Let’s remember Mary’s age. Last week I mentioned that she was most likely between the ages of 12-15 years old. It is remarkable how she responded to Gabriel’s announcement with humility and trust. But how she responds to Elizabeth speaks volumes about her spiritual knowledge and character.
Because of the way the Roman Catholic Church has exalted Mary to near divine status, Protestant Christians (the rest of the Christian Church) have sometimes denigrated Mary. Rather than “blessed”, the Roman Catholic Church calls her Immaculately conceived, and they hail her as full of grace. This is not biblical language. It isn’t what the angel told her. However, Protestants have the opposite tendency. Rather than “blessed” as the Mother of God, we emphasize how normal she was.
I want us to see just how incredible this young woman was. And I hope, Mary’s praise to God will serve as a spark in your songs and prayers this Advent Season.
Luke 1:39–56 ESV
In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.
This passage calls us to consider our joy. We can quickly lose heart and think that God is very distant from us. Most of Israel had essentially lost interest in waiting for God to show up.
What about you? We can turn this spiritual mystery into a systematic routine. As long as we continue to cross our t’s and dot our I’s we are satisfied to carry on as if everything is normal. We begin to lower our expectations about reading our bibles. What was at one time new and exciting is now very difficult. Family worship is filled with more rebuking than rejoicing and we begin to wonder if it’s even worth the effort.
Certainly, for some of us, Sunday morning’s can feel the same way. Maybe the music isn’t your style, or the lighting isn’t exciting enough, or the preaching is too boring. I get that, believe me. I know what it’s like to leave church more frustrated than encouraged. And sometimes, maybe even oftentimes, there is good reason to be frustrated. But if that is the defining characteristic of every sphere of your spiritual life—it is possible that you are not recognizing the work that God is doing in, through, and all around you.
We learn a great deal about God from this passage. God is at work! And whenever we recognize that work we should be rejoicing—with loud shouts of exclamation!
Worship springs up from a heart that recognizes and rejoices in the work of God.
First, we will consider Recognizing the Work of God (39-45). Second, we’ll look at what it means to be Rejoicing in the Work of God (46-56).
Recognizing the Work of God (39-45)
The Holy Spirit brings joy to a second trimester infant! John the Baptist, filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb (v.15), leaps when Mary greets Elizabeth (v.41, 44). We should all recognize how remarkable that is. And we should also be careful not to assume this is entirely unique (cf. Gen. 25:22f). David was confident that he would see his son again even though he died in infancy.
Then Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit by whom she proclaims favor upon Mary—miraculously informed by the Holy Spirit of the promise Mary had received. The Holy Spirit filled Elizabeth with special knowledge in order to know Mary would be the mother of her Lord. Elizabeth’s proclamation of blessing upon Mary comes from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Now, recognize the reality of this scenario for a second. Mary, a young teenager, has greeted a women beyond typical child bearing age. Remember, it was a miracle that she was pregnant as well. So we might guess Elizabeth to be somewhere in her 60s or even older. So young Mary greets old Elizabeth and the older is blown away.
Her blessing is not over-the-top, but it was “exclaimed with a loud cry.” Her passion was unreserved. Regardless of how comfortable we find ourselves with emotional responses in worship, we should note the fact that both Elizabeth and her baby John recognize the work of God because of the work of the Holy Spirit within them!
Marilynne Robinson, in her Pulitzer Prize winning novel Gilead, writes beautifully about the mundane things of life. The plot revolves around the Reverend Ames, an old man who doesn’t have much time to live. So the book reads like letters written to his young son. The lessons of life that he won’t have the opportunity to teach to him personally. In his letters he reflects upon profound concepts like God, beauty, life, grace, and love is probably the most frequent.
So the book doesn’t have any major plot twists, it simply has some of the best written English among modern authors. But what I loved the most was the way it made me recognize the wonder in everyday, ordinary activities.
As you read the book you get the feeling that Reverend Ames has learned to be content with very little. Yet, the depth of his love is profound. His theology fuels his doxology and one minute he could be writing about a neighbor on their street, and the next reflecting upon the attributes of God.
At one point he writes, “It all means more than I can tell you. So you must not judge what I know by what I find words for.” And at another point he writes, “Sometimes I have loved the peacefulness of an ordinary Sunday. It is like standing in a newly planted garden after a warm rain. You can feel the silent and invisible life.”
When the Holy Spirit penetrates our soul and inspires new insight—our response is naturally one of excitement. And that might be over the extraordinary news that our Savior is born, or we may see the endless ways that creation declares the glory of God. You might be working on your car for the thirtieth time, or watching your wife deliver your first child. This life is filled with countless moments where new insights and experiences can be enjoyed.
