Fairmeadow Community Church of The Nazarene
Advent 4 December 19, 2021
- 46 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. 50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”INTRODUCTION It has been said that if mothers wrote more of the songs we sing at Christmas, we would prob- ably have fewer songs about silent nights and babies who don’t cry. It’s an interesting—and somewhat humorous—thought, but the truth is, we do have a song written by the very mother of Jesus. And it doesn’t, in fact, mention silent nights or non-crying babies. Perhaps the most surprising thing about it is that it isn’t a soft and sweet lullaby at all; it’s a powerfully subversive song that speaks of the mighty power of God that is breaking into the world in unexpected ways. It speaks of strong arms, of promise, of the powerful thrown down from their thrones, and of the meek and humble being raised up. It’s a song of love but not in a soft way. Instead, it conveys the strong and steadfast way that the love of God has been and continues to be expressed in the world. It’s a song of a mother’s love for and gratitude to God. We sing songs that speculate about whether Mary fully knew what God was asking her to do, and what we find here in Luke 1 is that Mary had a prescient understanding of the mission of God through Jesus in ways that many around her didn’t seem to grasp. Mary understood, better than some who perhaps should’ve known better—like the priest Zechariah—that God was moving in new ways.ZECHARIAH IS SILENCED, BUT MARY SINGSLuke 1 focuses on the voices of women. Zechariah is silenced immediately upon his unbelief at Elizabeth’s pregnancy. For those unfamiliar with the story, an angel appears to Zechariah, who is a priest, and announces that his wife is pregnant. Due to their old age, Zechariah doesn’t believe it possible, and the angel renders him mute until after the baby is born. The story of Mary and the angel is a stark contrast to the story of Zechariah. Zechariah questions Elizabeth’s miracle pregnancy, but Mary believes hers. Even though Mary, too, questions what the angel says, she is not silenced. Shortly afterward, she sings. This contrast is significant because Zechariah was a religious leader—if anyone were going to believe God, and then speak prophetic words about God, it would be him. Elizabeth, however, is the one who speaks prophetic words over Mary upon her visit. She declares that the child in Mary’s womb is her Lord. Mary, in contrast to Zechariah, is just a humble peasant girl, yet she believes in the power of God for a miraculous pregnancy. She declares the power of God through song. This dominant focus on female dialogue in Luke 1 represents a stark contrast to the cultural norms of that time as well. Remember, they lived in a patriarchal society, where women couldn’t own property or testify in court. The fact that Luke puts the prophetic words of women at the front and center of his book reveals that something different is happening here. Their culture is going to be upended by this coming Messiah in ways that no one expected. c. It is also significant to note that the fact that Mary’s song precedes Zechariah’s reveals that the kingdom of God is not entering the world in the ways they expected. It would’ve been expected for the kingdom of God to be ushered in through power or prestige, but the Messiah is not coming through those channels; instead, the Messiah is coming through a humble peasant girl from a no-name town.MARY’S SONG IS A LOVE SONG—BUT NOT IN THE WAYS WE EXPECTa. When we think of love songs, we generally think of sappy or sentimental, but this is a power song. Mary responds to God by rejoicing in God, which is an act of love. She sees God as being faithful and ever-present to her. She gives God thanks for being present not just with her but also with the world. She speaks of the generations honoring God and declares the miracles of the past done for Abraham and Sarah. She glorifies God’s character, declaring God’s mercy toward humanity. She uses the language of filling people up. iv. She speaks to the strength and power of God and God’s mighty arm. b. This song is not isolated; it reflects the depth of Mary’s faith because she references so many songs of the Old Testament—words she would have heard growing up. Her song echoes the prayer of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1 and 2, borrowing some of the same language that Hannah used as she prayed for a son with deep longing. Verse 48 references 1 Samuel 1:11. Verse 53 references 1 Samuel 2:5. The psalms are also referenced throughout the song. Verse 46 references Psalm 34:2. Verse 47 references Psalm 35:9. Verse 49 references Psalm 111:9. Verse 51 references Psalm 89:10–11. Verse 53 references Psalm 107:9. Verse 54 references Psalm 98:3. iii. Other writings and The Minor Prophets are also referenced. Verse 52 references Job 12:9 and 5:11. Verse 55 references Micah 7:20. iv. Verse 53 is references Genesis 17:7, 9. c. These