The songs of Zechariah, Mary, the angels, and Simeon were very different than any other Jewish religious songs of their day. I imagine the songs of this period were all in minor keys to reflect the sadness of these people. There were no happy songs in these days because these people had very little to be happy about. Remember,they had been ruled by pagan nations for nearly six centuries., Because of their idolatry, God had not spoken to them through His prophets for four hundred years. So, this was a sad time in the life of the nation of Israel and the music of this day reflected this gloom. But when Jesus came into their world music was reborn as these central characters of the Christmas story responded to the birth of the Messiah with songs of JOY!
This week’s episode in our musical study of that first Christmas shifts into the future a bit. Six months have passed since Gabriel shocked Zechariah with the news of his imminent fatherhood.
1. Let’s familiarize ourselves with the setting of this announcement and the song it would inspire….
First the place, Mary and Joseph lived in the northern province of Galilee. It is interesting that God chose this particular province from which to launch His plan to reach out to all mankind in sacrificial love. Even in Old Testament times it had been over run by pagan religion. Because of this, Isaiah 9:1 referred to Galilee as a place in which God looked upon with CONTEMPT.
God’s choice of cities also seems illogical from our human point of view. He did not choose Jerusalem, the heart of religious influence and life in the nation. Instead God chose Nazareth situated some 70 miles northeast of Jerusalem, just above the main caravan route between Jerusalem and Tyre and Sidon. Due to it’s location on the caravan route, Nazareth had many “inns” to serve the needs of the scores of travelers that came through including Roman soldiers, pilgrims, and merchants. Under these influences, immorality and corruption had become commonplace in the life of the city. No wonder Nathaniel said, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”
God’s choice of the specific site of Gabriel’s announcement is interesting as well. This time He did not choose the temple but instead He chose a quiet well to announce the news of the Messiah’s birth. In those days women were rarely alone and the only place they were by themselves was when they went to get water. There is only once source of water in Nazareth, a well, and tradition says that Gabriel came to Mary with his news as she was alone drawing from this well.
The persons God chose to be a part of this story are also interesting. Joseph, was a descendant of King David, a righteous man according to Matthew. But, he was a carpenter, a common working man. Mary, a teen-aged peasant girl who was also a descendant of King David,was “betrothed” to Joseph. “Betrothal” was far more binding than our modern engagement. Only divorce could break a betrothal, and even though they were not yet married, had either Joseph or Mary been unfaithful to each other, it would have been deemed an adultery punishable by death by stoning. Had Joseph died in the mean time, Mary would have been his legal widow. At the end of the year the marriage was completed, and the couple lived as man and wife.
However, in the case of Mary and Joseph, Matthew is careful to point out that, although they lived together after their marriage, they did not enter into sexual union until after Jesus’ birth. Luke states that Mary was a virgin at the time of Jesus’ birth,echoing the prophesy of Isaiah,”Behold a VIRGIN shall conceive…”
Now remember, Luke was a doctor and everything in his training would lead him to doubt such a story. To record it would subject him to criticism by his colleagues. Yet having traced all things accurately, Luke was so convinced of its truth that he boldly and beautifully penned the most complete account of the virgin birth both historically and scientifically.
2. Well that’s the setting….let’s get back to the story….
We’ll be focusing on Luke 1:26-46.
Mary is at the well and Gabriel appears suddenly and his first phrase was… “Greetings, you who are highly favored. The Lord is with you.” This first phrase has often been misunderstood and mistaught. The Greek literally translated would be, “Grace, oh Graced One!” It is the source of the phrase, “Ave Maria,” or “Hail Mary full of grace.” But Gabriel did not say “Hail Mary who has grace to bestow on others…” An accurate translation would be, “Hail Mary who has been given much grace.” Mary is not the dispenser of divine grace, God is. She herself had received grace in that she had been chosen to be the mother of Him through whom God’s grace is extended to all people. And Mary needed that grace as much as any sinner separated by God. She knew this—for—in one of the first phrases of her Christmas song, she said, “…my spirit rejoices in God my SAVIOR…”
Luke 1:30 infers that Gabriel sensed her fear and said, “Do not be afraid, Mary; God loves you dearly. You are going to be the mother of a son, and you will call him Jesus. He will be great and will be known as the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his forefather, David, and He will be king over the people of Jacob for ever.”
Mary’s first words to the angel were, “How can this be? I am a virgin.” Notice the difference in Mary’s response to the angels’ announcement from that of Zechariah’s disbelieving challenge. Zechariah had said “This can’t happen. My wife is too old to have children.” But Mary said “How can this happen?” Her question is one of honest intellectual questioning….HOW ? And there is nothing wrong with that. God invites our honest questions. He urges us to “Ask….SEEK……” Gabriel’s answer to Mary’s honest question is in Luke 1:35-37, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you….your child will be holy…the SON of God.” Understand what would happen to Mary if she gave the go ahead…. She would be a pregnant, unmarried teenager with no idea of how her fiancé, her family, her friends, or the community in which she had grown up would respond. She might even have to face death if she says “yes” to this. Remember in Deuteronomy it says that adulterers were to be stoned for their sin. Her answer is in Luke 1:38. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” In other words, Mary said, “Here am I…USE ME LORD,” a phrase that all Christians should say each and every day.
