Last week, as we started our series Unexpected, we noticed the birth narratives in the Gospel of Luke (see Lk. 1). We discussed how, in some ways, what God is doing was unexpected. Zechariah and Mary were surprised at the angel's visit and announcement of the births of John and Jesus. However, as we explore the text a bit deeper, we find that what is happening is not altogether unexpected. As he opens his Gospel narrative, Luke leads us into the story of God. The birth narratives of John the Baptist and Jesus remind us of other birth accounts in the history of Israel and the Old Testament (see Gen. 21; Gen. 30, 35; Judges 13; 1 Samuel 1). What we discover is how God is faithfully fulfilling His promises through Jesus.
By opening his Gospel with these two birth announcements, Luke intentionally places them parallel to each other. By doing this, his readers can compare them and draw conclusions from them. One of the significant conclusions we see between Zechariah and Mary is their reactions to the announcement. As Luke records, Zechariah did not believe the messenger's words (Lk. 1:20). Although troubled at seeing the angel, Mary responds in faith. "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May your word to me be fulfilled." Then the angel left her." (Lk. 1:38). Mary's faithful response demonstrates her willingness to follow God's word. Zechariah, who doubted God's word, was muted so that he could not speak for a time (Lk. 1:20). Mary, as we read next, burst forward in a song of praise.
Mary's song of praise is recorded in (Lk. 1:46-55). The Magnificat, perhaps one of the earliest Christian hymns, has been celebrated and considered by Christians throughout the world and for generations. It's important in the narrative of Luke as it introduces some of the core theological themes found in his gospel account. It also reflects the good news of God's kingdom. The Messiah's reign will not be like others.
Connections To The Old Testament
Like much of the New Testament literature, Mary's Song of Praise is interwoven with themes and threads of the Old Testament. From the Psalms to the Prophets, and styled after Hannah's song of praise (1 Sam. 2:1-10), Mary's song
connects us to the fullness of God's faithfulness. It also helps us peer into a young woman’s life that is saturated in the Scriptures—a young woman who desires to serve the Lord and has His word hidden in her heart. Her song of
praise serves as an example of a life devoted to the Lord.
A Kingdom Unlike Others
Elevate the Humble
"And Mary said: "My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed"
Mary understands her personal reliance on God as her Savior. She recognizes her need and dependence upon the Lord. The Lord sees the lowly, strengthens them, and lifts them up. He is mindful of His servant(s).
God's care for the humble (lowly) is a theme highlighted throughout Luke's Gospel and was central to the message of Jesus. Recall His words from the Gospel of Matthew:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
Mary sees her humble state before the Lord, much like Hannah in (1 Sam. 2:8). She sees herself as God's servant.
Scatters the Proud
Mary praises God for His mighty acts.
"He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble."
Mary and Hannah (ref. 1 Sam. 2:3) see those who would stand out and rest in their boast and confidence as those brought down by the Lord. In our culture, often the proud, boastful, and self-confident personalities are exalted. Our culture often elevates celebrities, athletes, business executives, and even pastors who pride themselves in their accomplishments. They are often the examples we point to as models for development and personal growth. However, in a reversal of what we typically see, Mary's song points to a central truth in God's kingdom. The Lord elevates the humble and brings down the proud.
Jesus shares this unexpected reversal of the kingdom of God.
"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth."
In Mary's world, under Rome's oppression and heavy rule, she recognizes a servant's reason for boasting. It's not in our accomplishments or the status others give; a servant's boast is in the Lord, who scatters the proud and elevates the humble.
Fills the Hungry
The Lord sustains, fills, and satisfies.
"He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty."
What are we striving for? What is it that we desire to fill ourselves up with? So often, we are caught in the trap of seeking after those things we think will fill us—a relationship, an escape, seeking after the next adventure or high, a career. A desire for pleasure and comfort can often lead us to emptiness and isolation. We learn through the Book of Ecclesiastes that life is often unpredictable despite our best efforts. The author concludes:
"Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil."
We can chase after any number of things we think will fill us and satisfy our desires. Mary knows the Lord fills, sustains, and satisfies our deepest needs.
Jesus, in His kingdom, teaches the same:
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled."
In our longing to find fulfillment, God strengthens, supplies, and sustains.
Crossing The Context
Mary's song of praise is unexpected; it reverses what we often recognize and see. The humble are exalted, the proud are scattered, the rich are empty, and the hungry are filled. It's not how we often understand our world, and it's unexpected. However, as we follow the story, it's not entirely unexpected. A man named Abraham and his wife Sarah, unable to have children, become a great nation (Gen. 12:2). A woman in great anguish and grief who was unable to have children of her own, Hannah (1 Sam. 1:16), is given a child named Samuel, who is dedicated to the Lord. Mary (Lk. 1:28) finds favor in God's sight and will give birth to the Messiah. Following the story, we see how God is faithfully fulfilling His promises.
As Messiah Jesus enters the world, God unites Himself with humanity. His kingdom and His reign will be different from what many have expected. It's a reversal of what we so often see. Jesus is a King who does not exalt Himself, but takes on an insignificant birth and gives Himself for the benefit of others. His kingdom is not for the proud, boastful, arrogant, or rich. But for the humble who hunger and thirst for what He alone can supply.
God's story often challenges our understanding of success and fulfillment. It's a story that challenges us to rely on Him, not worldly pursuits.
In our culture, Mary's song of praise stands out as cross-cultural. Where we often value success, power, and wealth, the message of her song challenges our common understandings. Her song encourages us to consider our values and pursuits. Are they aligned with the Lord's purposes?
In our lives today, are we trusting His faithfulness and His faithful promises?
Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011).