As we get closer to Christmas day we look at one more part of the pre-Christmas story. It’s a one hit wonder from Jesus’ mother, Mary.
Every musician and songwriter has aspirations of writing at least one hit song in their lifetime. They hope that one of their many attempts at writing would get in the hands of the masses. Some might say it’s about money (and there definitely is money attached to a hit song), but the true artist would say that they want to give the world a glimmer of hope with their art.
From what we know, Mary wasn’t a prolific song writer, but she did pen a one hit wonder. Her song, recorded in Luke 1 has been used, recited, chanted, thousands of times through out the centuries. If any song has made it big, this one from a pregnant teenager sure had legs to it.
It’s been called Mary’s Magnificat, which simply means, magnifying, making or showing something (God) to be BIG. It’s been whispered in monasteries, chanted in cathedrals, recited in small churches during evening candlelight, and set to music by Bach. It’s also been banned by at least three governments in the last century: The British Rule in India (early 1900’s), the Guatemala government discovered it to be too revolutionary & dangerous (1980), and Germany banned it when Dietrich Bonhoeffer recited it during Advent, 1933, before being executed by the Nazis.
What is it about this song that is so beautiful and yet so powerful?
In it Mary wants her people, Israel, the world, and us, to know who God is, who he is cheering for, and that He keeps his promises.
Take some time to read it (HERE) and see if you can identify these things too.
Here’s a quick summary:
– Mary sings about who God is to her: a loving Father who chooses a humble girl to do something extraordinary. She realizes that the baby in her is coming to save…her…and us.
– Mary sings about who God is to the poor, the hungry and the hurting: God is cheering for the marginalized. He is also calling us to help restore those who fall into this category. Mary realizes that the baby inside her is their saviour too; that Jesus will come to fill empty stomachs and restore people back to wholeness.
– Mary sings about promises fulfilled: for Israel, for us, for you. God promised Abraham that his faithfulness would turn into a great nation and a great people. Jesus’ birth was the fulfillment of that promise. And it doesn’t stop at Israel…this promise is for the world.
So how did a teenage girl, with no youtube and internet, write a one hit wonder? Well, it’s easy, she had all the inspiration in the world. Inside her, was the wonder of the world, the great and morning star, the prince of peace, the wonderful counsellor, the saviour – that’s all the inspiration she needed.
The Christmas story we find in the gospels is compelling and fascinating. The birth narratives in Matthew and Luke make for really
good story telling, hence the reason we’re still talking about this story more
than 2000 years later.
That said, perhaps the lead up to Jesus birth is as
compelling than the actual moment when Jesus was born. Four characters in
particular make up some of the leading events in Luke 1: Zechariah &
Elisabeth, Mary & Joseph.
These couples had one thing in common, they were
expecting a child; what was different was their age. Elisabeth was older in
years and Mary was a teenager. For different reasons, both weren’t expecting to be
documents some of their story; a story God uses to show us how impossible
things are actually possible with him.
From nowhere (special) comes something (spectacular)
Luke starts this section by telling us that the Angel (Gabriel) goes
to Nazareth to give Mary and Joseph a message. We know the message Gabriel is
about to give, but what’s important to note is the town this takes place in.
Luke is intentional in mentioning that Mary and Joseph are from Nazareth, for geographical reasons, but
also for theological ones. Jesus was going to be born in a manger in Bethlehem, which lead us to see that Jesus was going to have a humble entrance
into the world. Nazareth/Galilee was also a small town (region), especially in
comparison to Jerusalem/Judea. It’s out of this small and insignificant place
that Jesus’ human life begins (pre-birth).
Nothing good was ever supposed to come from Nazareth. They
said this about Jesus when he was an adult, so you know it rang true his whole
life. God, in his sense of humour, chooses a small town for Jesus
to come from. This is how God works; he doesn’t look for people of status to
do remarkable things, rather, he chooses unlikely places and unlikely people.
God’s Favour? Our Trouble?
What does God do with this girl from nowhere? He says to
her, you are highly favoured. Some people think God favoured her because she
was special, but that’s not the case. There was nothing more special about Mary
then anyone else, except of course her willingness to serve God (1:38)
God has a way of picking ordinary people to accomplish
extraordinary things. Mary is a perfect example of that.
Now you might be thinking: God wouldn’t use me, I’m way to
feisty, I’d probably complain lots before saying yes, I’m no where close to
being ready to be used by God for anything life or world changing. However, even though Mary was favoured, she did put up a bit of a
“Mary was greatly
troubled and wondered what kind of greeting this might be”
(NRSV) “Mary was perplexed and pondered”
(JB) “Mary was deeply disturbed and asked herself”
The original language actually reveals these words as
meaning that Mary was ‘deeply agitated’, and not for a short time, but for a
little while. God’s favour on us doesn’t mean that we don’t wrestle with his calling on us. We often go back and forth from feeling favoured, to feeling troubled.
Impossible? Yes! / Possible? Yes!
Mary is perplexed for a reason. The math doesn’t add up.
How is she going to have a baby? She’s a virgin and not planning for that to
change anytime soon.
The angel says, ‘God is going to do this, it is not
something you can do.’
uses her cousin Elisabeth as an example, saying that she had no hope of having
children, then 6 months later…she’s with child. If
this can happen to an ‘older woman’ who’s biological clock stopped ticking a
long time ago (insert quote from my cousin Vinnie), then it can happen to you. Only one explanation – GOD.
