December 10, 2017
Have you ever noticed how many songs there are in the Bible? They cover everything from sadness to great joy…and not just in the psalms, but throughout the scriptures.
I suppose that I am in a bit of a transition generation. As a kid I can remember that just about every family movie had to have a song and dance routine in it at some point. But somewhere that changed and we ended up with movies like Star Wars where none of that was present…and were it present it would have looked pretty silly.
I remember as a teenager, going through the living room and catching my sister watching “West Side Story.” I didn’t watch it through, but I remember that there were two gangs about to get into a fight and they started singing! I don’t remember anything else about it other than walking out and saying, “yeah, like that’s realistic.” Now, don’t misunderstand me, I am not knocking musicals, I actually like musicals very much (“Into the Woods” is my all-time favorite).
You see, as I was reading and rereading the text to prepare for this morning, it struck me that the action of Mary in response to the worship of Jesus by John was not an unnatural action to be relegated to cheesy musicals. Look, have you ever watched small children at work on a project and while they are doing that they simply start singing to themselves while engaged in their task. I fear that our process of schooling has a bad way of breaking our children of that…but understandably so, given the sound of 35 children each singing a different song as they worked.
So, up front, let me encourage you to sing — not just as an inner-child, but as the natural expression of your worship of God both in church and elsewhere. As boldly as you would sing in the shower or in the car, sing to God here and elsewhere. It is what God’s people do in the scriptures and it is what Mary does…so why not you and me as well?
So, Mary, after receiving news from Gabriel both of her pregnancy and of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, goes to meet with her relative. Now, we are not told exactly where Elizabeth lived, but we know it was in the hill-country of Judea, an 80-90 mile trip. I fear that in the day of airplanes and automobiles, that we do not fully appreciate the challenge of this journey.
In Mary’s day, she would have had to join with a caravan for safety and planned on walking the 90 miles to her destination. If she didn’t wish to walk, she could take a donkey to ride on…though that would hardly be more comfortable.
Knowing too that wherever Elizabeth lived, it is not unlikely that Mary would have traveled through Bethlehem on her route, in one sense, you can consider this trip a dry run for the trip she would again make 9 months later…except that time she would have been very pregnant.
And so, Mary arrives at Zechariah and Elizabeth’s house in the hill country of Judea and something wonderful happened — the baby John the baptist leapt in the womb of his mother. Make sure you understand this clearly. John is still in his sixth month, or second trimester as a fetus, and this fetus is worshiping the fetus of Jesus, here only about 2 weeks old.
I want to make two observations about this.
First, if anyone has ever doubted the Bible’s stance on whether abortion is the taking of a life or at what stage in the pregnancy that a fetus becomes human, this is all the further that you have to look. John, still in the womb is worshipping Jesus who is still in the womb…just a couple of weeks from conception. And even here, Elizabeth pronounces the fetal Jesus to be her Lord.
Second, sometimes our Baptist friends challenge us as to why we baptize covenantal infants, suggesting that it is impossible for a baby to repent of his sins at such an early age and thus it is impossible for an infant to have saving faith. Well, John did. And, while John the Baptist is a special case, if it is possible that God regenerated one in the womb, is it not possible that God regenerated others in the womb?
Now, ordinarily we baptize children on the profession of faith of one or both parents or guardians, identifying these children with the covenant mark as part of the covenantal body. But here again we have an example of a regenerated infant in the womb…born again before he was born into this world!
So, Elizabeth blesses Mary because she is the mother of Christ, she blesses Jesus because he is the Christ, and then she blesses Mary again because she believed God would fulfill his promises.
After this, Mary responds in song. In traditional church liturgy, this is called “The Magnificat.” Simply, in English that means “the Praises.”
There is much that we can say about this song of praise and it is a good song to guide us as we evaluate the non-inspired hymns that we sing, but this morning I would like to focus on the main theme of the song, which is the works of God…in particular the six things that this song speaks of God doing.
First, God has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
The end of verse 46 through the beginning of verse 48 reads like this:
“My soul magnifies (boasts in, makes much of) the Lord, and my spirit exults (is overjoyed, is glad) in God my Savior. For he has looked (gazed with affection upon) on the lowlifes (humiliation, humble estate) of his servant (slave).”
