2008 Christmas II: Mary’s Song of PraiseDecember 7th, 2008 • Posted in Christmas, Messages/Sermons • 3,119 views
2008 Christmas Lesson 3
MARY’S SONG OF PRAISE
Key Verse: 1:46-49
“And Mary said, ‘My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Might One has done great things for me – holy is his name.’”
Mary’s song of praise in today’s passage was named “Maginificat”, meaning “praise”, by the Roman Catholic Church. Throughout history, Mary has been honored greatly by so many believers because she was not only chosen by God but also was fully dedicated to her calling, bearing and nurturing Jesus who was to be the Messiah of the world. Some people like to think that she was divine, although we don’t have any evidence of this in the Scriptures. However, nobody can deny that she was a deeply dedicated and godly woman. Her song of praise was not about herself but mainly about God whom she called “Lord”, “Savior” and “Mighty One.” Last week I was a little bit upset about several things that annoyed me. As I read her song of praise over and over again, I felt that annoyance leaving me and I found peace in my heart. I was reminded of God’s great mercy upon my life. Christmas is just around the corner, and many of us are tired, feeling uptight and stressed. I believe that Mary’s song of praise is the perfect passage to study for our preparation for Christmas.
First, Mary visits Elizabeth (39-45)
Look at verses 39-40. “At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.” In the preceding passage, Mary was told by the angel Gabriel that she would conceive a child by the power of the Holy Spirit and the child she would bear was going to be the Son of the Most High, the Messiah of the world. (31-33) Hearing the angel’s important announcement (34), Mary expressed her trust in the Lord by saying, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (38) In her unusual situation, Mary made a courageous decision to accept God’s will upon her life.
When the angel left her, she was alone and desperately needed someone to hold her hands, look into her eyes and tell her that the decision she had made was the right one. Who could be the person to help her at this troubling moment? She didn’t think that her fiancé Joseph was the right person at this point .She didn’t go and seek help from her mother, father or even her friends. Instead, she chose to visit Elizabeth her older relative, whose miraculous pregnancy the angel had mentioned. Mary went to visit Elizabeth not just simply because she was one of her relatives, but because she knew that Elizabeth was the right person who could help her to cope with what she was going through at that time. Mary definitely felt comfortable sharing her story with Elizabeth because of her similar experience and emotional and spiritual maturity. Mary was very fortunate to have such a wise, objective, loving and open minded lady available to her, who was filled with the Holy Spirit. Let’s see how Elizabeth helped Mary in her time of need.
Look at verse 41. The trip Mary had to take was a long one. When Mary finally arrived at Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth, some unusual things happened to Elizabeth. Suddenly the baby in her womb started moving, kicking her stomach, and she was filled with the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth felt God’s special presence, perhaps through a transcendental and warm feeling of peace that surrounded her. Look at verses 42-45. 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 what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.”
When we read these verses, it seems that Elizabeth already knew what had happened to Mary and about the child she would bear. How did she know about these things? Did the angel tell her? In those days, telephone service or e-mail were not available. It seems that Mary hadn’t told her story yet to anybody. How did Elizabeth find out? The only clue we have is the fact that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Among the gifts of the Holy Spirit are the gift of prophesy, the gift of discernment and the gifts of love and encouragement. The Holy Spirit was the real counselor.
When we counsel someone, we should not try to tell the person what to do prior to listening to him or her. In any counseling process, the counselor is not supposed to assume anything about the counselee’s situation. The first and the most important thing that counselors should do is to listen. How long should they listen? Until counselees feel that they have been heard enough. Generally people like to talk and tend to dominate the conversation rather than to listen. No wonder there are many problems among people, even between spouses, parents and children and among coworkers. James says, “Everyone should be quick to listen and slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (1:19) Some people get upset easily because they are poor listeners. Listening requires a lot of patience, concentration and humility. It’s hard work. A good counselor, mentor or Bible teacher may not necessarily have all the correct and final answers, but they are good listeners. When we offer our genuine attitude to listen to one another with respect and patience, we know that the Holy Spirit, the Wonderful Counselor, works in and through us.
That’s what was going on between Mary and Elizabeth. Prior to the visit, Mary had already made the decision to follow the will of God. She didn’t need to be persuaded to make another decision by someone. She needed someone who could encourage her and confirm her decision. And that’s what Elizabeth did for Mary. Elizabeth was saying to her, “Mary, you are a blessed woman because God has chosen you to be the mother of the Savior. I am so happy and even feel honored by your visit. I am glad that you came to me. You are blessed especially because of your decision of faith you made to trust in His words.” We can imagine how Mary made a big smile as she listened to Elizabeth. Mary was greatly comforted and her faith was strengthened by the presence of Elizabeth and the Holy Spirit.
