Many years before Luke writes his Gospel account of the life of Jesus, Caesar Augustus thought himself to be a god and decreed that the people worship him. This was still the political/cultural norm when Jesus was born. The Caesars were to be worshiped and honored above all others. The tiny baby in the manger was the One worthy of all praise and honor, not the Caesar in his palace. Maybe that’s why the angels announced the birth with so much fanfare and JOY to the shepherds in the field – so there could be no doubt.
Before Jesus was born, Zechariah and Elizabeth got some great news. The angel Gabriel came to visit Zechariah, a priest, as he burned incense in the temple. He was an educated theologian from a long line of priestly people. But Zechariah responded with doubt and fear to Gabriel’s words and got to spend the next 9 months or so in silence contemplating what was happening. Maybe Zechariah needed a few months of silence so that he could learn to really hear.
When life seemed almost over, God gave Zechariah and Elizabeth the gift of new life. These two had long since given up hope of having a family, but God was and is in the business of making all things new, of bringing hope when all seems lost. And so their son John was conceived.
Gabriel came to Mary too. Mary was a young girl from a humble family. And she responded to Gabriel’s news with grace, acceptance and faith.
How would we respond to the sudden appearance of an angel at church or anywhere else? Would we receive the angel visit with the eyes and ears of faith? Fear, disbelief?
Read Luke 1, verses 26 – 37. Take special note of verse 37. It just seems to keep jumping off the page at me: “For no word from God will ever fail”. Thank God for that!
After her conversation with the angel, Mary immediately went to visit Elizabeth and Elizabeth was moved by the Holy Spirit as John leaped in her womb recognizing Jesus. In a loud voice she exclaimed….why am I so favored that the mother of my Lord should come to me?…..Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her! (verses 39-45) This realization comes before Mary has said a single word.
And then Mary sings!!
Different translations give her first line differently:
My soul glorifies the Lord
My soul gives glory to the Lord
My soul doth magnify the Lord
My soul magnifies and exalts the Lord
O how I praise the Lord – Living Bible
I’m bursting with God-news – the Message
My soul is ecstatic, overflowing with praises to God – Passion Translation
Barnes commentary on this section helped me to realize that our words can’t make God greater than He is. Our words can only attempt to express our realization of how great God is. I think Mary is trying to express how great God is at the very start of her song.
Elizabeth, Mary, Zachariah – all had profound moments of a sort of awakening to the actual magnificence of God as He worked in their lives. They could not help but EXTOL, glorify, magnify and exalt! It just flowed from them! The realization of the greatness of God – not just to them personally – but for all the world forever filled them up in JOYOUS expectation.
Then John is born and Zechariah’s tongue is ready to go, not just in the spoken word, but in JOYOUS song! He’s had 9 months to think about it and he just bursts with JOY that can not be contained!
A new covenant is coming into the world! One not based on laws and restrictions, but on justice, truth, love and grace. Salvation through the forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ.
It is God’s perfect plan come to earth.
There is a lowly humble birth in a stable among the animals. There is a quiet night where the silence is broken way out in the fields by the celebration of the good news brought by the angels to the shepherds. There is a silent, but bright star shining in the night sky. The shepherds come for a visit and Mary treasures all these things.
Celebrate! Give gifts of JOY that express your thanks for the wonderful gifts God has given through the special people God has placed in your lives. Gifts need not be expensive, just thoughtful and given with a thankful heart.
Decorate your home and hearts for the birth of a Savior. It can be as simple as a nativity scene and as elaborate as your celebrating hearts want to make it. But celebrate? Oh we have more reason to celebrate than we can even comprehend! And we should celebrate in utter thankfulness for those who believed the promise, accepted the strange circumstances they found themselves in and obeyed in total faith and hope. At a time when the world was dark and fearful, a child was born into lowly circumstances on a quiet night, a holy night and that changes everything!