and Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth (and John) confirms that the child Mary is carrying is the long-awaited Messiah. Mary reacts by praising God through the song found in vv. 46-55.
In the first three verses, Mary praises God for choosing her for His purposes. Although she was in low standing from a societal point of view, she will now be considered by future generations as blessed.
The rest of the song anticipates that what He has done for Mary, He will do for the poor, the powerless, and the oppressed of the world. It also speaks about how all of this is what was promised to Abraham and to his descendants.
Reversal seems to be a major theme – The proud are scattered; the powerful are brought down; the lowly are lifted up; the hungry are filled with good things; and the rich are sent away empty. Although these actions are yet to come, the past tense is used. This signifies that what God promises are as good as done.
In content, Mary’s song echoes the song of Hanna, found in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. Hanna was barren and God intervenes and gives her a child, and in her song of praise, she also sang about reversals to come. Although God’s people are being oppressed now, there will come a time when this will all change.
Reading through Luke, it appears that Mary did not have an easy life. Joseph, her husband is mentioned as being there when Jesus was twelve years old, but once Jesus starts His ministry at the age 30, Joseph is no longer mentioned. Presumably, Joseph passed away sometime between those two milestones.
After Elizabeth’s affirmation that her son is the Messiah, there were other affirmations – the shepherds coming to them in Bethlehem, Simeon and Anna at the temple dedication. It would be natural for Mary to assume that Jesus will someday reveal himself as the Messiah, sit on the throne of David and free Israel from Roman rule.
The only ominous sign Mary received was from Simeon in Luke 2:34-35: “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Once Jesus left home to start his ministry, Mary would start to hear about Jesus speaking of his arrest, torture and execution. This must have been perplexing to her and difficult. Then she would witness this happening, with her son dying a horrible death on a cross. Until the resurrection, the only glimmer of hope Mary could cling to would have been Jesus’ words about coming back to life after his death.
Once the resurrected Jesus appeared, Mary understood why Jesus had to die, and that God’s promises of a reversal is still to come. Although it did not happen during her lifetime, she knew that someday, it will.
Now that we are past Thanksgiving and the next big celebration is Christmas, what things occupy your thoughts?
When I was a child, the anticipation of Christmas started when the Sears “Wish Book” arrived in August/September. We got to put in requests for what items we wanted, and we would most likely get one of them on Christmas morning. Gathering of family and friends were secondary, since they only took time away from playing with our new toys.
As a parent of young children, I would think about what presents to get the kids, as well as where to have Christmas dinner and who to invite. Also, there were church related things to plan out. Do we have a service on Christmas Eve? Christmas morning? Do we try to do some sort of outreach during Christmas? Christmas program?
As a grandparent, the focus shifts to grandchildren – Asking their parents as to what we should get them. How to best have gathering with family and friends as to not disrupt too much from the grandkids playing with their new toys.
There is nothing wrong with us anticipating these things and planning them out. However, there are also things that we could learn from Mary’s song. She does not even mention the birth of Jesus in it. What the song does is praise God for not only the things He has done, but mostly for things that He will be doing in the future.
There is nothing wrong with celebrating the birth of Christ – After all, in Luke 2, we see the heavenly host celebrating. However, we need to remember that the heavenly host was praising God in celebrating the birth of Jesus. So, in our celebration of Christmas, praise of God should be prominent in what we do.
As Mary sang her praise in anticipation of what God was going to do, she was determined to do her part in God’s plan. We should also be praising God for not only what He has done for us, but what He will be doing in the future, and we too should be determined to do our part in God’s plan.
We can’t help but to be thinking of our family, friends, and especially the little ones in our lives, as Christmas approaches. But let us keep our focus on God and praising Him for what He has done for us and what He is planning to do in the future. Let us take this opportunity to be witnesses for Jesus, and let those around us know that Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of the world.
(the above is a summary of the message shared with us by Shun Takano at our worship on November 27, 2022.)