The Humility of Mary

This morning is the third part of our advent series in covering Luke 1:26-Luke 2:40. The story so far is that the angel Gabriel has visited Mary to tell her the mind-blowing, and scary news, that she will become pregnant without a man involved.  News which Mary accepted with faith and trust.  Part of Gabriel’s message was that nothing, not even a virgin conception, is impossible for God. 

And to show that nothing is impossible Gabriel mentions that her aged cousin, who had spent her life unable to conceive children was now pregnant.  So, Mary goes on a long journey to see Elizabeth, which will confirm the angel’s message.  Gil spoke last week on the meeting of the cousins, and he spoke about how Mary needed the blessing that Elizabeth spoke over her when she and the unborn John the Baptist heard Mary’s greeting.

Mary had a lot to be sad, or anxious or worried about.  She was a poor, ordinary, young girl, lumbered with the worries of being pregnant and unmarried, in a culture that gave no rights to females, and were highly judgmental of pregnancy outside of marriage, to the point that Mary was in real danger.

When Mary heard Elizabeth’s blessing, she could have ignored it, and responded by telling Elizabeth about everything negative, and worrying that she was facing.  She could have been critical of God for using her in a way that would seem extremely sinful to everyone around her.  She might have thought that surely God could bring the saviour into the world in a way that would at least look like it complied with his own laws, so that it didn’t put her in danger. 

She had a lot to be negative about, or even angry at God about.  And Mary may have felt that Elizabeth would have been a safe space to vent.  Afterall Elizabeth’s own miracle pregnancy would have meant that she would have understood Mary’s story about her un-natural pregnancy and an angel.

Elizabeth did understand Mary’s predicament and shouted a loud blessing.  Elizabeth’s faith and blessing had a positive effect, and Mary accepted Elizabeth’s blessing with joy.   And so, Mary responds.  Her response is not to vent anger at God, for the injustice of giving her a pregnancy that seemed unlawful.  Instead, she soaks up Elizabeth’s message of blessing and praises God, in a song that is full of real happiness. 

A Song of praise for God’s salvation

The angel Gabriel’s closing words to Mary, after mentioning Elizabeth’s pregnancy, had been ‘for no Word from God will ever fail’.  Mary was now thoroughly convinced that no Word from God will ever fail and so she sings about it.  A song of praise for God’s salvation.

This song of praise comes from deep within her whole being.  Soul and spirit used in parallel at the beginning of the song are used to express every bit of her being.  This is not just a little bit of surface, momentary happiness because Elizabeth blessed her, but a deep, deep joy, that goes well beyond a blessing from a relative.  Happiness is something that comes and goes, and usually focuses on fleeting moments of things going well.  But joy is something different.  It is a substantial sense of delight and hope that is present even in the most challenging circumstances.    

And, in her joy, she wants to magnify God which means to make him great p.  This song is sometimes known as the ‘Magnificat’ which is Latin for magnify.  This song is all about making God great.  And all because He is her saviour.  It is a song of joy in a knowledge that salvation has come.  This song teaches us three ways to find joy, and a knowledge of salvation. These are humility, a trust in the mercy of God, and in thankfulness.

Humility of Mary,

There is a great deal of focus on humility in the song.  Mary is self-aware enough to know that she isn’t good enough, that she is no better than anyone else, and that she needs a saviour.  As we saw already, this is why she is singing.  Salvation begins with the knowledge that we need saved, and Mary had that knowledge.

Mary identifies herself as a humble servant.  With this comment in her song, she is acknowledging that, in the eyes of the world, she is of low status:  She is poor, she is barely more than a child, and, as a female, she is little more than property that is soon to belong to Joseph.  1st century female Jews had very few rights. 

Mercy for Mary

She believes herself also to be humble in the eyes of God.  She knows she is nothing without the blessings of God.  Mary sees the blessing she receives from God as coming in his mercy.

