The story of Mary, the mother of Jesus, is an interesting case of faith, surrender, devotion, and obedience. Amazing depth for one so young. ♦
Many people will be reading the Christmas story over the next couple of weeks. Most will focus on Luke chapter 2 which includes the classic telling of the birth of Jesus – “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus…”
One should actually back up and start with Luke chapter 1 and get the amazing backstory involving Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist, and her young relative, Mary of Nazareth in the northern region of Galilee, the virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph. It is in this chapter that both Elizabeth and Mary become pregnant and visit each other in Elizabeth’s home approximately 80 miles away from Nazareth in the hill country of Judah.
One can imagine her need to leave her hometown for awhile (3 months) to avoid the controversy of her situation.
A Holy Spirit Moment
There’s a curious moment when the two women greet each other. In the Old Testament and New Testament days prior to Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was unleashed on first group of Christians in Jerusalem shortly after the death and resurrection of Christ (see Acts 2), the Holy Spirit was seen only in selected people. For instance, Pharaoh recognized that the Spirit was in Joseph (Genesis 41:38). Joshua was another who possessed the Spirit which is why God chose him (Numbers 27:18). Daniel was another one (Daniel 4:8; 5:11-14; 6:3), as were all of the major and minor prophets of the Old Testament.
And now here’s Elizabeth:
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she 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 1:41-45)
And then Mary, a devout Hebrew teenager, replies with the Song of Mary, known around the world over the centuries as The Magnificat, after the Latin translation of the first few words:
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. 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. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” (Luke 1:46-55)
There’s speculation among some that this song or poem was actually penned by Luke, the book’s author and historian.1 I disagree. I would tend to agree with many others who believe that this actually merely reflects the Spirit-led prayer of a good Jewish girl trained up in the Scriptures of her faith.
Any good Jewish girl, even a poor one raised in the middle of nowhere, would have been exposed to the Hebrew Old Testament Scriptures. Mary’s Magnificent Song mirrors the powerful and uplifting Prayer of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 written 1000 years earlier at the dedication of her gift son, the prophet Samuel:
“My heart rejoices in the Lord; in the Lord my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance. There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. Do not keep talking so proudly or let your mouth speak such arrogance, for the Lord is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed. The bows of the warriors are broken, but those who stumbled are armed with strength. Those who were full hire themselves out for food, but those who were hungry are hungry no more. She who was barren has borne seven children, but she who has had many sons pines away. The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up….(1 Samuel 2:1-6)
It’s clear that each of these women, regardless of age, knew their God and their Scriptures. Mary, like Hannah, and Elizabeth, showed devotion, faith, and strength of character and understanding. They were each willing vessels surrendered even in uncertainty to the God of their people, in anticipation of the promised Messiah, the Savior of the world.
Do we have such faith? Do we have such understanding and training of our historic roots and past? Do we know and grasp the heights, depths, and breadth of this Bible, the Holy Scriptures, that has transformed the world? And finally, do we know this Jesus, the Savior of the world, the One we worship and celebrate, this baby born of a young yet wise and obedient servant only centuries ago?
Do you have such faith?
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us…it seemed good to me…to write an orderly account for you…that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed. – Luke 1:1-4
1 Desire of the Everlasting Hills, by Thomas Cahill, Random House, 1999, pp. 96-97.