Caroling | Mary's Song | Luke 1:46-55
Topic: Gospel Passage: Luke 1:46–1:55
December 11th, 2016
Sermon I | Mary’s Song | Luke 1:46-55
Theme: God’s Character - “What is God Like?”
Good morning. If you’ve been gathering with us on Sunday mornings for the last several months, you know that last Sunday pastor Chris just finished preaching all the way through the book of 1 Thes. Seeing as we’re in the middle of advent and the Christmas season, we wanted to take the next 3 Sundays leading up to Christmas to focus on three Christmas carols that don’t make it on the radio too often. If you had to pick one Christmas song or carol, which one would be your favorite? What song captures the wonder, excitement and magic of the season for you? I think for me it’d have to be Oh Holy Night.
Songs are so much a part of what makes Christmas such a special holiday. Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday in many respects, but one thing it lacks is a soundtrack. If Thanksgiving had a soundtrack, it probably wouldn’t be quite as big a fight with our spouses as to when it’s appropriate to start playing Christmas music – which of course is AFTER thanksgiving!
I think one of the reasons that songs have become such a treasured part of Christmas is that this is a cold, dark and dreary time of year. We need as much brightness and cheer as possible if we’re going to make it through these dark days. Even at a deeper level, our world is shrouded in the cold and darkness of sinful rebellion against our Creator. CS Lewis captured the essence of this dark and dreary state when he described the White Witches curse over Narnia causing it to be “always winter but never Christmas”. Always dark. Always icy. Always hopeless. Never bright or full of warmth or joy.
So we sing rich songs to remind us that the Light of the World has in fact broken into our darkness. His song has shattered the silence. The account of this grand history-hinging event of the “incarnation” of God as recorded in the Gospel of Luke includes 4 “songs” of God’s creatures as they sing in response to who He is and what He’s done. Mary, Zechariah, the angels and Simeon all left their homes and went caroling to others, “singing” as it were the Good News of Jesus’ arrival and the beginning of the end to all darkness.
Again, each of the next 3 weeks we’ll look at 1 of these Christmas songs, and in celebrating the character and kindness of the triune God, we’ll hopefully be moved, as disciples of Jesus, to consider where He is calling us as ambassadors to our neighborhoods and cities to ‘sing’ light into the dark world. With that brief intro to our 3 part series, let’s focus on our singer for today: Mary.
Before we read our text and listen to Mary sing her song in Luke 1:46ff, let’s set the stage a little with many of the details that are familiar but worth remembering, details that we find earlier in Luke 1. Mary, while living in the backwater town of Nazareth, learned just a few days ago from the angel Gabriel that she is going to conceive a child. But not just any child. He would be the Son of the Most High God. And this wouldn’t happen by the natural means of marriage followed by intercourse but rather the Christ would be conceived in her by the Holy Spirit.
That’s a lot for anyone to take in, but let’s remember that Mary isn’t some 25 year old who’s been out of college for a few years, has a career and is ready to settle down. Joseph is likely in his early-mid twenties, but Mary is likely around 14 or 15 years old! It wasn’t uncommon at that time for girls to get married shortly after puberty. And that’s the other wrinkle in the story. She’s not married. She’s betrothed to Joseph which is like an uber-serious engagement that can only be dissolved by divorce.
It must have crossed Mary’s mind at least once that getting pregnant outside of marriage wasn’t exactly smiled upon in her culture. In fact Mosaic law in Deut 22:23 calls for the fornicators to be stoned to death. Who would really believe her that she hadn’t sinned against God and cheated on Joseph?
And yet, this 14-year old doesn’t seem to give any consideration to her health or safety. She simply told the angel Gabriel, on the spot, “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” With that, Mary packs her suitcase, leaves Nazareth goes to spend 3 months with her much older, formerly-barren cousin Elizabeth whom she just learned from Gabriel is 6 months pregnant.
Mary doesn’t even get to surprise Elizabeth with the news because the Holy Spirit spills the beans. He causes John the Baptist to leap for joy in Elizabeth’s womb. The Holy Spirit reveals to Elizabeth that her cousin Mary will be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah.
That’s where we pick up our text today. Let’s bow in prayer and then dive into Luke 1.
Luke 1:46-55 | 46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 AND HIS MERCY IS FOR THOSE WHO FEAR HIM FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; 52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; 53 HE HAS FILLED THE HUNGRY WITH GOOD THINGS, and the rich he has sent away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
There is a lot of wonderful richness in this song that we just don’t have time to get to today, but there are 3 recurring themes about the character of God that Mary belts out that I do want to focus on, and that is that God is mindful of us, God is mighty for us and God is merciful to us. We’ll work through them in that order.