God is a God who sees that which transpires in the life of his people. For some, I suppose, though, that is a bit of a mixed blessing as there are times that Christians might wish that God were not looking at them — i.e. in choosing to sin.
Many years ago, I heard a preacher say, “I ask myself, if Jesus were to return again, would I want Jesus to find me doing what I am doing…” For a long time, that had a big effect on me and the way I thought about life. Then I realized…it doesn’t matter whether he is coming or not, he still sees everything I do and knows my thoughts and the motives of my heart. So, it should not be, “will Jesus find me doing this if he returns today?” but it should be “will what I do honor Christ because he sees.”
Again, for some, that can be a down side of Jesus’ seeing. The good news, though is that we never have to feel as if we are alone, abandoned, or without someone near us. And that is really good news. As a season, Christmas is a time when many people really struggle with depression because they feel alone or that nobody knows what they are going through. You need not feel that way; God is present and he knows and he will never leave nor forsake you. If you get your head wrapped around that, you will never need to feel alone again.
In addition, there are many who cry out to “gods” that are blind, deaf, and dumb and who cannot answer. A friend of mine spent some time in China for a Kung Fu competition and as part of that he was given a tour of a Buddhist temple where folks were bowing before statutes of the man. He said that the desperation in their faces broke his heart.
We serve a different kind of God than they do. Our God hears and sees and acts…no matter how humble our situation is. And he will place judgment on those who stand against him and who persecute his people.
Second, “For He who is mighty has done great things”
And what great things is Mary speaking about?
Verse 48: “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. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.”
The great thing in question is the sending of the Messiah. But this is not because Mary earned it, it is because God had mercy and God’s mercy is for all the generations of those who fear him. This language ought to sound familiar to us because it is an allusion to the second commandment where God says he will show his steadfast love to those who “love me and keep my commandments.”
To all? No, to those who love and obey — two things that flow out of the fear of the Lord.
Third: “He has shown strength…”
“He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of the heart.”
Again, God turns his power against those who rail against him. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” says the Lord, Paul quotes in Romans 12:19, quoting from Deuteronomy 32:35.
His power is strong and he will bring the proud to their knees. Doubt that? Ask Hamaan…
Fourth: Much like the prior one, Mary repeats this idea for emphasis — he has brought down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of humble estate.
In Christ’s kingdom, the last shall be first and the servant will be elevated above the master. If your aim is to be a master over men, you will be lowly and despised in Christ’s kingdom. But if your aim is to humbly serve Christ, then you will be lifted up.
From Ancient civilizations to modern ones, we rarely ever see a body of people who embrace this idea…apart from the American Republic. Lincoln put it well when he spoke of “Government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” It is why, in our republic, Government officials are called “civil servants” and not rulers. This language is laced with Christian overtones — it just would be nice if we could practice that consistently in government.
Fifth: He has filled the hungry…
Verse 53: “He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”
Hunger is one of the most powerful drivers in most people — it is unpleasant and perhaps, in a country like ours where food is abundant, it is one of the reasons that people struggle with fasting.
But physical hunger is not the only kind of hunger we experience. There is also spiritual hunger that only God can fill. Of this, Jeremiah writes: “For I will satisfy the weary soul and every languishing soul I will replenish.” (Jeremiah 31:25). And Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6)
My fear, though, is that we have become so used to this kind of language that we aren’t really that interested in being hungry for righteousness, which only Christ provides. And thus the rich — many in our own culture — will be sent away hungry. One cannot feed a person who thinks themselves full just as one cannot teach a person who thinks they know everything.
Sixth: “He has helped…” Whom?
“He has helped his servant Israel in remembrance of his mercy as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
Who are Abraham’s offspring? Believers — Christians — Galatians 3:29.
So, God has helped whom? His servant Israel…the seed of Abraham…the Christian church — you and me.
Why has he helped? Mercy
Notice how little of this song is focused on Mary. Notice on how much of this song is focused on the work of God. This, my friends, is why I have often said that we need to be more discerning when it comes to the lyrics of the songs we sing.
And so, Mary remained with Martha for about 3 months…arguably doing the math, she stayed until John was born, perhaps even acting as her nurse. And then, 3-months pregnant herself, she returned home, perhaps still with a song on her heart, praising God, but wondering what God was doing in her life.