Series: The Characters of Christmas
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
December 20, 1998
I invite you to turn together with me to Luke 1:46-55. Let’s read this hymn of praise in unison - aloud - together:
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden. For behold, henceforth 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 on those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm, He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent empty away. He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His posterity for ever.”
In reading this passage you’ll probably recognize it as the worship song of Mary which is often called the Magnificat. The word “magnificat” - comes from a Latin word which means - “to magnify.” In the 4th century Jerome translated the Bible into Latin and magnificat comes from his translation of verse 46: “My soul magnifies the Lord.” And the name Magnificat has been associated with Mary’s song of worship ever since.
Often - at Christmas - our focus is on what God has done for us - the coming of Jesus our Savior - how we benefit from God’s love and grace. Even celebrating the birth of Jesus - the focus is on us.
How do we - like Mary - how do we magnify God? How can we respond to all that God has done for us? To offer something back to Him - that pleases Him and brings glory and honor to Him?
In Mary’s song there are three examples of this type of “magnificat” response that we want to focus our attention on. First:
1. MARY’S HUMILITY BEFORE GOD (verses 46-48)
There are some who have elevated Mary to the point of being equal - or pretty close to being equal - with Jesus. They consider her to be free of original sin - perpetually a virgin - ascended to Heaven without dying. Some say that Mary is an intercessor for the church - someone to whom we can pray through and even pray to - and she answers our prayers. Some have even suggested that she is like a female Savior - Jesus being male - Mary being female.
In verses 46 to 48, Mary speaks of her relationship with God - not in exalted terms - but from the perspective of humility. She is God’s - and Jesus’ - humble servant.
In Luke 1 - just before the Magnificat - Mary has been told by the angel Gabriel that she will be the mother of Jesus - the Messiah. She is pregnant with Jesus - and has gone to visit her relative Elizabeth - who was barren - but now - by a miracle of God - is 6 months pregnant with John the Baptist.
Together - Mary and Elizabeth - are comparing notes - considering God’s presence and work in their lives - and praising God. From this time together comes this “magnificat” of Mary.
Mary’s song comes from an intimate relationship with God - an awareness of herself before God. In her youth - she’s a teenager - in her humble state - God has regarded her. She sings because of the announcement of the angel Gabriel and her conception. In an expression of great emotion she sings of her surrender to her Savior God - offering herself to be used as He wills - her entire being magnifies - worships - exalts and adores the Lord. Mary’s hymn overflows out of a life of worship - a communion of intimacy with the Lord.
We often try to have worship through experience. We feel that if we sing the right songs - if our body language is right - if we sit or stand at the right times - if the sanctuary looks a certain way - if we’re led by the ‘right’ leadership style - then we can worship. But we’re missing the point. Worship comes out of a life that’s surrendered to God - that’s already intimate with the Lord.
Why did we come this morning? To enjoy a program. To see children sing and read about Jesus? To sing Christmas carols? To hear the choir? Because this is the place to be on Christmas Sunday? To celebrate what God has done for us? All that focuses on us - the form and programs and performance that makes us feel good.
Worship comes from within and focuses on God. To magnify God means daily surrender of our lives to Him - worship is the expression of that surrender in hymns and prayer and testimony.
Second, there is the example of:
2. THE PRESENCE OF GOD IN MARY’S LIFE (verses 49-50a)
Doug Goins - a pastor at Peninsula Bible Church - down in Palo Alto. He shares about an experience he had in 1964 as a college student - teaching conversational English in Colombia.
“A young man who was studying to be a pastor invited me to spend a weekend with him, visiting a small village church that he pastored on weekends. Following a five-hour bus ride along muddy jungle roads, we arrived at the village where he had his flock of 20 believers.
The home of a village woman, Dona Maria, served as their meeting place. The worship left much to be desired. The singing was abysmal. The pastor was just learning how to preach. It poured rain the whole time and the roof leaked. The people were covered in mud from slogging through the dirt roads to go to church.
But the prayer time was inspiring, especially the prayer of Dona Maria. This woman had been a widow for 20 years, and her six children had all died in early childhood. She supported herself by doing laundry and sewing. She had given the two front rooms of her home over to the congregation for their services and had herself moved into the two remaining rooms.
As she prayed, great tears streaming down her face, her words spoke gratitude for the richness of her life. She thanked God for the people gathered, and it was clear she was intimately involved in what God was doing among them. She thanked Him for the privilege of having them in her home and the richness of the time they were enjoying together. After the service she asked me if I would ask my friends in America to pray for her - for her weak faith.”
In verses 49 and 50, Mary sings of God’s presence in her life. He is the one who has done mighty things in her life - who has helped her to live a godly life and has preserved her character so that she was still a virgin as she entered her marriage with Joseph.
In everything that Mary is about to face - God would be there. After being ridiculed for her out-of-marriage pregnancy she would give birth to God’s Son. She would watch her Son grow up - leave home to wander Palestine - and then see her Son suffer and die on the cross.
The presence of God in our lives doesn’t mean the absence of pain or difficulties. We live in a world which is tired - life is a race to stay ahead. The answers to life seem empty an hopeless. Imagine the crisis in Washington - the war in Iraq - the uncertainties we all live with. None of this is new.
No Christian is immune from the struggles of life. But our life experience with God and his blessing - the spiritual satisfaction in our lives which only God gave give to us - teaches us to respond - as Mary did - with praise and worship.
In the midst of all of this - God’s presence teaches us that He is the One to be honored - because of His mighty deeds - His creative power - His holiness - His perfection - His mercy and grace - and His sustaining presence in our lives.
Third, the example of:
3. GOD’S FAITHFULNESS TO PEOPLE (verses 50a-55)
Its been my privilege to be with Karen when each of our three boys were born. A few years ago fathers were sent to waiting rooms - or sent back to work - so that “the women” could do the child bearing. Its too bad. Birth is an incredible experience to be shared - and to witness.
Someone may be thinking, “If He could just feel the pain for one second He wouldn’t be talking in such glowing terms.” I know that there’s physical pain involved.
But, I’m not talking about the pain. In fact, its amazing how quickly the pain goes away after the baby is born.
What I’m talking about is seeing your child for the first time - hearing him cry and seeing him move. Holding this baby - that for 9 months you’ve dreamed about and waited for. And being there and experiencing all that with your wife. That’s awesome.
I’ve been thinking about Mary. What did she feel when she held Jesus in her arms for the first time? After 9 months of pregnancy? Her Son - the fulfillment of prophecy - the Messiah. The child that all mankind has dreamed about and longed for.
There are 400 years of silence between the Old and New Testaments - the voice of God is silent. 400 years between the prophet Malachi and the announcement of the angel Gabriel. In verses 50 to 55 its evident that Mary is aware that God once again is speaking - accomplishing His will - working within His people. She has the big picture of who God is - what He’s doing in the world.
She’s memorized scriptures from the Old Testament - and she sings them in worship. In her song there are at least 10 references from the Old Testament. Especially the promise made to Abraham and the promise of redemption through the coming Messiah.
In verses 50 to 55 - Mary has a clear sense of her own identity. She knows that she’s a part of God’s plan - and she is completely surrendered to God - that He would use her in faithfully fulfilling His promise to His people.
This servant heart is what God desires from all of us. That we would allow Him to accomplish His will and purposes in us. To understand our value in His eyes and have the confidence that He is going to do great work in us and through us.
This Christmas Sunday - may we - like Mary - magnify God - worship and praise Him - from hearts humbly - and intimately acquainted with Him. May we seek to grow more deeply aware of His presence in our lives and be more surrendered that He would use us for His glory.