GOD IS MINDFUL.
Does it ever feel like no one really notices you? That you’re just lost in the sea of 7.4billion other human beings on the face of the earth. Certainly in our celebrity-obsessed culture, it’s easy to feel like we don’t measure up by comparison with those making headlines.
If we don’t have an exciting career, notable achievements, remarkable children, affluence or influence – all the things our culture says define us and give us worth – it’s not hard to feel insignificant. In our screen-addicted culture, it’s all too easy to feel disconnected and invisible to others, even friends or family that we’re in the same room with!
Mary certainly could have felt that way. She’s a 14-year old, she’s a female. She’s living in Nazareth with a population of no more than 1500 people. All these things lead to a social standing that is just not impressive. Her prospects for an exciting life from a worldly standpoint were bleak. But there was no doubt in Mary’s mind after Gabriel spoke to her that God was very much mindful of her. She said as much when she sang in v48, “for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed…”
Her song of praise starts out with personal reflections on the impact to her, a young teen-mom, that carrying the Messiah will have. All future generations would hashtag her “blessed”. But she only stays focused on herself for a moment, showing the amazing depth of character of this very young woman.
She goes on to describe God’s dealings with humanity and finishes her song by drawing our attention to God’s broader mindfulness of not just one special person, but of His special people – Israel, and ultimately and eventually the church. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
Mary is a good Jewish girl and well knows the history of her people and God’s gracious dealings with them. I think that’s part of the reason it isn’t so hard for her to believe in a virgin conception. She vividly knows the stories of the fathers and mothers of the faith – that it was God who took a 75 year old man named Abram and his barren wife, Sarai, pledged to give them a son of promise and finally fulfilled that promise 25 years later when they were 100 years old.
So Mary reminds us with both her own personal life and with her reference to Israel’s fathers that God, Amighty God, the transcendent God who created the universe is amazingly mindful of us. Mindful of me. Mindful of you.
Christmas isn’t always the most wonderful time of the year. At a minimum, it can be stressful and chaotic. At a deeper level, we mourn the loss of parents or other loved ones. Marriages and other family relationships sometimes bear extra strain. Whatever weighs heavy on your heart right now – He sees and He knows. You’re not alone. You’re not forgotten.
If we turn over to Psalm 8:4-8, we catch David trying to make sense of God’s intimate awareness of us. He poses a philosophical question of sorts when he asks
 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?  Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.  You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet,  all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
There are 2 ways to answer that question – what is man that You, amazing-wonderful-creator of the universe God, are so mindful of him? Answer -“I must be somethin’ special. I don’t want to brag, but I’m kind of a big deal, and I have participation awards to prove it!” That’s the answer our self-esteem culture tempts us to give, and to answer that way completely misses the point.
The 2nd way, the right way to answer David’s question doesn’t have anything to do with you and me. If your answer starts with, “well I…XXXXX” wrong. David gives us the answer in vs 9
 O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
God’s intimate knowledge of us and concern for us is just one more way that He magnifies His greatness in our eyes. “God – you don’t have to give a rip about us. You could just care for us from a distance. Nothing obligates you to care for me. But no. You know me better than I know myself.”
I’m not one to put pro athletes on pedestals, but when we see images or footage of Russell Wilson at Seattle Childrens trying to provide some encouragement and levity to children facing horrendous conditions, his greatness is magnified in our eyes. He doesn’t have to come down from his throne, if you will. He could use his wealth and power to keep himself far removed from pain and suffering but instead he chooses to enter into it and no doubt provides some huge temporary relief for a lot of kids and families that need that. Church, it’s 10 million times that way with God - O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
So the question becomes, then, what should our response be to God’s amazing care of and concern for us? Mary is teaching us here with her song – we should worship and magnify our God for is kindness toward us. And as part of that worship of our mindful Maker, we ought to invest time and energy in becoming more mindful of Him – yes, I’m talking about a regular habit of ingesting and digesting and meditating on these 66 letters from God. If we’re honest with ourselves, how mindful are we of God? Really. Honestly.
Mary puts us to shame in many regards with her spontaneous song. She not only has a good grasp of God’s redemptive acts in Israel’s history, she also has chunks of scripture memorized so that she can pull out at a moments notice as fits the occasion. Depending on the translation you’re reading, in verses 50 and 53, those verses might be in all caps. That’s not because Luke was trying to get across that Mary was singing really loudly here. The Bible printer didn’t have caps lock stuck on either.