numerous references to the Old Testament don’t just show Mary’s dedication to the scriptures, but they also paint a picture of Mary as a prophetic person. It was common for prophets to use Scripture to speak to what was happening around them. Jesus himself did this on multiple occasions. The vast number of references Mary used to illuminate and reveal what was happening around her, to her, and within her was the work of a prophet. She was reminding the world where God was faithful and at work in the past, and she was declaring and revealing what God was doing now and what God was going to do. Once again, words we would expect to come from a place of power or privilege came instead from a humble young woman.MARY’S SONG WAS POWERFUL AND SUBVERSIVEIt was subversive because of the messenger. Mary was a humble peasant with nothing to her name. Thomas Cahill called the Magnificat “the most muscular piece of celebration poetry in all of ancient literature.” The subversive nature of the song was significant because people assumed power was coming from a particular place, but that is not at all how it happened. The power center of the day was Rome. The thought was that the Messiah would overthrow this type of power using the same worldly and empire-building tactics Rome and all the other powers that came before had used. Caesar even declared himself to be the son of God, claiming that he could forgive sins. i. Mary’s song, however, revealed that the Messiah was coming not through power, war, and money but through humility and an ordinary person. The message Mary, by her very presence as the messenger, declared was that the kingdom of God is not for the wealthy and powerful but for those who are oppressed, forgotten, and downtrodden, and this was an era full of downtrodden people. They were taxed by Caesar and Herod. The Jews had lived under the thumb of the powerful for centuries. People were starving and desperate. c. Mary’s song declared that the kingdom of God would be a kingdom of justice. Those who had the power were going to be torn from their seats of power (verse 52). They would lose their power to control others, to inflict war and cruelty, to tax people to a breaking point. Those who had wealth were going to be sent away empty (verse 53). They would lose the wealth and power they had gained by stepping on the backs of others. They would lose their ability to hoard or acquire wealth while those around them suffered. Those who would be remembered would be the faithful who remembered God (verse 50); they would be shown mercy. It would be a safe assumption that not everyone in a culture of empire would remember or follow God. The easy route would be to bow to Caesar. It would be much harder, in a culture trying to dilute or drown your faith, to live in a faithful way. d. This was a message of extreme hope to a people who had been waiting for a long time. These were an oppressed and desperate people who were likely wondering if God was listening. It had been centuries since the last prophet had spoken (another reason to note Mary as a prophetic force), and it would have been easy for them to feel abandoned. This message reminded humanity that God had not abandoned them. God continues to be faithful to God’s people, and God is going to bring about the day of the Lord—in unexpected ways.CONCLUSION It might feel odd to read such a strong and powerful song on the week of Advent when we reflect on love, but it is fitting because the love of God isn’t fragile either. It’s not something that is going to be broken easily; it’s something that came in powerful and unexpected ways. It didn’t enter into the world through the typical avenues of power and prestige; rather, it came through a simple peasant girl with no claim to her name. And this story of the in-breaking of the kingdom of God—the truly greatest love story ever told, about God leaving the glory of heaven to take on humanity—is a story of strength and beauty displayed in unexpected ways. It’s the story of a love that sacrifices itself, instead of wounding others. It’s a story of mercy instead of judgment. It’s a story of humility and humanity. It’s a story of what love should be: strong and powerful in mercy and justice. It’s a love story in the truest sense of the word, a story that continues today with us, as we reveal the love of God in the ways we live in the world and continue to see the kingdom of God break through all around us, in us, and through us. Love is never easy. It is always costly. Mary knows. Joseph knows. Jesus knows. All who have lived and loved well, know. Love does what nothing else can do to change the world. So receive the love of God, if you dare, because you need it. So share the love of Jesus, if you dare, because so many need it. Let’s pray.Copyright © 2021 The Foundry Publishing® (edited for local use by Rev Dr. Timothy Stidham). Permission to reproduce for ministry use only. All rights reserved.
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