WOW! (Christmas Eve morning)
By Rev. Heidi L. Barham | December 24, 2017
Read Luke 1:46 – 56
Today’s New Testament lesson is often referred to as “The Magnificat” or simply as “Mary’s Song.”
It comes in response to what Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, said to her when she arrived at Elizabeth’s home in the hill country of Judea.
But before we delve further into Mary’s Song, let’s back up just a few verses in Luke 1, where we read about how the angel Gabriel came to Mary, an unwed, teen-aged virgin, and told her that she would conceive a child by the Holy Spirit.
And how this same angel told Mary that her cousin, Elizabeth, a woman who was much older than she was and was barren, was six months pregnant herself.
I can almost picture Mary’s reaction to Gabriel, “Let me see if I have this straight… You’re telling me that I am going to have a child, even though I am pretty much still a child myself AND still a virgin (I might add), AND not only that but you are telling me that this is going to happen through the Holy Spirit? AND that my big cousin, Liz, is pregnant, too, in spite of the fact that she is like really old and barren. WOW! That is some story Gabe.”
Okay, maybe that would have just been my reaction to Gabriel had I found myself in Mary’s shoes.
However, the truth is, Mary responded much differently.
Her response to the angel Gabriel was borne out of humility and praise for God -- honoring God for Who He is, for what He had already done and for what He would yet do in the future.
If Mary would have been heard to exclaim, “WOW!” it would have been because she understood just how good God is and just how blessed she was.
Now, we must keep in mind, in those days, unwed mothers were not exactly well received. If the father of the child did not agree to marry the woman, she would probably never marry. And, if her own father chose to reject her, she would most likely be faced with the prospect of becoming a beggar or prostitute in order to survive.
And when you add to this mix that Mary’s testimony was that she had been made pregnant by the Holy Spirit… Well, let’s just say, most people would have considered her to be a few cards shy of a full deck.
But despite the risk of being ridiculed and ostracized, Mary saw God’s hand at work in her life and recognized it for the blessing that it was.
Armed with the knowledge that her cousin, Elizabeth, was pregnant, Mary went to Judea to see her. And when she arrived and greeted Elizabeth, the scriptures say that the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leapt and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
It was then that Elizabeth exclaimed, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, 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 1:42 – 45)
Or, if I might add my own paraphrase of her response:
“WOW! You are SO blessed! And how did I get so lucky that you would come to see me? Even the baby that I am carrying knows there is something special about you, Mary! He started jumping up and down for joy the moment He heard your voice. WOW!”
And so, what did Mary do? Did she start prancing around, saying, “Yeah, look at me? I’m all that and then some?”
Did she let her head get filled with a bunch of compliments and seek the glory for herself?
Did she do what some of us might have done and allow the focus to stay on us rather than direct it to where the focus truly belonged?
Of course not.
Mary gave the honor and glory to the One to whom it rightfully belongs.
We can look to the Magnificat, Mary’s Song, as a model for us to follow as we recognize God’s hand at work in our own lives and as we seek to praise God for each and every blessing that has been bestowed on us.
And, it is also a model for us to follow as we look beyond ourselves and see what God is doing in the lives of those around us.
Mary’s Song begins with an acknowledgement of the fact that God did show favor to her and bless her.
Listen again to verses 48 and 49, “…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…”
But then Mary is quick to point out, “holy is HIS name.”
And from that point on, we are reminded that it is ONLY God who is deserving of our praise (Luke 1:50 – 55).
First, we find these words of assurance, “He always shows mercy to everyone who worships him.”
No matter what we may be going through, first and foremost, like Mary, we should worship God. Because it is in our worshipping God for who He is and what He has already done that we are reminded that just as God has been merciful in the past, He will continue to be merciful, now and forevermore.
As we hear repeated throughout the Psalms, “His (love and) mercy endures forever.” (Psalm 100, 103, 106, 107, 118, 136)
That is good news! That means we do not have to worry about God’s love and mercy ever running out. No matter how far we may, intentionally or unintentionally, try to stretch the limits.
As Jeremiah wrote in Lamentations 3, “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.”
Aren’t you glad to know that every day we get a fresh batch of God’s mercy?
Maybe it’s just me… but I am so grateful that there is no way to overdraft God’s mercy account, because He fills it up every morning with brand new mercy.
But as Mary’s Song continues, we find words that caution us against becoming too full of ourselves.
The next few verses serve as a reminder that God’s blessings are given to us for a reason -- so that we can be a blessing to others.
But when people lose sight of that, when they become arrogant and proud and think that they really are “self-made men and women,” the scriptures are clear about what can happen.
“The Lord has used his powerful arm to scatter those who are proud. He drags strong rulers from their thrones and puts humble people in places of power. God gives the hungry good things to eat, and sends the rich away with nothing.”
God continually blesses us so that we can in turn bless others by feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, giving shelter to the homeless, caring for the sick and visiting the imprisoned.
And in God’s amazing accounting system, the more we give, the more He gives to us so that we can keep being a blessing.
But if we are stingy with God’s blessings -- if we try to hoard them and keep them for ourselves -- we could end up like the Israelites who tried to keep more manna than God told them they could keep; left with a maggot infestation that is enough to make your skin crawl.
But then Mary’s Song comes back full circle to once again offer words of comfort and assurance, “He helps his servant Israel and is always merciful to his people. The Lord made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his family forever!”
Mary’s words harken back to the promises that are contained within the Old Testament scriptures when God assured Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore (Genesis 22:16 – 18) and that He would establish a covenant and show unfailing kindness to David and his descendants forever (2 Samuel 22:50 – 51; Psalm 89:2 – 4).
Mary understood that those very promises would be fulfilled in the child that she was carrying -- that child that made the baby that Elizabeth carried leap for joy.
It is that same child who the angels spoke about when they told the shepherds in the field, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10 – 12).
And in response, the shepherds said, “WOW! Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
It is that same child who caused the Magi to inquire, “[WOW!] Where is the One who has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:2); the same child to whom they brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (Matthew 2:11).
It was the same child that the Magi sought, whom King Herod feared so much -- even to the point of ordering the execution of all the baby boys who were even remotely close enough in age to be that child.
And it is that same child who both Simeon and Anna were waiting to see when He was just eight days old when Mary and Joseph brought Him into the temple to be circumcised, the child that both Simeon and Anna knew would bring redemption to Jerusalem.
For the scriptures tell us Simeon said, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed” (Luke 2:34 – 35).
While Anna said something to the effect of, “WOW! Surely this is the child we have been waiting for to bring freedom to Jerusalem.”
It was this child, Mary’s child, who came to earth as a baby; who came to live and walk among us; who ultimately came to give His life for us -- so that we might have eternal life.
It is this child whose birth we anticipate and celebrate during this season of Advent. This child who fills our hearts with the hope, peace, joy and love, that makes us say, “WOW!” -- even as we sit in expectation, awaiting His promised return for us one day.
And it is with that thought in mind, with that WOW! in our spirits, that I invite you to stand now and join in singing our Hymn of Discipleship [What Child Is This #162].