Mercy and humility go hand in hand.  Mary says that the Mighty one has done great things for her, but only because his mercy extends to those who fear him.  She expresses her trust in God when she says that the Lord is the holy.  He alone is able.

Thankfulness

Mary could have been dwelling on her burdens, but she isn’t.  We can find it so easy to dwell on the negative things in our life.  We need to learn from Mary to focus on the positive in every situation:  to focus on the positive things that are said about us, and not the negative.  And to focus on the good that is in the world rather than the bad.  We can question why a good God allows bad things to happen to us, and in the world around us.  Mary saw the blessing of God even in the midst of immense challenge and difficulty. 

She saw this blessing because she was looking outside of herself.  She had the eyes of her heart firmly on her Lord, and on what he was doing long-term for the whole world.   If we look to ourselves, and only our own immediate circumstances we will never be able to find joy.  Like Mary, we need to see the bigger picture, a sense of God’s kingdom that will one day make all the wrongs right.  Mary is filled with joy because she sees the salvation of the whole world.  That day when there are no wrongs, and everything is right. 

From Now On

In verse 48 there is a little phrase ‘from now on.’  It is an expression that implies something significant has happened and things will never be the same.  For example, Luke uses it in chapter 5 when he calls his disciples, and demonstrates to them with a miraculous catch of fish, that from now on they will be fishing for men.  Something significant has happened, it changes everything, and life will no longer be the same. 

Mary believes that God’s dealings with her are in keeping with his general attitude towards people.  If he loves Mary then he loves everyone else too.  

If anyone has seen the film ‘the greatest showman’, you will know that there is a song in it called ‘from now on’.  Significant things have happened to the main character P.T. Barnum.  As a result, he has realised that he has been selfish in the way he has pursued his dreams: His selfishness has hurt his wife, and the people in his circus business.  If he doesn’t change his ways, he will lose both his wife, and the circus which has burned down. The song expresses that ‘from now on’ he will focus his life on the right things, rather than selfish things.

Something significant has happened to Mary, and from now on everything changes.  Verses 51-54 express the source of Mary’s joy.  The salvation of the world:  They use a tense that looks like she is speaking about past events but Greek uses tense in a different way to English.  There is no past tense in Greek.  The tense used is the aorist which is used in a variety of different ways.  It most commonly refers to an action as a whole without regard to its beginning, or end, or the length of time. Neither does it express whether it was momentary, or repetitive.  It is often best expressed in English using the past tense, but that doesn’t always give the full meaning. 

Here the aorist is used either to sing about these expressions of God’s mercy beginning now, but being fully completed at the end of time.  Or used as a prophetic aorist which expresses things that have not yet happened, but are so certain that they are expressed in confidence as though they have already happened. What has begun in Mary she knows will result in God’s Kingdom.

humility,

Like Mary, we can find the joy of salvation, but just it was for Mary, the keys for finding this joy are in humility, in a trust of God’s mercy, and in thankfulness.  Like Mary, we need to acknowledge that we need a saviour and that all the wrongs in the world cannot be made right by humans alone.

 Some people misunderstand Christianity and believe it to be a crutch to help people cope with life.  But that is because they do not understand salvation. 

If we think we are able to do things right on our own then we are proud and we are expressing our lack of need for a God.  If we expand that idea of being able to do things right to the whole of humanity, we are saying we are able to have the perfect political system on our own.  We can accomplish true justice for everyone, so that everything is perfectly fair for everyone.  The truth is we are kidding ourselves if we think that. 

Jesus didn’t come to earth to teach us to be nicer people.  He came to bring God’s perfect Kingdom, because we can’t.  Although there is an instinct for most of us to desire to right the wrongs of the world, deep down we know that it is something that we cannot do ourselves, neither individually, nor collectively.  We cannot accomplish true justice.  Knowing we need a saviour to do that is humility.  Pride and self-confidence are the main sin against God.  In verse 51 Mary connects the proud with God’s enemies, that need to be scattered.

