By Paul Koch –
I am one of the people who love to sing Christmas songs. I find myself singing them as loud and as obnoxiously as I can when my kids are in the car with me. I sing them at home when they’re practicing their Christmas Carols on the piano for their recital. And of course I hum along in the grocery store as they play over the sound system. I truly love them. And one of the great things about their joyful melodies and messages is that they trick people into singing about our faith. In the midst of silver bells and white Christmases they sing about a Lord born of Mary, about something that happened a long time ago upon a midnight clear. There are so many Christmas carols to enjoy, and it seems as if every year there is at least one or two new ones that I haven’t heard before. But today we are going to examine what is arguably the greatest Christmas carol ever written.
Mary has already received the incredible news of the child conceived in her from the Holy Spirit. She has been told by the archangel Gabriel that she will give birth to a child that will called “Holy – the Son of God.” What happens then as she goes to visit Elizabeth actually makes a lot of sense for one who is carrying the Son of God. She goes to the house of Zechariah and greets Elizabeth. Elizabeth makes the grand confession, “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.” Now if Mary was just any old relative, if she was carrying just any run of the mill child, this confession and the leaping in her womb of John the Baptist would all be something really extraordinary. But for the mother of God this seems reasonable.
But then something truly awesome happens. After the incredible announcement by the angel, after the loving and reassuring words of Elizabeth; Mary herself, the mother of our Lord, sings her Christmas carol. Her words speak with profound clarity about the ramifications of carrying in her womb the Son of God. Beyond the praises of Elizabeth and the unborn John jumping for joy, Mary speaks to us about what this means for the world, what this means for our faith, what this means for our salvation. She sings of something the world would have never imagined happening. She sings of something so unpredictable it makes foolish the wise and astounds the clever.
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.” She sings the praises of her God, why? Because he has looked on her humble estate. She glorifies God not because she is humble but because he has not disregarded her, he has not overlooked her. The small, the lowly, the poor and needy, these are not beyond the purview, concern and care of our God. She sings her song because the Creator of the universe does not see as we see. The people we would rather not look at, the ones that are hurting and broken, the ones that suffer and struggle: we make it a habit to look beyond them. We assume someone else will care for them and someone else will see them. The child that she carries is proof that God has not despised the lowly, but he sees them.
It is an amazing thing to be seen. For a young man to be seen by the girl he has fallen for can change his world. For a struggling artist to be seen by an established agent can change everything. For the lonely and downtrodden to be seen by the caring and compassionate breathes into them hope. Mary sings her song because she knows that God sees her. And in so doing He takes her from her lowly estate and seats her in a place where all generations will call her blessed.
But on her song goes, and it doesn’t just repeat itself. It goes down deeper and reveals more of what it means that God has come to dwell among his people, what it means that he did not come in the palace in Jerusalem but here in the belly of an otherwise insignificant girl from Nazareth. “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.” And now the song really begins to pick up pace. God isn’t just taking care of the lowly and humble, he isn’t just seeing what we choose to not see. No, God is turning everything upside down. According to Mary the strength of God is found in his scattering the proud and pulling down the mighty from their thrones. The strength of our heavenly Father is found in his exalting those of humble estate.
Mary herself is, of course, a prime example of God’s great work under opposites. But she sings that he is not even close to be finished. Her own son will be the pinnacle of this sort of work. God’s only begotten Son will be born in a little nothing of a town called Bethlehem, then he will live a mostly obscure life in Nazareth. When he does begin his great public work, he will have his most success with fishermen and tax collectors, not scribes and Pharisees. He may not be John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey, but he isn’t all that far off. But God will do his greatest work, give his most incredible gift upon a blood stained cross outside the city walls. There, coated in shame and suffering, God will turn everything over. He will break the proud and lift up the broken.
And so Mary continues to sing, “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.” God feeds the hungry and he doesn’t just give them the leftover scraps no one else wanted. No, he feeds them with good things. He feeds them with the blessings of a God that has come down to them, to bind up their broken hearts and embrace them in the promise of life everlasting. The child that grows within Mary, the one that will be born in that little town of Bethlehem, this is living and breathing mercy of God. The rich are sent empty away because their salvation, their hope does not rest in the abundance of their possessions but in the Words and work of Christ alone.
When Mary finished singing this, I hope she just dropped the mic and walked away. What else can we add? What else should be said? She has sung the greatest of all Christmas carols! She praises God, not for snow or presents under a tree or family gathered around the fire place, she praises God for turning the world on its head. And the thing is, he doesn’t do this just for her. He doesn’t do this just for that tender moment between Mary and Elizabeth, or even for faithful community of struggling Israelites all those years ago. No, he does this for you. In Christ, God remembers his mercy for you. For your Father in heaven sees you. He sees you in your sin and shame. He sees you in your fears and loneliness. He sees you with your doubts and struggles. And without batting an eye he says, “I love you, I forgive you.”
Now we may scoff at such an idea. I mean, is he blind? How can he love us? But that’s just what Mary is singing about. For in the lowly, the humble, the broken and sinful God has placed his own dear Son. He sees the baptized, those clothed with the righteous garments of Christ. He sees those who have been died for, those whose names are written in the book of life because they have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb.
Mary’s great song becomes then our song. We join our voices to hers, and we praise God for turning the world upside down and saving even us.