Mary’s Song

olivia-hussey-nativity doneLuke 1:26 – 56

Christianity rests on the words of this chapter; arguably the deepest, most theological chapter in all the Bible. How much theology is packed into these verses? Consider what is covered in just a few of them:

  • the divinity of Jesus Christ, verses 32, 35
  • His role as Messiah and reign over the kingdom, verses 32 – 33
  • God as “the Most High,” verses 32, 35
  • the power of the Holy Spirit, verse 35
  • God’s grace, verses 29 – 30; 34, 35; 38

So, the story of Jesus’ nativity is really much more than the stuff of Christmas carols and cards; it’s the bedrock of the faith.

1. Jesus’ birth foretold, Luke 1:26 – 33

It’s obvious that Luke, the physician, wrote his gospel to Gentiles:

The following month God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin, Mary, engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. (Luke 1:26, 27 TLB)

Only non-Jews would need to be told where Nazareth was. What’s particularly interesting about these two verses is the fact that God directly inserts Himself into Mary’s life through the angel Gabriel. In fact, God had, six months earlier, sent Gabriel to Zechariah, an old man, with an important message, and now he appears to Mary, a young virgin, with an important message for her.

Mary was young, probably barely into her teens, when these events transpired. This betrothal to Joseph was legally binding. So even though they were not technically married, they were as good as. Only death or divorce could break a Jewish betrothal like this.

Joseph was “a descendant of King David,” but then so was Mary. The fact that Luke mentions only Joseph’s heritage tells us that he considers Jesus to be a legitimate heir of the royal line by “adoption.” God was really Jesus’ Father in all eternity, but Joseph became Jesus’ earthly father, giving Jesus a rightful claim on David’s throne.

Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Congratulations, favored lady! The Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:28 TLB)

The root of “favored” is grace, the unmerited favor given by God. God is the agent here. Why was she “favored”? Simply because God had chosen Mary to be the mother of His Son. Mary received God’s blessing; she never dispensed it, as Roman Catholicism teaches. God was surely with Mary in a number of ways. As a Jew, Yahweh was always present among His people. But given the events about to take place, this phrase takes on an added dimension.

Verse 30 seems like just a quaint statement, but it teaches us something very important about the state of Mary’s mind:

Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean.

She was not an emotional wreck; she was in total control of her faculties at all times during this angelic encounter. Mary listened to what Gabriel was saying to her and she tried to understand it all. What he said was startling.

Very soon now, you will become pregnant and have a baby boy, and you are to name him ‘Jesus.’ (Luke 1:31 TLB)

This is the announcement of the Incarnation: God in the flesh. In the Son, divinity and humanity would be joined in a union that would never be broken. His Name would be “Jesus,” a common enough name in Israel during this time. It’s the Greek version of the Hebrew “Joshua.”

He shall be very great and shall be called the Son of God. And the Lord God shall give him the throne of his ancestor David. (Luke 1:32 TLB)

This verse is significant in that we see the true greatness of Jesus: man will recognize His greatness and realize this Jesus IS the Son of God, but at the same time, Jesus’ heavenly Father will see His Son’s greatness and give Him the throne of David. Thus, Jesus’ Sonship and Messianic claims will be clear in both Heaven and on Earth!

2. Mary, submission and faith, Luke 1:34 – 45

Mary asked the angel, “But how can I have a baby? I am a virgin.” (Luke 1:34 TLB)

Again we see something of the character of Mary, and the quality of her considerable faith. Unlike Zechariah, there was no unbelief in Mary. Like Nicodemus, Mary was interested in HOW this miracle would take place. She asked for no sign, only an explanation. You have to admire this woman and her simple faith. It would be normal for Mary to think of Joseph in regard to having a son; there is no indication that Gabriel told her of a “virgin birth” or that her mind hearkened back to Isaiah 7:14. Was Mary given a special insight as Gabriel unfolded his message to her? Perhaps, for she seemed to assume something unusual was about to happen IN her that did not involve Joseph, her betrothed.

The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of God shall overshadow you; so the baby born to you will be utterly holy—the Son of God. (Luke 1:35 TLB)

Mary’s sincere question was answered by Gabriel sincerely. Curiously, the answer doesn’t clarify the mystery, just how it will come to pass. The Holy Spirit – acting on behalf of the Godhead – will take the place of a husband in a way that is unexplained and, perhaps, unexplainable. No man had anything to do with the birth of Jesus. In the Old Testament book of Leviticus, we are told that a woman becomes unclean in the birth of her child because she is bringing a sinner into the world. Here, Mary is told that she is not bringing another sinner into the world, but the completely Holy Son of God. Human parents are capable only of producing a sinner. David understood this:

But I was born a sinner, yes, from the moment my mother conceived me. (Psalm 51:5 TLB)

But Mary’s Son would be different. By being born of a virgin, the Son of God could become a member of the human family yet remain untainted by its sinful condition. This would be accomplished through the work of the Holy Spirit. The “overshadowing of the power of God” is an interesting statement that suggests not only the miracle of the virgin birth, but a continued supervision, care, and even protection of Mary.