Another side to pride is to acknowledge that we cannot achieve the perfect society, as in some way everybody is messed up, but, in response, to ignore the world, and God, and find self-satisfaction, in fleeting moments of happiness.  In this scenario the proud are looking to riches, or to be exalted in the eyes of the world, in order to find fulfilment. 

Mary’s song says that those who look to the world for happiness end up with nothing – there is no joy in these things.  There is no blessing in these things.  Instead it is those who yearn for God, and the things of God, that will be satisfied and who will be truly blessed.  And from now on people will see Mary as an example of being blessed for that reason.  She is lowly in the eyes of the world, and humbly trusts in God.  From now on, God is beginning his exaltation of the lowly.  He is scattering the proud – those who have no place for God. 

Mercy

God’s mercy is expressed in the sending of a saviour who turns the social order around.  Who does so with mercy since everyone falls short of the glory of God, and everyone needs mercy. 

The coming Kingdom should bring about a social revolution, bringing the life of humanity in line with God’s will.  A kingdom that truly cares for the poor.  In verse 50 Mercy is connected with those who fear God (from generation to generation).

Verse 55 takes us back to Abraham.  In the conception of Jesus, God is showing that he is continuing to remember to keep the promises that he made to Abraham.  The promise that God will bring blessing to everyone on earth, was made to Abraham at the very beginning of his call to leave his land and follow God.

That promised blessing, a blessing of salvation is in Mary’s womb, and it is received by faith. In the Greek versions of the old testament, the word mercy is used for the Hebrew word Chesed.  A word that is very difficult to translate into any language.  It is God’s deep love for mankind, that is connected with all his promises, including this one to Abraham.  It is God’s mercy, his forgiveness, and love, that washes over every human wrong, and makes things right.  A mercy that cares, for the poor, the lost, the lonely, the humble, to everyone who trusts in the Lord.

Salvation

While the salvation expressed in the words of Mary’s song in verses 51-54 is not yet fully realised, there is an already aspect to salvation.  God’s Holy Spirit is now at work in those who believe in the saviour born to Mary.  The Holy Spirit is at work right now in the world, in caring for the poor.

Mary lived in a world that suffered from oppression under Roman invasion, but she saw the big picture so clearly that she was able to say with confidence and joy that the Lord, whose name is holy, has performed mighty deeds in scattering the proud, bringing down rulers, and filling the hungry.  Because he has remembered his promise to Abraham, in using her to give birth to the saviour of the world.

 At the time of Mary’s song Israel had been waiting hundreds of years, for their saviour and everything looked bleak, yet Mary sings.  Things may look bleak for us too.  Our Lord has promised he would return, and yet thousands of years have passed.  God’s promises are not fulfilled in our imagined time-scales. Yet they are never late.

Practical: Motivation

Mary’s joy: her humility, her thankfulness, and her trust in God’s mercy, didn’t appear out of nowhere, though.  It was developed by Scripture, by her experience of God, and from her relationships with others.  Those are the three places where we too can find the joy of salvation.

Mary’s song is her own, but it borrows heavily from Scripture.  In particular another song in Scripture, the song of Hannah, the mother of Samuel, when she dedicated her son to the Lord, and left him in the temple with Eli. 

Mary knew Scripture, she had memorised it, she probably sang it.  If we don’t know Scripture, we won’t be able to find joy.  But Scripture alone is not enough.

Mary had a personal relationship with God.  She knew him as her saviour, as well as the saviour of the world.  She had also had a very significant experience of God, in the visitation of the angel Gabriel and the message he brought.  She is able to sing ‘he has done great things for me.’ 

But the third aspect that combined to bring about her song of praise and salvation was the blessing and encouragement of her cousin Elizabeth.  We need to experiences, and the encouragement of other Christians around us, and share our experience with others too.

If we trust Scripture, look for God in the world and are thankful, experience him personally, and spend time with other Christians, learning from them, then we have the ingredients in which we can find lasting joy.  Philippians 4:4-8

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