It’s the time of year where almost every radio station you turn on, every store you go in, almost everywhere you go you hear Christmas music. Have you noticed how almost every Christmas song is about happiness or joy?
• “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire”
• “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas”
• “Joy the World”
• “We wish you a Merry Christmas”
• “Tis the season to be jolly”
Christmas is a very sentimental time of year. But have you ever stopped to realize that the events surrounding the first Christmas were far from sentimental or jolly.
The Gospels reveal the anger of King Herod as he orders the slaughter of children in hopes to eliminate the threat posed by this “Christ-child.” The shepherds who are out in the fields are all of a sudden startled by warrior-like (known as angels) beings announcing the birth of Christ. Joseph, a day-laborer, just trying to make ends meet is told that his wife-to-be is pregnant and he knows he had nothing to do with it. He is now asked to put everything on the line to accept this story that the Holy Spirit has conceived a child in Mary and that she has not been unfaithful.
And then there’s Mary. When we think of Mary we often think of her as a soft-spoken woman with a blanket over her head. She’s a peaceful and sentimental prop in a nativity set. But that is not the picture we get from the Scriptures. Mary is a poor, peasant, teenage girl who has just received the news that she will give birth to the Son of God. News that one would think would bring excitement, but that is not Mary’s immediate response. Mary is afraid!
The Anxiety of Mary
Luke tells us that when Mary receives the news she is scared to death (Luke 2:29). An angel speaks to her and tries to calm her down saying “do not be afraid” (2:30). And then Luke says she “makes haste” to go to Judah to see Elizabeth. While the birth of Jesus is wonderful news, one can hardly blame Mary for being frightened as to how this will all turn out.
Why would this announcement make Mary so anxious?
1. Economically: She is married to a day-laborer and now will have to support a child.
2. Martially: She will have to break the news to Joseph. Matthew tells us that apart from an angel speaking to him he most likely would have broken off the engagement and put her away.
3. Socially: She might end up being a single-mom, not to mention that having a baby during a betrothal was socially unacceptable (and against OT law).
4. Spiritually: And on top of that she has just been told she will be the mother of God? How’s that for pressure? Try leading the prayer at that family meal? Try leading the family devotion when your child is the Creator of the world?
So the news of this birth brings financial, marital, social, and spiritual problems. I’d make haste and flee to Judah too! This was not sentimental, it’s far from a “jolly season” in the life of Mary. The first Christmas is more like “God I trust you, but I’m scared to death.”
The first Christmas wasn’t sentimental, because life isn’t always sentimental. Life is full of marriages that are one fight away from separation, financial struggles, silence caused from the loss of a loved one, and the building pressures of negative pregnancy tests. You see, sometimes God’s richest blessings come when your soul is the most troubled. It certainly was for Mary!
The Affirmation of Elizabeth
So Mary makes haste for Judah to visit her relative Elizabeth, a woman who Luke tells us had been barren all her life until about 6 months before this. In that day if you were barren, it was believed that you were being punished by God for something. So Elizabeth was a woman who knew suffering.
Now Elizabeth’s response says something significant. She has known the pain of barrenness all of her life and for the past 6 months has known the joy of pregnancy only to have her younger relative, who has never known the sufferings and reproach of barrenness, reveal the news that she is conceiving of an even more miraculous child than her own. Can’t you see the temptation to say “I’m really happy for you” as she walks away crying in the other room?
But Elizabeth is secure in God’s plan for her life. She is not drowning in self-pity or unrighteous jealousy? There is great freedom that comes when you can joyfully embrace God’s story in your life without comparing it to someone else's. Elizabeth was secure in the plan that God had for her and it didn’t have to be the same plan God has for Mary. This allowed Elizabeth to encourage Mary in her time of stress. Even the baby within Elizabeth leaped for joy!
Elizabeth’s words ministered to Mary, it brought her comfort. Through the affirmation of Elizabeth, Mary’s anxiety turned to adoration.
The Adoration of Mary
Things started to settle in for Mary and the text says that her soul turned to God and began to worship him in a song. Mary has just been told “blessed are you among women” and yet her response is to turn and praise God rather than glorify herself. Mary not only magnifies God, but she rejoices in God. Her joy in God surpasses the pain and anxiety of life.
How is Mary able to magnify God and find joy in God? I believe it was Mary’s view of God. Mary says at least 10 things that serve as an anchor when we are frightened and uncertain.
i. God is in control (“Lord”) Mary calls God her “Lord”. Mary could magnify and rejoice in God even in her circumstances because God was in control, not her.
ii. God will deliver (“Savior”) Mary calls God her “deliverer”. Mary believes that God will rescue her and lift her up in her time of need. [*Important to note that Mary realizes her need for a Savior, she’s not perfect.]
iii. God knows my situation (“looked on the estate”) Mary says that God has “looked on her lowly estate.” In other words, God is not unaware of her situation, He knows what the consequences will be, He knows what the outcome will be, and there is a great comfort in knowing that He knows.
iv. God is for me (“will call me blessed”) Mary realizes that though this situation is a lot to bear, God is for her. However this story unfolds, God has promised that her name will be blessed.
v. God has done great things (“has done great things”) Mary takes inventory of God’s resume. He has done amazing things in the past, and He has not changed!
vi. God is holy (“holy is His name”) Mary mediates on the nature and character of God. God is good, and perfect, and everything He does is right. Holy is His name.
vii. God is powerful (“strength in His arm”) In the eyes of man, this story seems impossible. But there is nothing that is impossible with God.
viii. God is just (“brought down thrones”) Mary sees God as a just God who holds the proud accountable. If this birth is the plan of God, then those who try to stand in His way will be put to shame.
ix. God is merciful (“his mercy is for those who fear”) Mary knows that those who look to Him will be shown mercy even when they don’t deserve it. God takes the proud and humbles them; God takes the humble and lowly and exalts them.
“Praise you God that you take peasant girls and give them a name, thank you that you take a criminal on a cross and give him paradise, thank you that you take fishermen and make them the foundation on which you will build your kingdom. Thank you that you will take a baby born in a manger and a man from Nazareth and change the world. Thank you that no one is too lowly that you will not lift up.”
x. God remembers His promises (“Ab and offspring”) Mary realizes that God is doing something through this birth that is fulfilling a promise of long ago. God had promised Abraham an offspring, God had promised David a heir to the throne, God had promised, and what God promises, He always delivers. God has not forgotten his people!!!
Now that’s a song! Mary has gone from worrier to worshiper, from afraid of shame to her name being blessed before many, from lowly to lifted up, from anxious to adoring God. Mary put her faith and found her joy in the true and living God. The God who is in control, the God who saves, the God who knows, the God who is for us, the God who has done great things, the God who is holy, the God who is powerful, the God who is just, the God who is merciful, and the God who always fulfills His promises.
Maybe this season we would do well to turn off for a moment the happy, sentimental Christmas songs and sing the Christmas song of a frightened, teenage peasant girl who was scared for her life. Her song is not a song about a baby who "no crying he makes", but a song about a man who cried out, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” Her song is not a song about sleigh rides in the snow, but a Savior on a cross. Mary’s song was a song of faith! Will you sing with her? If you do, you may feel something inside you leap for joy!