Mary the Magnifier

Mary’s powerful words show us the power of God’s love to turn the world upside down.

Read Luke 1:26-55 here.

Listen here:

An older man in Phoenix calls his son in New York City, and says, “Son, your mother and I are getting a divorce.”  There is shocked silence, and then the son responds.  “What?  You’ve been married for 53 years and NOW you’re getting a divorce?  Why?!”

“Well, son, we realized that we weren’t really meant for each other.  She really wasn’t the one, and it’s time to set things right.”

“Dad, this is ridiculous.  I’m calling my sister.  I’ll call you back.” And the son hangs up and calls his sister, who is equally amazed, and they decide they need to get to Phoenix right away.  She hangs up saying, “I’ll book the flights.”

The son calls his dad back, and says, “Dad, my sister and I are going to be there on the next available flight.  Don’t do anything until we get there.”

The dad hangs up and calls out to his wife, “Honey, I got the kids to come here for Christmas!”[1]

What is one of the most common questions people ask when they’re falling in love?

 “How do you know if this is the one?”

Love is powerful and love turns our world upside down.  The Bible doesn’t tell us how Mary and Joseph came to be betrothed. We don’t know if they fell in love and decided “this is the one” or if they were matched by a matchmaker. The gospels don’t give us that part of the story.  Mark and John don’t tell us about Jesus’ birth at all.  Matthew tells us they’re betrothed.  Luke focuses on Mary, showing us how God is doing what he said he would do, but in ways people didn’t expect.

Two weeks ago we read about the Angel Gabriel coming to Zechariah to tell him that he would have a son named John, who we now know as John the Baptist.  In today’s reading, that same angel comes to tell Mary that she will have a child, and not just any child, but the one they’ve all been waiting for, the Messiah.  The Angel Gabriel tells her that this will be the one by saying:

“He will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”[2] (Luke 1:33)

This the promise God to King David:

Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever. –2 Samuel 7:16

God in his infinite wisdom and grace allows Mary to see what he is doing and prompts her to sing with joy.  God gives her a miracle and a song to sing to tell the world.  Similarly, We magnify God by telling about what he has done.

Sometimes I wonder why it is that during the Christmas holidays the world seems like such a different place.  Have you noticed that?  I can remember being in Target just a few days before Christmas when we lived in Los Angeles where people generally don’t talk to each other in stores unless there’s a problem.  But at Christmas people do, and people were saying hello to strangers, and helping each other find things.  It was as if the month of December we stepped into an alternate universe where people actually get along and are kind to one another.

During Christmas, we are focused on giving.  We’re hunting down gifts for people that we love.  We’re taking action with our love.  Love is powerful. In the book Song of Solomon, the Bible says “Love is as strong as death” (8:6)  and then it goes on to tell us that “Love flashes like fire, the brightest kind of flame” (8:6).  Love is contagious, and we see that at Christmas.  That’s what I saw at Target. We are drawn to show love through giving because God loves us and gave us the greatest gift – our life and salvation in Jesus Christ.  Even the smallest acts of kindness and giving make us better people, as we are in those actions being reflections of our loving and generous Creator.  We show love powerfully even through small acts of kindness, and we seem to do this more at Christmas time.

“A simple act of kindness can sometimes change the world.”[3]

In the book The Miracle of Hope Street, one dark snowy night there’s a woman standing on the sidewalk trying to hail a cab to take her to the hospital where her father has just gone in an ambulance.  She’s already taken the money out of her wallet and is waving it to try to get a cab to stop, but none do.  Finally a car pulls over, but it’s her sister, not a cab, so she doesn’t need the money that’s in her hand.  Just then she notices a homeless man behind her sitting on the sidewalk huddled under a blanket trying to keep warm.  So she hands him the money she had been waving, and then gets in her sister’s car and drives off, never giving the homeless man another thought.  A year later, sitting in a café, a waiter tells her that she changed his life.  She doesn’t understand, so he explains that he had been that homeless man.  He’d been contemplating suicide that night, but her gift gave him the hope and courage to keep going, and to get off the street.[4]

That money meant little to her, but her gesture meant everything to him.

Love is powerful.  Love changes things.  Love can happen in the most unexpected and ordinary places, like the aisles of Target, on a city sidewalk, or in a small town like Nazareth.  Love comes across in our words.

In our reading this morning, the angel tells Mary about her cousin Elizabeth who is pregnant, even though she’s old.  So Mary goes to visit her cousin and finds that she is indeed “great with child” as we used to say.  This gives Mary a tangible confirmation that she didn’t just imagine the angel’s visit. The angel had said, “Nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37) and here was proof.

Elizabeth’s response is remarkable for several reasons.  Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:41), the first time this happens in the New Testament.[5]  And Elizabeth’s words are loving and encouraging.  Elizabeth could have said, “What are you doing here?  You should be with your family.  Quick, get inside, we need to hide you.  You must be ashamed of yourself, getting pregnant before you’re even married.  And blaming it on an angel?  How preposterous. You wicked girl.”