Haven’t you ever had the experience of reading something new or grasping something for the first time and wanting to shout about it? We want to run around the house declaring it to everyone we see. Are we to expect those kinds of experiences to be rare? I imagine, for most of us, those occurrences are rare. But we can never blame it on our circumstances.
Rather we should always be ready, anticipating God to show up. There was a large group of Jews who had essentially moved on. They weren’t going to wait any longer on this God to show up, who has been silent now for 400 years. But God had a remnant of people like Zechariah and Elizabeth who “were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord” (v.4).
Not only were they obedient, but they were an encouragement to others (vv.42-45). Her loud affirmation of the work of God in Mary’s life was entirely selfless.
They rejoiced when everyone else grumbled.
Rejoicing in the Work of God (46-56)
Mary provides us with a list of all the things that bring her rejoicing (vv.46-47). Rejoicing comes by recognizing the attributes of God…
1. His condescension (1:46–48): God took notice of her and lifted her from a state of lowliness.
2. His holiness (1:49) : Though she was of a humble estate, He has done great things for her. She recognized her strength truly came from weakness.
3. His mercy (1:50) : His mercy goes on from generation to generation.
4. His power (1:51) : He does tremendous things with his power, bringing justice to the proud.
5. His sovereignty (1:52–53): He humbles the proud and exalts the lowly.
6. His faithfulness (1:54–55): He has kept all his promises to Israel.
V.56 Why would Mary stay with Elizabeth for three months? Where’s Joseph? Was Mary so focused on spiritual things that she lost track of time? Elizabeth is so grateful to have Mary visit. Remember, Zachariah is still mute. They have three months to talk without interruption! Who needs men?
But honestly, what is their conversation filled with? They weren’t discussing Black Friday Deals! They were magnifying their Lord in praise together!
John Piper has written a library of books based upon one sentence, “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in him.” Mary’s great joy is rooted in the work of God that she praises him for. In his best known book, Desiring God, he writes:
“The fuel of worship is the truth of God, the furnace of worship is the spirit of man, and the heat of worship is the vital affections of reverence, contrition, trust, gratitude, and joy. But there is something missing from this picture. There is furnace, fuel, and heat, but no fire. The fuel of truth in the furnace of our spirit does not automatically produce the heat of worship. There must be ignition and fire. This is the Holy Spirit.”1
I don’t know about you, but I know that I am far too reserved to express what Mary expressed. If I were to read language like this from contemporary authors I would think they were being overly dramatic.
The obvious excitement of Mary and Elizabeth may seem so foreign to your experience, but it doesn’t have to be. God is still working in the same way Mary praised him for. Notice that her language (other than v.48) could be said by any child of God. These are words and thoughts that regularly appear in the songs we sing. Have they become too familiar?
If we recognized the work of God in ourselves and others more regularly, our joy would be obvious. We would delight to rejoice with one another. We would share all that God is doing in our lives and inquire what God is doing in the lives of others. Aren’t we a little too quick to answer the question, “How are you doing?”
Just two weeks ago we heard the psalmist’s call to “give thanks to the Lord” for his goodness and love. And we saw how the psalmist emphasized giving praise and thanksgiving even through suffering.
At the same time, Scripture warns against coming in a hypocritical manner. The word “hypocrite” comes from Greek play actors on stage who would change their masks in order to clearly display their mood. We don’t want to come before the Lord with a painted smile.
Recognize the work of God and rejoice in the work of God. Those are the implicit callings upon each one of us from this text. We must see these implications as being rooted in God’s character displayed in Mary’s song of praise. We praise a God who is merciful; who exalts the humble and does great things through those who are poor and weak.
In other words, we don’t have to think of ourselves as spiritual elites. The Lord will meet you right where you are. He stoops to hear his children sing—In fact, he sings over his children with the rejoicing he calls us to. Zephaniah 3:17 says,
“The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”
This is truly remarkable. He calls us to the foot of a great mountain and says—worship me! And as we look up, there are infinite reasons to rejoice in our God. Yet, from the peak of that mountain, God peers down at us—small little worms—and he exults over us “with loud singing!”
Isaiah 62:5 puts it like this:
“For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”
You say, “But I do not do the things I know I’m supposed to do! And I do that which I know I should not do.” You might cry out with Paul, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” We might not see in ourselves what God sees in us. We might think there is nothing to commend us to such rejoicing. But hear this Christian!
There is therefore, now, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1)! God will rejoice over you because He sees you covered by the righteousness of His Son! When he looks upon you He doesn’t see your filthiness. He sees the glorious perfection of Jesus Christ!
That is the supreme work of God in the Gospel. That is what we are called to recognize! Join me now in responding with loud rejoicing!