Appropriately on Advent Sunday, we come to Mary’s Song in our studies in Luke’s Gospel, Mary’s humble but inspired outburst of praise to God that speaks of the first and second coming of his Son Jesus Christ, a song which is known as ‘The Magnificat’ because that’s the opening word in the Latin translation, a word translated here in the NIV as ‘glorifies’. ‘My soul glorifies or magnifies the Lord’ says Mary. You see the virgin Mary has just learnt some amazing news from the angel Gabriel that she’s to give birth to a Son, but no ordinary son. v32:
He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom never ends.
He’s the very Son of God himself and he’ll be King forever. And this song is Mary's response to what God has promised will happen to her.
Why does Luke include Mary’s Song here? Well in the first two chapters of Luke, there are four songs, one by Mary, one by Zechariah, one by the angels and one by Simeon all of which make two very important points. First, the promises of God in the Old Testament have come to fulfilment in Jesus. And second that the good news about Jesus is for the whole world. Well let’s now look at this incredible song in more detail.
In November and December exactly twenty years ago a largely peaceful revolution happened in Eastern Europe. Earlier in 1989 there had been protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing which were crushed by the Chinese authorities. But on November 9th the Berlin Wall came down. On December 15th churches and the people of Romania caused an uprising which led to the downfall of the communist regime. The regime’s leader Ceaucescu and his wife were executed on Christmas Day.
Well Mary’s song is a revolutionary song. A song sung by a lowly girl who had just discovered she was pregnant with a baby who was to revolutionise history and bring change to many lives. v52:
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
In fact this song has at times been considered too hot to handle by some governing authorities as they were concerned that it could inspire political revolutionary activity. In the last days of British India, Jack Winslow’s Christian community was sometimes visited by the C.I.D. because of its sympathies with Indian nationalists. The Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, also visited the community and warned them not to sing the ‘Magnificat’ in their services. He described it as 'a most revolutionary song'. And Mary's song is revolutionary, but it’s talking about a revolution on a much grander scale. Mary is talking about a revolution in human hearts for which a much greater power is needed, indeed a divine power; and she's talking about a revolution in world order which will be brought about by God himself through his son Jesus. So first
1) A SONG TO SING IN PRAISE OF GOD v46-49
46And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, 48for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me.”
But why does she glorify God and rejoice in him? Is it simply because she’s having the baby Jesus? Clearly she recognises her unique position and says that 'every generation will call her blessed.' But her focus is not on how great and blessed she will be. Rather Mary's focus throughout this passage is on God. Seventeen times in ten verses she refers to him directly. What gives her joy is what God has done for her.
And what does she call God in v47? She calls him Saviour. She knows that she’s in need of a Saviour just as much as anyone else. And it would be through this very child that Mary would be saved. Her own Son's death on the cross will mean that she too can be right with God. What amazes her about God is that he should have anything to do with her a humble sinner (v48). That's why she glorifies God. For the mighty one has done a great thing for her.
And it’s important to see that in almost every way there’s no difference between us and Mary. Yes she was the mother of the Lord Jesus and every generation will call her blessed but she knew that she was a sinner in need of saving too. Like you and me she can only boast in what God has done for her. In v38 she humbly, willingly and obediently responds:
I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said.
She simply accepts God's word and believes it. What does Elizabeth say about her in v45?
Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.
Her blessing comes from how she responds to God's word. In Luke 11:27 a woman says to Jesus:
Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you. [And Jesus replies:] Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.
What counts is not blood relationship to Jesus but your response to him. Mary wouldn’t want people to glorify her. Rather she would point to her Son and say glorify him.
And even though we’re not the mother of the Messiah we too can sing Mary's song if we’re trusting in Christ. We too can rejoice in the same God that Mary worshipped. For the God who acted so graciously in Mary's life in saving her and bringing her to himself, is that same God who acts today to save us. Jesus is our Saviour too. God has done great things for us too. And so we too can say with humble gratitude, 'My soul glorifies the Lord, and my Spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.' But does it? What is it that really makes you rejoice? What truly captivates your soul? Because the things you really find joy in reveal the state of your heart.
Literally in v1 Mary says, ‘My soul keeps on glorifying the Lord.’ We too are to ‘rejoice in the Lord always’, as Paul puts it in Philippians 4:4. We might not be satisfied with our earthly circumstances. We might face all sorts of pressures and difficulties, even suffering or persecution. But when your heart is captivated by God, then your joy and delight is in him. As we were learning in Home Groups last Wednesday from Matthew 5:12:
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven…
2) GIVE GLORY TO GOD FOR HIS CHARACTER AND DEEDS v49-53
Mary's joy in her God leads her to tell of his character and his wonderful deeds. And you cannot separate what God does from who he is. For he shows what kind of God he is by the sort of things he does. Now Mary tells us about God's character and deeds mostly in the past tense. She says that God has performed mighty deeds, he has brought down rulers from their thrones etc. And often in the Bible the past tense is used to talk about the future. So what God will do in the future is so certain that it’s spoken of in the past tense. The song tells us four things about God:
i) God is Holy v49:
For the Mighty One has done great things for me. Holy is his name.