When we read these verses, we learn that it wasn’t just one-sided help from Elizabeth. Rather, it was a reciprocal fellowship between Mary and Elizabeth through the Holy Spirit. According to verse 56, Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months perhaps until Elizabeth had delivered her child. To stay with someone for three months is not easy. During the three months of fellowship, we wonder what they did together. We can imagine that they shared a lot of things together. They shared their life stories, prayed together, laughed and cried together, while meditating on the Scriptures. Sometimes, Zechariah who had been silenced also might have joined their Bible study and conversation through his writing and making gestures. This fellowship of love among them went on for about three months, which must have given all of them profound spiritual nourishment and preparation for their important vocation from God as the parents of John the Baptist and Jesus the Messiah.
Second, Mary’s Song of Praise (46-55)
We are not sure exactly when Mary sang this song of praise. It could be right after Elizabeth finished uttering the words of blessing to her. Knowing that Mary had stayed with Elizabeth for about three months, it could be sometime after they had spent some time together.
As we read the praise of Mary, we see that there is a strong connection between her song of praise and the song of Hannah, the mother of Samuel, found in 2 Samuel 2:1-10. Perhaps it’s because Mary must have read and meditated on Hannah’s song a lot especially during this three months since she could relate herself to Hannah. It was quite possible that she and Elizabeth had studied the entire book of Samuel and learned the historic meaning of God’s salvation in Israel and some characters like Samuel, Saul, David and Jonathan, and then they could reflect on the meaning of God’s salvation for all humankind through John the Baptist and Jesus. Well, it’s only my imagination. Yet, it was very possible. When we analyze Mary’s song of praise, we can tell that what she might have learned from her meditation of God’s words was basically two things: 1) God’s grace upon her life and 2) God is sovereign over all things and no one, not even kings and rulers of the world, can resist what God was about to do. Let’s think about these two things a little more.
First, God’s grace upon Mary’s life. Look at verses 46-49. “And Mary said: ‘My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Might One has done great things for me – holy is his name.’” In this section, we notice that Mary praises God mainly because of God’s grace of salvation and mission in her life. She called God “my Savior.” She didn’t consider herself to be holy or divine, as some people do. If she were divine or holy, why does she need a savior? As a teenage girl, she could have been very pretty, charming, intelligent, proactive and compassionate. She could have been proud of herself especially when she was appointed by God to be the mother of Jesus, the Son of the Most High. But surprisingly enough, all those things didn’t make her spiritually blind. We notice that she rather considered herself a servant, not a queen mother. We learned in the previous passage that she said to the angel, “I am the Lord’s servant. May be it be to me as you have said.” (38) In her song of praise, she also said “(God) has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.” (48) What did she mean by calling herself a servant? It means that she knew who she was before God and what her calling from God was. Most of all, she knew that she was not her own boss, but God was. She was humble both before God and before people.
Most people think more highly of themselves than they ought to. But Mary didn’t. Her view of herself reminds us of what we ought to think of ourselves before God, like godly men and women in history. For example, when David was established as king over Israel, he didn’t say, “Now, I am the king!” Instead he said to the Lord in prayer, “And now, Sovereign LORD, who am I? In addition to everything else, you speak of giving your servant a lasting dynasty! Do you deal with everyone this way, O Sovereign LORD? What more can I say to you? You know me, Lord?” (2 Samuel 7:18-19) He was saying, “I am your servant.” Paul was a great servant of God, who had achieved much. Yet he was humble before God. Instead of saying, “I am the champion of the apostles”, he said that he didn’t even deserve to be called an apostle and it was only by God’s grace that he was who he was. (1 Corinthians 15:9-10) Here we learn that we are to be humble before God to fully know and experience God’s grace upon our lives. Some people appear to be humble, but they are proud in their inmost thoughts. (51)
Look at verse 48b-49. “From now on, all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.” When she meditated about what God had done for her over and over again, Mary could not stop giving thanks and praises to God, saying “Who am I, Lord, that you have shown such great mercy and love to me? I don’t deserve all these blessings. You are holy, Lord, worthy of my praise, thanks and honor.” The spirit of humility is something we should eagerly desire to possess.
Second, God’s Sovereignty is to show mercy on those who fear him.
Read verses 50-55. “His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 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. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.” One of Mary’s major praise topics in these verses is that God is sovereign and His love and mercy endures us forever. God’s mercy and love have no limit. The coming of the Son of God to this world is the epitome of God’s greatest love and mercy for all fallen humankind. God sent Jesus Christ to be the atoning sacrifice for all humankind. 1 John 2:1-2 reads, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the world.” Jesus’ atoning sacrifice is not just for the sins of believers but also for the sins of the world. Does this mean that everyone would be saved no matter what they did? No.
