The final two songs that were sung at the first Christmas are the songs of Mary and Simeon. The former is the most well-known of the four first Christmas Carols and is also called Mary’s Magnificant by scholars. I laid out the context of her song in last week’s article. Here are her words:
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
Mary’s opening two lines tell us that Elizabeth’s response at her arrival both confirmed and relieved her. The appearance and prophecy she had seen and heard from the angel Gabriel was not a bad dream, but a genuine encounter with the living God. It’s always nice when others validate our experiences. The challenge we face in our current culture is that too often we only listen to those who agree with us, ignoring and dismissing the valid points that others are making on a given topic. And you know I’m not talking about theology but politics. We easily get the two mixed up.
The next three lines reveal that Mary was able to see her immediate circumstances (pregnant prior to the consummation of her marriage to Joseph) in light of the long-term blessings the baby she was now carrying would bring to the whole world. Because we live under the constraints of time, gaining a historical or eternal perspective is difficult. The fact that we live in a culture that magnifies immediate gratification makes it even harder. Knowing that her situation would primarily bring contempt from her generation, she could declare that all future generations would call her blessed because she also knew that God is mighty, holy, and merciful. Thus, Mary had the strength to accept her plight.
Paul challenges us to have that same perspective on life: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). The Christmas—New Year season is a time for reflection and a time to make resolutions. Prayerful reflection with the counsel of spiritually mature friends and family can help us differentiate the circumstances we can change from the changes we need to make in our hearts, minds, and daily actions. Most of the time we complain about things we cannot change and are resistant to address the things we need to change. Resolve that 2022 will be the year that your resolutions focus on spiritual transformation not just your need for a healthier diet and more exercise. Again, Paul has some words of wisdom: “For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come” (I Timothy 4:8).
The songs of the first Christmas shattered the four-hundred years of prophetic silence that spanned the time between Malachi and Matthew. During that period, Israel fell under the authority and influence of the Greek Empire. Then the temple was desecrated by Antiochus IV Epiphanes when he sacrificed a pig on the altar. This ignited the Maccabean Revolt. Although they were significantly outnumbered, the Jewish forces won, the temple was cleansed and rededicated, and a brief period of Jewish freedom ensued. The temple’s rededication serves as the basis for the Jewish Celebration of Hanukkah. But the period of freedom lasted only 100 years at which time the Romans assumed authority.
So when the second half of Mary’s song expresses five different ways that “He [God] has” blessed His people, she had to be referring to the long-term historical work of God beginning with Abraham. Now keep in mind, Abraham lived almost 2000 years before Mary. In the midst of living in a subservient nation and living an impoverished subsistence lifestyle, Mary could praise God for His righteous and just actions.
Contrast Mary’s circumstances and attitude with many of us. Although we live in freedom and affluence, we have become hyper-sensitive and easily offended. A rhyme I learned as a child was “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.” Today we aggressively attack others for something they said—or something they might have said—or we listen to someone who took out of context what they thought someone else said—or we define a word differently than someone else does, so we make what they were saying, say what they didn’t say—or…
As we approach the close of 2021, maybe we should stop and praise God for all He has done. Instead of regularly lashing out at someone for something they may or may not have said—or done, maybe we should let His righteousness and justice take care of more issues in our life. Maybe we should sing out like Mary did:
God has shown strength with His arm;
I pray that you will close 2021 with songs of praise for all He has and is doing in your life, and you will begin 2022 by singing songs of deep commitment to becoming more of who He has designed you to be.
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
Retiring in April 2022, Mark R. Elliott served as a Director of Missions (Associational Mission Strategist) in Western Iowa and Eastern Nebraska for almost three decades. He is a strong advocate for obedience and Biblically based disciple making. As such, he knows that making healthy disciples requires Christian leaders to be constantly pursuing spiritual maturity—be lifelong learners. Because of the time constraints of ministry, most pastors focus their reading list on resources that assist them in teaching and preaching the Word of God. As such, books focusing on church health, leadership development, and church growth tend to find their way to the bottom of the stack. With that reality in mind, Mark has written discussion summaries on several books that have helped him to personally grow in Christ and that tend to find themselves on the bottom of most pastor’s stack. Many pastors have found them helpful as they are able to more quickly process great insights from other pastors and authors.