These verses are in caps because Mary is directly quoting from 2 different Old Testament passages, the first of which is Ps 103, which, ironically, includes lines like, “ Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits…”  who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,  who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy…” Ironic, because we forget those benefits all the time.
Our God is an amazingly mindful God. Let’s respond to that by growing in our mindfulness of Him.
GOD IS MIGHTY
Besides reminding us that God is mindful of us, in her song of praise Mary reminds us that He is mighty for us. V29 says, ‘for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” and then verses 51 and 52 say, “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; 52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate;
Take a look around our world today and it’d be easy to say, “really, Mary? Really? Where are you looking. Haven’t you read about ISIS or Allepo or North Korea or parts of Africa or a number of other geo-political situations. I still see plenty of proud despots on their thrones.” Mary wasn’t oblivious to these realities. It wasn’t as if the angel Gabriel finished giving her the news of her new baby and said, “oh, and by the way, Herod and the Roman Government are packing up and rolling out of town tomorrow – you Jews get your country back!”
Mary knew in her soul that even if every political structure and cultural system didn’t improve and do a 180 turn around overnight, God was nonetheless upsetting the world system and overthrowing the way the world has worked since our parents rebelled in Eden.
We in our man-centered thinking believe that with enough time and education and resources we can end all wars and get rid of all inequality and realize a fully enlightened society. We’ve pursued that for centuries, if not millennia. But we’ll never achieve that in our own strength. Only God has the power to make all that’s wrong right again and to administer perfect justice.
Mary’s song focused so much on God’s might making all things right because she likely knew Isaiah’s 9’s Messianic prophecy from roughly 700 years before – that unto us a child is born and unto us a son is given. v7 continues: “
 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
So she recognizes this incarnation event as the mighty fulfillment of numerous promises of God over centuries of Israel waiting and longing for redemption and deliverance.
There are some fantastic lines in Mary’s song that speak to the might and power of God, but there’s also an awesome line that you likely overlooked. I think is astounding in how it points to the might and power of God. In v48 she says,” … behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed.” To see the power of God here we have to take a moment and unpack that word “blessed”.
It’d be easy to read that word and to hear the word “fortunate” or “lucky” . “Awwwww, Mary, you’re so lucky to win the divine lottery of sorts.” But That’s not what the word blessed means here. The greek word for blessed here is makarizo, which means to literally be indwelt by God and therefore fully satisfied.
Putting it all back together, Mary essentially said, prophetically “every future generation on the face of the earth from this day forward will recognize and acknowledge the fact that I was indwelt by God Himself. Every person? No. But part of every generation will celebrate that God came down and took on flesh in my womb and became a human.”
Church, she’s talking about us – part of the church of God. We’re the ones who call her blessed in this way. It is the power of God and the power of God only that has kept the church alive for the last 2000+ years.
Satan has tried for millennia to kill off the people of God. The early church should not have survived all the persecutions she did. Our Asian brothers and sisters and our eastern European brothers and sisters and countless others shouldn’t have survived the persecutions they have. But they have! And they’ve not only survived but thrived because God has shown strength with His arm and has filled the hungry with good things.
Persecution has only caused the church to grow in number. And even though we don’t face that same persecution, it is by the power of God that our church gathers this Christmas season, like hundreds of thousands of other churches around the world, and we declare Mary blessed – that is we declare and sing that she was indwelt by the living God our Savior, the God-Man Jesus the Christ.
For those of you who are struggling and weary this Christmas season, draw hope and strength from the example of the perseverance of the Church – that God has watched over her and kept her by His mighty hand and let that encourage you. He isn’t just mindful and aware of the challenges or heart ache you’re going through. He’s mighty as well to sustain you and to pull you through. And don’t suffer alone. Find someone to pray with. Share the hurt with your Road Group. Let others support you as well.
GOD IS MERCIFUL
So Mary shows us that God is mindful of us and mighty for us. And now we’ll consider how he is merciful to us. And this of course is really good news. But let’s not forget where we fit in this song. We listened earlier to Mary sing about how God has, “scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; 52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate. It can be easy to hear that and think, “yeah, Get ‘em God! Give those proud people their just desserts!” We can easily associate ourselves with Mary and with Team Humble and the come from behind victory. But that’s just not the case.
We preach this at Damascus Road all the time – there is no one righteous, no not one. Not. One. Not even Mary! Our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters have a doctrine you’ve no doubt heard of called the immaculate conception. A lot of catholic churches and schools have that in their name. You’d think, by the title, that it has something to do with Jesus, but it doesn’t. That doctrine states that though Mary was naturally conceived by 2 parents, she somehow escaped being born with the stain of original sin. She was immaculately conceived they believe. Sinless. Perfect.