Elizabeth could have pointed out all the things that were wrong with the situation. But that’s not what Elizabeth does.  Instead, Elizabeth celebrates what God is doing and magnifies Mary’s joy. Elizabeth sees all that is happening as God’s blessing, and so that’s what she points out in her words to Mary:

In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” (Luke 1:42-45)

It is Elizabeth’s words of blessing that prompt Mary’s song of joy.  Mary magnifies, she praises God by singing about what God has done.  Her song has echoes of the Old Testament prophets and of the psalms.  Mary celebrates that though she is a humble peasant girl, God has made her a part of the coming of the Messiah, the one they’ve been waiting for, the great hope of Israel.  God’s love was about to do the impossible and turn the world upside down, and it had already begun.

When have you experienced God working in your life in such a way that you were deeply moved to joy?  Did you feel like singing like Mary?  Did you shout like Elizabeth?  Or did you quietly ponder and give thanks?

God’s love can be overwhelming, especially when it shows up in unexpected ways.  God’s love is full of surprises.

My husband Rob is bipolar.  I haven’t talked much about that because it’s his story to tell, but he doesn’t mind talking about it. It’s one of the ways I know that God does the impossible and turns our world upside down. Rob started hearing voices when he was eleven.  He hadn’t told anyone, not even his parents, and he didn’t tell me about this until about five years after we were married. He was for the most part managing ok so we just carried on, but the depression side of things was getting worse, and it was very hard to watch Rob go through so much pain. So I got angry with God about letting Rob hurt, and I went on sort of a prayer strike.  This was the only thing I prayed about, and until God made things better for Rob, I didn’t see any point in talking to God about anything else.

During this time we were still very involved with our church.  Rob was the music director and somehow he was brilliant in writing songs and leading worship even when he was in so much pain.  I was angry with God, but I hadn’t stopped going to church.  I kept on going through the motions.  Because of that, I know that being in church doesn’t mean that everything is ok, and I imagine some of you sitting here today are also struggling, wondering where God has gone and why things are the way they are.   Hang in there. God loves you and there is hope.

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor 13:7)

Love kept me going. I wanted God to do something about Rob’s pain in the worst way, but we had read book after book and study after study, that said the medications help, but there is no perfect solution.  The best we could hope for was that we would find the right medication that would lessen the symptoms without too many side effects.

And then one day Rob called me at work, quite emotional, and he said, “I think I’m dead. . . The voices have stopped.” I made him repeat it.  “What?”

“The voices have stopped. God took away the voices.”

My response was both joyful and skeptical.  How amazing if this is true!  Like Mary, I was asking, “How can this be?” (Luke 1:34).  It was a miracle. Even more miraculous is that the voices have never returned.

Also like Mary, Rob responded to this like he does about most things, with poems and songs.  In one poem, called “I Thought I Knew Silence” (read full poem here) there were these words:

A thousand prayers and answers

I can now pack up into a box

Place high upon the highest shelf of history

Laying down the need to understand the mystery[6]

The moment I read those words, I knew that those “thousand prayers” were the ones that I had prayed and God had heard.  I was overwhelmed by the realization that God cared about Rob’s pain and God did what I thought was impossible. I cried, and I rejoiced.

I was a longing, hungry soul, and Rob’s healing and the words of that poem were just what I needed.  In Mary’s song, she says “He has filled the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:53).  I mentioned earlier that her song is full of allusions to the Old Testament.  This verse echoes Psalm 107:9: For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.” 

There’s a similar verse in Psalm 37:

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)

We might think from that verse that we have to do something first for God to give us the desires of our hearts, but in reality God loves us too much to leave it up to us.  I was still angry with God and I never dreamed he would actually do what I was wanting him to do.  Mary was probably hoping and praying for the Messiah to come, but she never dreamed she would be the one through whom that would happen.

Long before we knew we needed a savior, God sent his son Jesus. (Romans 5:8)[7]

When it does happen, when we realize that God is doing something, we too can be magnifiers, celebrating what God is doing, and giving thanks.  Not pointing out all the ways it isn’t what we expected, but praising God for what it is.

There are a million different ways that God shows us his love, very often through other people.  An encouraging word at just the right moment, a beautiful song that says what’s in our hearts, an unexpected gift, an act of kindness.

When we see these things, let’s magnify them with praise and thankfulness,

and remember the One who was and is the greatest gift of all.

He is the one.  He is Jesus.

[1] Adapted from the joke told here: http://www.christumcutah.net/sites/christumcutah.net/files/News/Sermons/Sermon%20CHRISTMAS%20EVE%202012.pdf

[2] 2Sa 7:16; Ps 89:3, 4; Isa 9:7; Jer 33:17; Da 2:44; 7:14, 27; Mic 4:7; Heb 1:8

[3] Heatherington, Emma. A Miracle on Hope Street. HarperCollins Publishers. 2018. Kindle Edition.

[4] Ibid.  Adapted.

[5] J. Ellsworth Kalas, Christmas from the Backside, Abingdon Press, 2003, pg 33.

[6] Rob Krabbe, “I Thought I Knew Silence,” October 2, 2003

[7] Romans 5:8 God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

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