We arrive at Christmas Eve and truly there is nothing quite like this time of year, the carols we sing, the sense of hope and anticipation, the joy we know.
This morning we will look at Mary’s song which encapsulates all three and her song is not focused on hope and anticipation for the presents on Christmas day or the joy of tucking into a turkey dinner, but is based on the hope of the humble, on God’s rejection of the proud, and is on the mercy of God. This song comes off the back of the announcement from the angel to Mary that she will give birth to a son who is going to be the Davidic king that was long awaited, the Messiah who will reign forever. And as a result, Mary breaks out into song.
However, what is going on with this news that the Messiah will be born to her goes beyond an ordinary news of pregnancy and has much bigger knock on effects than an ordinary pregnancy. God’s chosen king is going to come and right the wrongs in this world and he will come to save the humble and the broken.
1. The Hope of the Humble and Rejection of the Proud
‘God has been merciful to the humble.’ (Luke 1:48)
There are none more humble than Mary. A teenage girl without means, without a husband, nothing really. It is to this young girl that God has chosen to birth and mother the Messiah. As we will sing after the sermon ‘Maker of Mary, now Mary’s son.’ Really? Mary will be the mother of Jesus? It isn’t a princess in a castle? It isn’t royalty? It isn’t the rich? It isn’t the celebrities of the day? It isn’t the social media influencers, it is a young girl from nowheresville in total obscurity. Not just her material and outward circumstances that made her an unlikely candidate for God to use to carry, give birth to and mother Jesus. It was also the fact she was just like any of her contemporaries.
‘My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour…’ (Luke 1:46-47)
Not ‘God the saviour’ or ‘God who saves’ but ‘God my saviour.’ She knows, she recognises her fallenness and that God is not just saviour in a generic sense but is her saviour. She was not just ordinary and humble in circumstance but she was ordinary in the fact she needed a saviour like anyone else. Would God not use someone who at least thought they had it all together? Who was also special in that way? No, he uses an ordinary young girl called Mary who recognises her need for a saviour.
This song resounds with the hope of the humble, but not humble in the sense of those with little money or possessions or influence. But humble in the sense that Mary was especially humble in her recognition of her need of a saviour.
As well as hope for the humble, this song also picks up the theme of God’s rejection of the proud. Jesus wasn’t born to influential people, rich people, princesses, nor to a sinless perfect woman. And this is a reality which is conveyed throughout the Gospel of Luke that God lifts up the humble but rejects the proud. Those you think that God would care for, those you think that God would pursue are not the nobodies, the scoundrels, the sinners, surely God would pursue the wealthy, the important, the outwardly good people? But we see in verses 51 and following how God has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts, he has brought down rulers from their thrones, he has sent the rich away empty.
As a congregation we’ve just gone through Luke and finished it this past Easter so I hope you’re twigging in your mind how this plays out throughout the Gospel of Luke in particular.
In Luke 18, we read about the Parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. This is the great offense of the gospel of Jesus Christ, so long as you think you have no need of God or his mercy and you’ll never know God, you’ll never be right before him, you’ll never get into heaven. What we have in Mary’s song is the reminder for all of us God’s mercy is for the humble, not the proud.
2. The Mercy of God and the Promise of God
‘He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants for ever, just as he promised our ancestors.’ (Luke 1:54-55
Here we have praise that mercy has been remembered, that the promise made to Abraham therefore has been remembered. At this point, God has been silent for hundreds of years. Not just that, it’s that the silence falls not at the end of the story like we have in the New Testament, but the Old Testament ends open ended.
Abraham – Isaac – Jacob – Judges – kings – David – long awaited Messiah?
You read through the Old Testament but this is never realised. Blessing to all the world through Abraham’s descendant, a king who rules with justice, but the promise is never realised. Reading the Old Testament alone it’s easy to wonder, ‘Where’s the rest of it?’
Here it is in Luke’s gospel; ‘He will be called Son of the Most High, the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, he will reign over Jacob’s descendants, his kingdom will never end.’ (Luke 1:32)
But here with the angel’s appearing to Mary we see it is on the cusp of being realised. We see it is coming true. Like a child on Christmas Eve, there is so much anticipation and excitement because they know that it is nearly Christmas, Christmas is coming! As sure as night turns into day, when they wake up tomorrow it will be Christmas.
Mary receives this word from the angel that this promised King in David’s line, this son is coming and you will give birth to him. Why is this a big deal? There was a waiting for God’s chosen king, the Messiah, Jesus because the people of God and their leaders were doing a pretty lousy job of living for God. They got caught up in worshipping idols instead of worshipping God or worshipping idols as well as worshipping God. They kept longing for things other than what God had promised. They needed saving but there was no saviour to be found, they needed a king to rule and lead them to God but no such king was found.