Holiness is the only quality of God to be said three times together in the Bible. To say that God is holy is to talk of his very nature. God's holiness is his perfect splendour which means that sinful people like you and me cannot approach him. It means he is set apart. To enter his presence stained by sin would mean instant death. And yet what do we discover about Jesus in verse 35? The angel tells Mary:
The holy one to be born in you will be called the Son of God.
Jesus too is holy like His Father and yet in Jesus we too can be made holy. Through Jesus there is a way for a Holy God and an unholy human to be reconciled. For Jesus the holy one became unholy for our sakes when he bore our sin on the cross.
ii) God is Merciful v50:
His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
Mercy is not receiving what we do deserve. We do deserve a rightful penalty for how we've treated God. God is holy, but we’ve rejected his goodness and grace. And we rightly deserve his condemnation. It would be a just judgment. But Mary tells us God is merciful. He does not give us what we do deserve. How do we know? Well thirty years later Mary would see her Son on a cross dying for her sins and your sins and my sins, paying the penalty we justly deserve.
iii) God is Powerful v51:
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inner most thoughts.
Why is it that God can show mercy? Because he’s truly powerful. He has the power to do what he feels is right and good. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm. And through Jesus we can see God's mighty deeds such as Jesus defeating death by his resurrection from the dead. And Jesus will return as Judge to judge the living and the dead. Those who have humbled themselves before him in repentance and faith will be with him in heaven forever. The proud – those who reject him – will go away to eternal death in hell.
iv) God is Gracious V52-53:
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty.
God is gracious to lift up the humble and to fill the hungry with good things. You see if mercy is not receiving what we do deserve, then grace is receiving what we don't deserve. Mercy withholds something from us that we thoroughly deserve - judgment. Grace goes a step further to give us what we don't deserve - salvation. God is willing to feed those who hunger for him spiritually. God is willing to lift up those who are downcast and who cry to him.
And that’s the proper response to this holy, merciful, powerful and gracious God. It’s to humbly admit that you’re in need of a Saviour. It's to humbly admit you’re a sinner in need of God’s mercy and grace. What does God do to those who humble themselves under his mighty hand? v48, God is mindful of the humble. v50, v52, he lifts up the humble. v53, he fills the hungry. But what of those who refuse to humbly come to him? v51: He has scattered those who are proud in their inner most thoughts. v52: He has brought down rulers from their thrones. v53: He has sent the rich away empty. And Luke's gospel makes it clear that God is not only talking about material wealth, which can be a major barrier as with the rich young ruler in Luke 18, but also those who think they are spiritually wealthy. For those who think they are spiritually rich on their own merit are in fact self deceived. God will bring low the proud and lift up the humble.
The author C S Lewis was a professor of English. He was a staunch atheist. But slowly God humbled him and brought him to his senses. He wrote:
'You must picture me alone in that room, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Winter Term of 1929 I gave in; I admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.'
God opposes the proud but lifts up the humble. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to be opposed by God. For then God will bring you down, if not in this life certainly in the next. But if you humble yourself before him he will lift you up. For God is holy and merciful and powerful and gracious. Yes it will take a revolution to get us thinking God's way. But that's what God’s in the business of doing. Performing revolutions in people's hearts and minds.
But while God is primarily concerned for the spiritual hunger and thirst of a world in need of salvation and restored relationship with him, he is truly concerned for the materially poor and physically hungry, the vulnerable, and the oppressed. These words of Mary’s will only ultimately be fulfilled when Jesus returns. But there’s still an opportunity today for you and me to share God’s concern for the hungry, the poor. Perhaps even this morning you could use the envelopes which are on the welcome desk and on the piano to support the Mission Gift Week, if you’ve not already done so, which is seeking to help Christian ministry to the poor both locally and across the world. Thirdly and finally
3) PRAISE GOD FOR HIS GOSPEL REVOLUTION v 54-55
He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.
What Mary is referring to here is the wonderful promise of God to Abraham that he would be a blessing to the nations. God's plan had always been to offer his gift of salvation to the whole world. Through the Jewish nation the Saviour would come, and his salvation is for the whole world. And Mary rejoices that God has kept his word, he has remembered his promise to Abraham, and the Saviour of the world, Jesus, has come. And, as Luke records at the end of this Gospel, Jesus came to suffer, he was born to die, to take the punishment we deserved for our sin so that we can be forgiven, and then to rise from the dead and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem, in the power of the Spirit.
And it's that message which turned the world upside down in the first century and even today is doing the same. And that’s the real revolution. That's the revolution that will last, a revolution in people's hearts when lives are turned round, when people come to know the true and living God for themselves through faith in Jesus Christ, the only Saviour. And that's a revolution we can be involved in, believing that nothing is impossible for God – bringing people to Carols by Candlelight next Sunday and to the CE Taster Sessions in January, being salt and light in our schools and communities, caring for needs, contending for the truth and communicating the gospel.
As David Holloway again reminds us in December’s JPC Newsletter we need to pray and work for a peaceful Christian uprising in this nation. For God to turn Britain upside down. TS Eliot, the famous poet, knew that without Christianity the culture collapses and so do people. Since the protests and revolutions of 1989 the church in China has been growing and in Romania church planting has been widespread. God has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. My soul glorifies the Lord, said Mary, my Spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.