This is one of the best-known moments in the Bible where we find out what it means to rejoice with blessed Mary!
It’s something celebrated every Christmas: The moment when the angel Gabriel broke the news to Mary that she would have a child who would be the Son of God. And there’s Mary’s song of praise – the “Magnificat”. A little less well known, not usually found in nativity plays, but still very well known in many churches.
But we mustn’t lose sight of the weirdness of everything we read here. Even more important, you’re invited to experience God in what you read here.
God entered the world (26-37)
Last time we looked at how God had sent the angel Gabriel to announce to Zechariah and Elizabeth that they’d have a son. That was a miracle, because they were both quite old and had never been able to have children. But this child would be John the Baptist.
Here, God sends the same angel Gabriel to a young woman in Nazareth: Read Luke 1:26-27.
- To be “engaged” then was much stronger than it’s generally held today.
- Their marriage was certain, though they weren’t yet living together as man and wife.
- Separation would be considered “divorce”, even though they hadn’t even shared a house, let alone a bed.
- It was an arrangement among families as much as anything: One family was losing a daughter (a worker) and another family was gaining.
- In all likelihood, Mary was in her mid-teens. A girl.
- Engaged to marry a man descended from King David.
Now, it’s not every day you’re greeted by an angel. Gabriel’s words were cheerful enough: “Greetings, favoured woman! The Lord is with you!” But Mary was “confused and disturbed” – quite naturally!
Favour with God
But the reply is hardly going to settle her nerves:
- “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favour with God!
That might be reassuring!
- You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.
No explanation is given to say that Jesus means “he saves”. The news is that she (a virgin) will have a son.
- He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High.
Right. Wow. He will be very great in his very nature – who he is, as much as anything he ever does.
- The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
That’s why it matters that Joseph is a descendant of King David. This child, Jesus, will fulfil a promise made to King David for a descendant to rule forever! Wow indeed!
Mary’s question in v34 brings us back down to earth: “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”
She knows how babies are made. But not this one.
No ordinary conception
Read Luke 1:35.
- She wouldn’t sleep with Joseph until after Jesus was born.
- Jesus was conceived in the supernatural mystery of a creative act of the Holy Spirit in the virgin Mary.
- Jesus was this tiny human life within her; God took on human flesh (the “incarnation”) in Nazareth, not Bethlehem. He was already the eternal Son of God!
- This virgin birth had been foretold (Isaiah 7), as part of God’s promised grace to undeserving people.
- But even more than that, the fact that Jesus was born to a virgin meant that he was a kind of “reboot” for humanity. He’s “Adam 2”.
- He wouldn’t inherit the bias to wrongdoing that you find in every other human being (what the Bible calls iniquity). He was a fresh start.
- So, if he could somehow go his whole life without ever breaking God’s laws (never lying or stealing, always loving others, obedient to parents, etc) – then he would never be punished for his own wrongdoing.
- That means he could choose to be punished for the wrongdoing of others – exactly why he came into the world.
So as a church we’ll unashamedly talk about the weird supernatural stuff like the virgin birth: It’s central to who Jesus is and what he came to do: He is eternally the Son of God, born into the world of Mary, to save you and me. And so:
God entered into your life (39-56)
Gabriel said to Mary that the evidence of her virgin pregnancy is that her relative Elizabeth was pregnant in her old age. So Mary goes to visit. It’s clear that Mary is herself pregnant when she gets there.
Remember, Elizabeth is pregnant with the child who will become John the Baptist. We were told last time that John will be filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb, and that he will point others to joy in Jesus.
So read Luke 1:39-41.
Those of you who have carried a baby know what it feels like to have a baby stretch and turn and move about. But John leapt! Elizabeth was 6 months’ pregnant and had a leaping baby within!
There’s an ethical point we have to make at this point:
- Clearly from Luke 1, Jesus was human from conception.
- John was filled with the Holy Spirit in the womb.
- Christians are opposed to abortion because unborn children are just that: Children. Human.
- There’s a mass of issues and heartache to consider (such as ectopic pregnancies, care for mothers, etc), but here we at least have the theological ground for the Christian position on abortion: Unborn children are souls to God.
That’s why Elizabeth is so overcome with joy at Mary’s arrival. Read Luke 1:42-43.
She considers the child that Mary has only just started to carry to be her Lord! And she’s delighted and honoured to be in his presence!