Mary believed in the impossible. Her faith is inspiring.

Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to do whatever he wants. May everything you said come true.” And then the angel disappeared. (Luke 1:38 TLB)

Not many of us can say in good conscience what Mary said here in verse 38! With so much at stake, she was able to so say, “I am willing to do whatever he wants.” What an exemplary attitude of servanthood. This is what real dedication and consecration looks like. Even knowing that the future would be difficult for her – with rumors and slander and innuendos – she expressed complete co-operation with God in His plans. Mary’s last sentence is simple, brief, yet theologically perfect. Her attitude is simply this: she is God’s willing property for Him to use as He wishes.

3. Mary magnifies the Lord, Luke 1:46 – 55

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Mary, servant of God, becomes a poetess and even prophetess of God. This is one of the great hymns of the Church, yet it was not composed by a scholar or a musician or an educated wordsmith. The Magnificat, as this passage has come to be known, is simply the emotional outpouring, the “improvisation of happy faith,” of a blessed woman of God.

And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. (Luke 1:46, 47 KJV)

The first line of this couplet announces the theme of the whole hymn: Mary magnifies God. To “magnify” is to make great and glorious by what we say of a person. It is possible to magnify any person, but all our magnifying will never be able to express the greatness and glory of Almighty God.

Of particular note is the phrase “God my Savior.” In spite of the deification of Mary, she realized she needed a Savior as all sinners do. She may have been blessed, but she was a sinner in need of saving!

For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: For, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. (Luke 1:48 KJV)

Mary knew herself well; she knew her position in the world. Of this verse, Martin Luther concluded that Mary realized God could have chosen to use a woman of high position in the world’s eyes to bear the Savior, but instead He chose her, a “lowly handmaiden.” Mary was aware of her unworthiness, and this why she added, “all generations shall call me blessed.” She was referring, not to herself, but to to God’s greatness. Successive generations would call Mary “blessed” because God blessed her so greatly.

For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; And holy is his name. (Luke 1:49 KJV)

Mary had noted her unworthiness and now she notes the “great things” God has done for her. She had revealed God as a “Savior,” and now she speaks of His might and holiness. But what does Mary mean when she wrote “great things”? She is referring to all the great things she has been privy to: her choosing by God, the sending of Gabriel, the miraculous conception, and the revealing of the mystery to Elizabeth. All of these things are “great” and Mary was truly blessed to have been a part of them all.

And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. (Luke 1:50 KJV)

Mary is in absolute awe of God – of the Mighty One – Whose great power had been directed toward her. But she recognizes another aspect of His character: God’s mercy. God’s mercy is clearly revealed in the Incarnation, but it has been shown from generation to generation to those who have feared Him. Now, though, God’s mercy is especially manifested in the gift of His Son to the world.

This verse also shows us something important regarding who may receive God’s mercy: it is available ONLY to those who “fear Him,” or revere Him. This “fear” denotes the awe that fills your heart and mind when you are in the presence of One who is full of power, holiness, and righteousness.

He hath shewed strength with his arm; He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, And exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; And the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath helped his servant Israel, In remembrance of his mercy; As he spake to our fathers, To Abraham, and to his seed for ever. (Luke 1:51 – 55 KJV)

In this paragraph, all the main verbs are aorists and timeless, stating that what God does at any time – past, present, or future – has already been done. In other words, even though the good things mentioned here are in the past tense (in English), they may be regarded as things God is doing now and will do. As He did in the past, so He does now, so He will do again.

Look at the great works of our God: He judges men righteously and justly; He exalts those who honor Him and disregards those who don’t; God is the benevolent Provider, the One who feeds the hungry and meets those temporal needs; God never forgets His people; He always keeps His promises. God is always faithful and full of mercy.

God had done great things for Mary and, in fact, God has done great things for all people who trust Him. Mary knew what God had done for her; do YOU know what He has done for you? Mary, just a woman, was blessed beyond measure though she didn’t deserve it. She stands forever as an example of trust and dedication to the Lord; of gratitude to Him for all He did for her and for others throughout time. Mary was the picture of humility who knew and followed the Word of the Lord. This is why she found favor with the Lord, which would allow her to be used by Him as part of His plan of salvation.

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