Verse 50 reads that God’s mercy extends to those who fear him. What does it mean to fear God? To fear God means to have awesome respect and love for God. In the Scriptures, the phrase ‘the fear of the Lord” is repeated so many times. Fearing the Lord is mostly equivalent to having faith in Him. For example, when Abraham was asked to offer his one and only son, Isaac, as a burnt offering to the Lord, Abraham was ready to do it. Then the Lord stopped Abraham from doing it and said, “Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” (Gen 22:12) Joshua 24:14 reads, “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness.” Job was described as a man who was blameless and upright and who feared God and shunned evil. (Job 1:1) So fearing the Lord is having faith in him.
Another interesting meaning of the word “Fear” appears in Genesis 31:42 and 53. When Jacob, was running away from his uncle Laban, with all his wealth, his 4 wives and 13 children, he eventually had to confront him. At that time Jacob said to his uncle, “If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty handed” (31:42) Instead of saying “The God of Isaac”, Jacob said, “the Fear of Isaac”. “The Fear of Isaac” is repeated in verse 53 of the same chapter. The name “The Fear of Isaac” can be translated as “The Fearsome God of Isaac” or “The Awesome God of Isaac.” (NLT) God is an awesome and amazing God. He is awesome and amazing in power and love.
God’s mercy has no end and can be applied to everyone, regardless of their national, racial or religious background. God’s grace is abundant, yet unless one accepts it by faith, it has no effect on him or her. Only those who fear him can enjoy the benefit of God’s salvation. While we struggle with many problems in the world, it’s easy to lose sight of God who is awesome and amazing. But look at the stars in the sky, His awesome creation. We can sing, “Oh, Lord my God. When I am in awesome wonder, consider all the world Thy hands have made. I see the stars and hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed. Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee. How great Thou art, How Great Thou art!”
Someone said, “A man who is intimate with God is never be intimidated by men.” Those who have the fear of the Lord can continually discover how awesome and amazing God is and have peace and joy. According to Proverbs, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, wisdom and fountain of life. (1:7; 9:10, 14:27) That’s why we are encouraged to learn to fear the Lord. (23:17) Isaiah 33:6 reads, “The Lord will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.” In other words, fear of the Lord is the access code for the grace of God’s salvation.
These days, we see so many gloomy signs for the future. We are not sure what’s going to happen to the economy of our nation and the world. On top of all this, we ourselves are not perfect and make many mistakes and wrong decisions. We are not in control of many things. As a consequence, it seems that we have no choice but to suffer. Yet, we should not forget that God is sovereign and those who fear him, putting their trust in him and loving him will never be put to shame in the end. It’s time to give our attention to the One who deserves and who is the source of our life and wisdom.
To be honest with you, I got three parking tickets in the last few weeks even though I fed the parking meter. Why did I get those tickets? It’s because I was so busy that I wasn’t paying enough attention to what the parking signs specified. When you are in a hurry, you fail to see all of them. I at least try to comfort myself, “Well, I need to support New York City.” But this time, I was very upset about myself. I felt that God might have some important message for me to learn through these events. So I asked, “Lord, what are you trying to tell me?” I don’t need a big Christmas gift. I just don’t want to get any more of these tickets. Then a thought came into my mind, “What if God gives you a ticket every time you make a mistake and you will have to pay at least $50 per ticket?” If that’s the case, I would receive more than 3 tickets a month, probably 3 tickets every day or every hour. Let’s say that I try hard and received only 3 tickets a day, it would be 1,095 tickets (3 X 365). Then how much do I have to pay for the tickets? 1,095X $50 = $ 54,750. I would be completely broke and would not be able to pay off the debt I owe. But the fact is that I am already spiritually bankrupt without the grace of Jesus Christ because of my sinful nature. I am a child of God only because of God’s grace. If I do things well, it’s only because of God’s grace. Everything is God’s grace, my life, health, air, food, clothes, etc. Jesus Christ suffered and died for me, a terrible sinner, and gives me the grace of pardon over and over and a new life to live, that is so profound and everlasting in his grace and carry his mission of sharing the good news of salvation. This is not a small blessing that I can ignore. I should not lose the joy of salvation. Praise God my Savior, my Redeemer and King! Christmas is the time to remember God’s grace and celebrate God’s salvation through His Son Jesus Christ and share with those who haven’t received it. Let us praise God, like Mary. “My soul praises the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant!” (46a-48)
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