With Christmas approaching, I think of the story of Mary—the mother of Jesus. She is a woman of opposites. She seems to be an ordinary Jewish woman, who most likely cooked, and looked after her home, husband and children. On the other hand, the Bible tells us she had an extraordinary life. She would be the first to say that this did not come from herself, but was a divine gift.
The significance of Mary’s life was hidden from everyday view. Rarely could others see anything remarkable. For that matter, many could not see anything remarkable about her Son. The same can be true for us. Our outward lives might not seem like much but the inner strength of our lives is the same as Mary’s. The source of that strength is Mary’s child—the Savior Jesus Christ.
We have much in common with her. Like her we are called to be disciples—to carry Christ into this hurting world. It is interesting to look at her story in the Bible and then to look at our own reaction when given opportunity to bear Christ to our world.
This young woman is greeted by an angel in a very small town called Nazareth. The angel tells her she is going to have a baby despite the fact that she has not been with a man. She hesitates at first, but then says, “I am the Lord’s servant… May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38). She is loyal to God and willing to go with his plan even though it does not sound logical or plausible. This obedient response was surely prompted by grace. Immediately following this, she leaves to visit her cousin Elizabeth and it is in her home that we hear a beautiful piece of poetry. Mary sings a song of praise to the Lord, her heavenly Father. This wonderful piece of poetry is often referred to as the “Song of Mary” or “The Magnificat.” It is found in Luke 1:46-55.
“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”
This beautiful song is both poetic and prophetic. It reveals great knowledge of God’s Word. This poem sounds a lot like Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2. From this, we can assume that Mary had a deep understanding and knowledge of the Word of God. Perhaps this is the reason that Mary’s response is one of obedience, praise, and joy.
We are also asked to give witness of our faith and to carry Christ into the world around us. We surely know that the best witness would be authentic, enthusiastic, and joyous.
I asked several people about their typical response to this task. Everyone gave a somewhat guarded answer. It seems few of us are responding the way Mary did. She was a great first missionary—filled with peace and joy that surpasses all understanding. Why are we filled with the opposite? Most of us have a bit of dread when asked to witness to co-workers, friends, neighbors. Looking carefully at my own life, I sadly didn’t have to think very hard to find examples.
This is how many of us approach the topic of evangelism: Several years ago one of my sons decided he wanted to go out for Halloween dressed as a Lutheran pastor. I was less than enthusiastic. The custom in our rural farming community is that when the kids go out on Halloween, all the parents visit for hours at each others’ houses. I was relatively new to the community and didn’t want to be branded the neighborhood “religious freak.” But my son was excited so I reluctantly agreed to sew the costume. Then he dropped the next bombshell. He had printed Scripture verses on small pieces of paper, and he wanted to hand them out to each person as they handed him candy. This was too much! I was certain this would cause me to be an outcast. The next few mornings during my devotions, I wrestled with God regarding my poor attitude. I knew I needed to be thankful for my young son’s heart for the Lord. Slowly, I warmed up to the idea. My attitude changed so much that I went out with my son and other children, and I enjoyed myself. However, there were some comments I heard about later. They were not flattering, but ultimately it did not impact my friendships or my standing in the community.
We struggle in these situations because we focus on the world and its impact on us. Mary focused on God and his plan.
When we look carefully at Mary’s story, we see that a few days earlier Mary did ask questions (Luke 1:34). She wasn’t expressing joy, though she did say that she was a willing servant. Perhaps her song was composed on the long days of walking to Elizabeth’s house (she traveled 75-80 miles). I think of my own wrestling with God and I wonder if those days of travel allowed Mary the time to also wrestle with God and to ask for a positive attitude. I feel certain that she also worried about gossip and that her worst fears were realized as she faced ridicule.
My greatest comfort is in the beginning of Mary’s song: “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior…” She knew she was a sinner and in need of a savior! I know this, too.
We are often immobilized by fear. If we stand up for the gospel, defend the Sabbath, speak out against abortion, etc.—we will sometimes get labeled. We can make others uncomfortable and we can cause an early end to what might have been a friendship. Living the gospel message is risky. We must rely on the Spirit of God to strengthen us.
This Christmas season, let’s take time to reflect on our own souls. Do we magnify the Lord in all circumstances? Read and ponder the songs of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10) and Mary (Luke 1:46-55). They both honor God and show complete trust in his character and provision.
Jean Wilsdon is President of Women’s Ministries for the Church of the Lutheran Brethren Canada.