That’s what they believe but it’s not we believe. It’s not even what Mary herself believes. How do I know? Look back at vs 47. Mary sings, “my spirit rejoices in God MY Savior” Not their savior. Not the pagan Gentiles Savior. Not the world’s Savior. MY Savior. Mary knows she needs a savior just as much as the next person. There is no one righteous…no, not one.
Pastor John Piper has said that Christmas is an indictment of humanity. Try writing that on your Christmas cards. “Merry Christmas – you’ve been indicted!” Piper says, “Christmas is an indictment before it becomes a delight. It will not have its intended effect until we feel desperately the need for a Savior.” And that’s true. The gospel is always terribly horrible news before it is wonderfully good news of great joy.
John 3:19 says, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” That’s not just “the world” John is talking about there. That passage describes you and me apart from the saving work of Christ. We don’t want His salvation. We don’t see our need for rescue.
But thanks be to God that with our guilty verdict, He offers merciful pardon. He sings His light into our darkness. He incarnates His life into our barrenness. His Spirit overshadows all that is chaotic and discordant and brings harmony and shalom. And he does that in a way that is infinitely more “blessed” than what Mary got to experience as the biological mother of Jesus.
As we said earlier, a part of every generation to walk the face of the earth has and does call Mary blessed, that is, we confess as essential doctrine and creed that she was indwelt by God Almighty through the Holy Spirit. But Luke in 11:27 records a fascinating exchange between Jesus and a woman who was trying to pay him a complement.
 As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!”  But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:27-28 ESV).
We don’t naturally want to treasure and observe and keep the Word of God. But God is merciful. Those who do keep it are those whom the Spirit of God has mercifully granted repentance so that they see their sin and recognize their deep need for the life, death and resurrection of this Christ-Child on their behalf.
To have a disposition to keep the word of God then is to be fully, mysteriously indwelt by Christ himself in a much more profound way than Mary experienced. Her body was feeding, nourishing and giving life to Him. But for those who put their trust in Christ, He is the one inside us who feeds and nourishes and grows us. It’s no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. Yes indeed Jesus. It is those in whom you’ve taken up residence who desire to hear and keep your word. What an amazing blessing to be given a new heart through His indwelling presence!
So how do we respond to this Christmas song that God has sung into our darkness. How do we respond to the reality that He is intimately MINDFUL of us and MIGHTY for us and MERCIFUL to us?
Annual sensational news coverage about culture wars on Christmas can leave us feeling reclusive. I don’t want to be lumped in with those who seem hell-bent on keeping heaven in the holidays. So it can be tempting to stay silent. Don’t. Don’t be silent. Don’t stifle His song.
Those around us who don’t yet trust Jesus EXPECT us to share about what Christmas means, and about what it means to us. We’re the church! We have a unique opportunity during this season to point people to the greatest Gift Giver and the greatest gift given - God the Father giving His Son Jesus, to be born, live a sinless life, die our death and rise from the grave so that we could be forgiven and adopted.
So look for ways to sing those kinds of songs with your life and words. People can only handle so much of Paul McArtneys “Simply having a wonderful Christmas time”. They’re thirsting for a richer narrative and deeper meaning.
You and I can reflect the character of our Father in very practical ways. We can be mindful of others for whom the Christmas season is particularly painful or lonely and get together with them. Go shopping, go out to coffee, bring them a plate of cookies with a little note. Invite them into our homes for one of your Christmas celebrations. Send them your Christmas card with a personal note. Let them know you see them and are thinking about them.
Or maybe you don’t personally know anyone who’s hurting that way. Well you’re bound to find someone who could use an empathetic ear when you come and share just 3 hours of your time serving here at the Cold Weather Shelter. It’ll be open Christmas Eve and Day, regardless of if it’s freezing or not, so that people without homes and families don’t have to be alone.
Before I close us out, I do want to say if you’re here this morning and don’t know Jesus, put your trust in Him today and start walking with Him. He knows you by name. Through His mighty power, He’s brought you to this moment to be gathered with us hearing of the mercy He extends to you through the gift of His son Jesus. Put your trust in Him.
In closing, we quote 1 Peter 2:9 a lot here, but that’s just because it’s so good, applies to so many occasions and we need the reminder. So as you respond in song, and come forward to give gifts to the king, and for those who trust in Christ – as you remember his gift of salvation through communion…and then as you as you go from this place into your neighborhoods, schools and workplaces, remember who you are and the mission you’re on. Peter writes: But you, Damascus Road Church, are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim – yes, sing - the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9 ESV)