Even as a teen, Mary had learned to forget the world’s most common prayer “Thy will be changed” and to pray the world’s greatest prayer “Thy will be done.” If you have ever been pregnant…the first thing you want to do after you hear from the doc is tell someone! Call family, call friends. Well, Mary now knew that she was pregnant not with just any child but with the Messiah. God Himself was in her womb! She couldn’t tell her parents or Joseph—not just yet—so, Luke 1:39 says that following preparations for travel she took Gabriel’s advice and after a four-day journey south, she comes to a city in a hilly region of Judea, south of Jerusalem.
Luke 1:40-41 suggest that she goes inside to find her cousin, perhaps catching Elizabeth by surprise. And when this happens the six-month-old unborn baby boy in Elisabeth’s womb gives and extra hard kick. Little John was already doing the job God called him to–announce the arrival of the Messiah.
In Luke 1:46-55 we find Mary’s song tradition has entitled it “THE MAGNIFICAT” or “The Glorification of What God Has Done”.
3. What can we learn from this song….and from this chapter in the story of that first Christmas?
a. Well first of all we can learn a very important principle of worship.
In Mary’s song of worship there are at least 10 references to Old Testament scriptures.So obviously Mary was very familiar with God’s word. She was a student of it. Remember she has traveled four days, probably alone, to reach the home of her cousin. She has had all this time to meditate, to review the hope found in Old Testament messianic prophecies. Four days to pray, perhaps to sing to herself the scriptural songs of her childhood. Four days of communion with her Lord. Four days of preparation for this spontaneous expression of devotion and adoration.
Mary did not sing in order to experience worship. Her song was an overflow of a life of worship, a day to day intimate communion with the Lord. Worship comes out of a life that is rightly related to the Lord. So if you want worship on Sunday to be meaningful to you, then be sure you worship on Monday through Saturday as well.
Study God’s Word. Spend time talking to Him, listening to Him speak to the needs of your life. We can learn from Mary a very important principle of worship, but there is more that we can learn.
b. We can also learn a very important principle of the Christian life.
As I have studied Mary’s song one dominant theme has kept surfacing in its words. In her song, Mary repeatedly refers to the principle of HUMILITY. In Luke 1:50 she says that God’s mercy is given to those who humbly “fear Him.” In subsequent verses she sings that “God scatters the proud…brings down rulers…but has lifted up the humble..” And Mary’s experience teaches us that the most important quality we can have as Christians is HUMILITY. In fact, God’s selection of the place and people of this story: Galilee… Nazareth… Joseph and Mary, Zechariah, and Elizabeth…helps illustrate His reversal of human ideas about greatness and smallness, significance and insignificance. It is not the spiritually proud, the socially mighty, nor the materially prosperous who have the last word in God’s kingdom. Arrogance and power and wealth are totally out of place here. Mary’s song reminds us that God exalts those who fear Him, those of low degree, those who realize how much they need God in their lives…those who hunger for Him.
- God uses people who realize their need of Him.
- In the Kingdom of God, HUMILITY is an essential.
Think about it. A person cannot even become a Christian until he or she humbly admits their need for God, until in HUMILITY they confess their sin and ask for God’s forgiveness. And then after we become Christians HUMILITY is still important because God cannot use us unless we humbly place our lives at His disposal. To be useful in God’s kingdom we must humble ourselves and become GOD-CENTERED instead of SELF-CENTERED. Mary knew this. She understood that it was her HUMILITY that led God to choose her for this task. In Luke 1:49 Mary rejoices in the realization that God, “has been mindful of the humble state of His servant…” Because she was humble, Mary knew that God had a right to interrupt her life. Because she was humble she made herself available to God.
- We must humble ourselves and become God-centered, as Mary was
- We must be willing to adjust your circumstances to what God wants to do.
You see, God has a right to interrupt your life. He is Lord. When you accepted Him as Lord, you gave Him the right to help Himself to your life anytime He wants. And when we humble ourselves and make ourselves available to God we learn—as Mary did—that with God nothing is impossible! This is more than an angelic insertion. It is a positive reality.
- With God NOTHING IS impossible!
- With God it was possible for an old, barren woman and her husband to conceive and bear a son who was the forerunner of the Son of God.
- With God it was possible for a virgin girl to give birth to a baby who was the SON of God.
- With God persons like you and me can find redemption in Christ and have new life through faith in Him.
- With God NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE.
Now.,think about that. If God could use the life of a young peasant girl, then He can use any life, including your life. St Francis of Assisi said, “If God can use me….God can use anyone.”
And he was right!
Well, what would happen if you allowed God to use YOUR life?
Wouldn’t it be exciting to find out?