Jesus is in your life too
There was a day when Jesus walked into your life too! I know that because you’re here, reading this. He brought you to consider him, the Son of God who came into the world. The one who came in such a miraculous way so that he could save you by being punished for your wrongdoing, your sin!
Are you going to back off and recoil? Or be amazed, delighted, honoured, that he would come to you in that way? To be clear: Jesus lives today, and he calls you to come to him.
The Magnificat – a personal song
Mary responded to Elizabeth’s words with this song, often called the “Magnificat” (from the Latin for “magnify” in v46).
Notice the tone of the song: Oh, how my soul praises [magnifies] the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour!
- She magnifies and rejoices in God; she praises him.
- She’s happy!
- You might know some pretty miserable Christians, but that’s not how things are supposed to be!
- To know Jesus, to experience the Lord, is joyful.
Life is often still hard, but there’s a light that no darkness can extinguish when you know God in your heart in Christ.
Mary praises God for what he has done for her: Read Luke 1:48-50.
- Mercy is when God treats us better than we deserve.
- He withholds that which we do deserve, to bless us.
- She really is lowly: Engaged to a working-class man, a joiner in Nazareth (a very unfashionable northern town).
- And now she’s become the mother of the Son of God Most High!
- See the reversal? Lowly → honoured, blessed among all women. Uniquely blessed by God.
The Magnificat – God turns the world upside down
And that reversal is typical of what God Most High does: Read Luke 1:51-55.
- Our society encourages you to look upwards, to better yourself. To do better than the scallies and low-lifes.
- You’re advertised at relentlessly, on TV, in the street, on your phone, on social media: Desire this, envy them.
- But the Lord is God Most High – he desires nothing, envies no-one, and yet he looks down.
- Not to mock, but to be tender, to lift up, to tenderly nourish the weak. At the same time, he will bring down the rich, the powerful, the abusers and controllers – who grasp and steal and manipulate for their own benefit.
- Are you someone who looks up with envy, or down with compassion?
So you see in Mary’s song the infinite tenderness of God: If you ever feel like you’re nobody, or nothing; if you feel abused and trodden on, left behind and under-valued.
God cares for you, and calls you him to experience joy with him.
Rejoice at God your Saviour
The right response to these verses is to ponder who Jesus is and then to join in with Mary’s rejoicing and praising! Jesus is the eternal Son of God – he was always that, outside of time. He is eternally glorious, the one through whom and for whom everything was made and exists. And that infinite Son of God became a son of Man, a human being, by the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit, in a teenage virgin called Mary, 2000 or so years ago.
Mary said, “my soul rejoices in God my Saviour”
- Your sin – your offence to God – will keep you from him eternally and there’s nothing you can do to fix it.
- But God the Son entered the world as “Adam 2”, a fresh start for humanity.
- His virgin birth is a miracle designed to save you, because that way Jesus could live a morally perfect life, deserving no punishment from anyone – especially from God.
- Which means he can then choose to lay down his life to take the punishment you deserve – which he has done, at the cross.
- Mary needed a saviour, and so do you.
- And Jesus is that Saviour; he lives today to call you to turn from your sinful offence against him, to come in joy to Christ – receive the forgiveness and life he offers today!
And rejoice then that he is a God who turns the world upside down. You can be free from the allure of advertising by finding freedom in Christ, finding joy in him.
Freedom in Christ
You can be free from the crippling frustration of seeing the rich and powerful abusing people for their own profit. The Lord will call them to account. More, the Lord stoops to lift the broken, the weak, the needy. Do you need rest? Do you need strength? God shows tender mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him.
To come to Jesus is not to come to drudgery, to chores, to misery. It is to come to service, to sacrifice, to laying down your life for him – but because of who he is, he is your goal, your life, your hope. Jesus is the end of the Christian journey, and he is a secure hope.
These verses are steeped in allusions to Old Testament promises – promises from God to send a descendant of King David into the world. This God keeps his promises.
- This descendant would himself reign forever (which Jesus now does, risen in heaven, one day to return)
- This Jesus would be a saviour, even giving his own life as a sacrifice, dying for his people (which Jesus did on the cross).
- This King and Saviour is Jesus, the eternal Son of God, who casts down the proud, the arrogant, the abuser, and reaches down to lift up the lowly, the hurting, the weary.
You’re not called to Christianity or even to church.
Jesus calls you to come to repentance, forgiveness of sin, and to joyful eternal life with himself. Rejoice in God your Saviour today.