‘The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds’, meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed’, meaning one person, who is Christ.’ (Galatians 3:16)
The promise made to Abraham was ultimately found in Jesus Christ and it is referenced here; ‘He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants just as he promised our ancestors.’
So this song tells us of God’s rejection of the proud, of his mercy for the humble but also here of the means through which this mercy is made available to the humble: Jesus Christ, the very promise made to Abraham thousands of years previous now realised in the very womb of Mary.
3. The Song We Are to Sing
Can we have a song to sing this Christmas? Even if we are not Christians, we know something is not right. We keep finding that those around us disappoint us, politicians fail us, leaders fall short. The world is in disarray, wars, famine, poverty, disease, climate change. In the midst of it all, we are all looking for a saviour. Whether that saviour is the government who will bring it all about through policy intervention, whether that saviour is money where you buy your way out of situations, whether that saviour is humankind and you think “we just need to pull together.”
We may not be looking for a saviour, just living for good times, head in the sand, fingers in our ears, ignoring as the world is in meltdown around us. We know, if we’re honest, that something isn’t right in here either. The reason ‘be the change you want to see in the world.’ doesn’t work is that even the most committed of us fail to live up to our standards, we certainly fail to live up to God’s standards which are the real reason we need a saviour.
Perhaps you have pride, you’re never wrong, everyone else is wrong. In the words of a late family member, ‘I’m never aye right but I’m never far wrong.’ You cannot stand being criticised or entering into the mindset you might be wrong.
Or you are angry. You live your life in anger. It might be the explosive type which blows up at people easily, but it could just as easily be irritability, shortness, the cold shoulder.
Or lust. Our desires are disordered and we end up lusting after those who are not our spouses, thinking things we shouldn’t, feeling things we shouldn’t, lingering on things in our imagination more than we should.
That is the story of people in the time of the Old Testament, and it’s the story of humanity today. And if we stop and are honest with ourselves this morning, we recognise that at least one of those describes how we are. Does at least one of those describe you? Yeah it does.
The wait goes on for salvation, but the announcement of Jesus’ birth is the news you and I have been waiting for. The King is coming in the line of David who unlike previous kings will rule with justice and righteousness and He will save his people. Jesus Christ, the promised King, the Messiah through whom the blessing of salvation will come by means of his own death, is here to put right the wrong in the world and in our own hearts, to give us peace with God.
In short, Jesus is the one you long for, he is the one the world longs for. How often we look for him in places he is not, how often we look for messiahs in ourselves or in job satisfaction or in 5 minutes of peace and quiet. But the Messiah isn’t there, the Messiah is Jesus, the saviour king has come.
The message of Christmas is this: Jesus is the one we all long for and he has come. How do you respond to that? In pride? I don’t need him, I’ve got A, B, or C? or I’m good enough to get into heaven? It isn’t through any of those means. It is simply through God’s mercy. Do you have that humility to call God your saviour as Mary does?
To pivot a bit and go for the song theme, why are you singing this morning?
Is it ultimately because life seems to be going just as it should?
Is it because you are quite content in yourself that you’ve got it sussed?
Or is it because of God’s mercy in sending his son Jesus for you?
What a reason to sing! God has sent his promised saviour king, Jesus to bring salvation to you. There truly is no better news! It is news not worthy of mere acceptance as if you’ve just been told the sky is blue, but it’s worthy of our joyful, glad delighting in leading us to singing.
Maybe you aren’t singing this morning because of heartbreak, of loss, of grief, of pain. The Bible says this song is for you to sing too. Through tears of grief and pain this is your song of consolation that the Messiah has come to save you, the king has come for you. And what we enjoy in part because of the Messiah’s coming, we know with certainty will be enjoyed in full when He comes again to make all things new once and for all.
Every relational strife
Every bitter sting of grief
Every dark dungeon of depression
He will come to make all things new.
So whether you are singing for lesser reasons this Christmas, or whether you are not singing at all, Mary’s song is for each and every one of us to sing instead. You’ve maybe never sung it before, you maybe used to sing it but haven’t in a while, you maybe sing other songs of secular festive cheer or earthly security but this song is far better because this song provides exactly what the human heart longs for and needs. A King who doesn’t let us down, a saviour who brings us peace with God, the world and therefore ourselves.
Will you sing Mary’s song this Christmas? It is for everyone whose trust is in the Messiah Jesus. It is for you this morning. We have a great song to sing, let’s sing it in praise of our great God and saviour. May your song this Christmas not be based on what you have done, but your song on what he has done. Not simply on the festive spirit but on the joy of knowing sins forgiven and friendship with God.