What do you see as impossible? Maybe it’s not too late or too soon for
something beautiful to be born.
present moment is pregnant with possibilities we can’t see or even imagine?
That’s the point, we can’t make it happen, only God can.
we take home from this pre-christmas story???
for God is worth every minute/month/year!
doesn’t look at our status as a prerequisite to doing something special, he
looks on us with favour, gives us the status (as his children) we need to do
story begs the question? What’s your impossible? What is God wanting to blow
your mind with? Is it a character thing, a career thing, a personal thing, an
impact thing? Whatever it is, God wants you to know, that even though you think
it’s impossible, with him, it’s more than possible!
best response to God’s ‘Here I am’ is “Here I am”. (Luke 1:38)
It’s the second week of December and we’ve officially started the Christmas rush, full of shopping lists, too many bills, no parking, busy schedules, etc. As wonderful as Christmas is, is it possible that we’ve made it more or less than what it really is?
As we lead up to Christmas, we’ll be looking at what the Advent season takes us back to, a season of expectancy. The Christmas story, found in the gospels, is the beginning of Jesus life on earth, but also the end of a long period of waiting. People in that story were waiting for a Messiah, for forgiveness of sins, for a nations coming of age. Advent is a journey through those same feelings of expectancy; the waiting for a much anticipated Saviour.
If we can take a moment, before the rush, to maybe look at the false expectations we’ve created or built into this season.
Seinfeld’s video may not be seasonal or about Christmas, but it sure does speak to the false expectations we place on ourselves at Christmas.
Christmas seems to always have two stories vying for position; the question is which one will make it to the top. I don’t just mean Santa vs Jesus in a battle royal. As fun as that sounds, it’s a little more that that. The biblical Christmas story is based in a context that was bound for opposition. King Herod was appointed by Rome to rule Jerusalem. He was a cruel and evil leader. When he got wind of Jesus and began to do the math, he realized that this Jesus, even though just a baby, was not good for business. So much so that he ordered all first born boys in Bethlehem to be killed. Jesus avoided this by being brought to Egypt before this incident. The opposition starts in Matthew 2:1-3. This is the cultural context that Jesus was born into. We may view Jesus as the main story line, but Herod had other plans in mind. Herod was about violence, perverse power, cruelty, control, etc. Jesus was going to be about mercy, justice, love, peace, and a power that would be connected to humility.
This begs the question, what stories compete with Christmas today? What story will win at the end of the day? These days…
Christmas competes with consumerism
Christmas competes with materialism
Christmas competes with a hurried life style
Christmas competes with budgeting
Christmas competes with selfishness
For all the wonderful expectations of Advent and Christmas, there are a few false ones:
– that we must spend more than we have
– that we should get more than we give
– that we must be totally spent by January 1
When it comes to the practical side of advent, let’s be careful of a couple of things…
1) Be careful not to SPEND MONEY you don’t have (or money that can be used better)!
The most used practice in December is that of consumption. Our exaggerated employment numbers in December and then high unemployment numbers in January are just one example. The average Canadian spends more than $1400 at Christmas. That’s not as alarming as the fact that 1/3 of Canadians go into debt for their purchases.
We haven’t figured out how to continue to be generous, without damaging our lives in the process. What’s worse is that we feed into this idea that Christmas has to be overboard. Of course this is a fine line. We want to be generous and give to those we love. But there has to be a way to balance it off and not find oneself in debt because of it. Perhaps we can start by letting people know that they don’t have to buy us anything. That we are truly content with what we have. That a modest and thoughtful gift is just enough.
Miroslav Volf recently said (in regards to the craze Black Friday), “how is it possible that all those who were grateful for what they have on Thursday, go out the next day and get so much more on Friday?”
Perhaps the best advice to not desire the false expectations of the season may come from Ann Voscamp who says,
“I don’t have to buy Christmas, I want Christmas to whisper Jesus”
“I don’t want to produce Christmas, I want to receive Christmas”
2) Be careful not to miss OPPORTUNITIES to be PRESENT in people’s lives!
Matthew 1:23 tells us that Jesus was given the name Emmanuel. This name is very important as it means, ‘God with us’. Whatever you think about Santa Clause (and remember the real St. Nicolaus was an amazing person and believer who helped many people), the one we hear about around this time of year is a drive by gift giver. Think about it, Santa drops in for a few minutes, doesn’t say hi, eats your cookies and takes off. Jesus – he came, moved in, went to school, got a job, sat down and ate dinner with friends and sinners alike. Jesus is the clearest picture of God (he is God) and shows us that God is not far away, but close. Matthew’s gospel reveals that this God is not only our Saviour, but he is with us.
In light of that story, how can we not give the most generous and authentic gifts to others – our presence. Being present in people’s lives is an extension of Jesus. Not only that, but it shows our world that we don’t buy into commercialized Christmas, but rather, we’re into the real essence of the story – Jesus being present with us, and us being present with others.
What story will you attach yourself to this season. Herod’s story of selfishness and pride or Jesus’ story of mercy, peace, hope, joy and love? Will you let the false expectations of the season pull you in? Or will you be even more generous, but in a thoughtful and meaningful way, giving from what you have and what you’ve said aside.
If the Christmas story is about Jesus, then my only expectations should be what I’ve come to expect of him: forgiveness of sins, undeserved grace, peace beyond understanding, and boundless love. Out of that, I have lots to give. Share that story this Christmas!