And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him, from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.” Luke 1:46-55
I was nineteen when I held a baby for the first time.
And it’s not because I don’t like them; au contraire, babies are adorable. They are also very small, and honestly very breakable, so I tend to let people who, you know, can handle themselves be the ones who hold small children. Give me a middle schooler who’s maybe a bit too sassy, that’s fine; at least he’ll tell me why he’s upset. But babies are little and innocent and I’d much rather admire from a distance.
However, after years of holding onto this sentiment, one particular mother just didn’t believe that I was sincere in my ‘no really, I don’t want to hold your baby’ insistence, and insisted that I take her son, so I did. He was precious and gurgle-y (is that a word? You know what I mean, right??), and I was amazed at this small life I held in my arms. So small, so perfect, so happy, so darling. And he didn’t break, which was a mercy. But while I was enchanted by the little baby boy, I also wasn’t overwhelmed with maternal instinct. When someone else walked into the room and started cooing over the little human in my arms, I was more than happy to hand him over.
It’s Christmastime, and all the carols we sing extol ‘The Little Lord Jesus’. A sweet baby, mild and temperate, adorably wrapped up and sleeping in a manger. When I think of this baby, so innocent and small, a part of me feels disappointed in myself for not being the girl who fawns over children. I went back to read Mary’s song, when she’s sharing her soul with her cousin, and the excitement she feels over the approaching birth of her son, the Savior. And I was surprised, because she’s not thrilled for the baby. She’s thrilled for the King.
In this song, she doesn’t sing praises for the manger; she lifts the throne. She’s not excited for first steps; she’s humbled by redemption. She doesn’t sing of a mild baby but a conquering, timeless, magnificent, reigning, just, mighty, omnipotent, holy, gracious, providing, present, merciful Lord.
He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. The juxtaposition here for Mary is one that I feel so deeply. He who is mighty, me who is weak. He who is powerful, me who succumbs to temptation. He who is holy, me who is so far fallen. Yet He, even He, did great things for Mary. God doesn’t let his might separate Him from us, but does the opposite: uses His strength to draw us to Him, to bring ‘great things’ into our lives.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him, from generation to generation. I love the longevity of this. It’s not as though God picks favorite generations to bless, and the others flounder without Him. He has mercy for those who revere Him, regardless of age and circumstance. He is merciful because of Who He is, not ever because we deserve it, and especially not when we don’t.
He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. I definitely had to look up a few different concordances for the ‘in the imagination of their hearts’ bit, but basically it’s about the proud. People who’ve built themselves up above others, God removes their crutch. Nothing matters to them more than the way they are perceived, and so when God takes away the perception, they are shattered. The veneer they’ve so carefully crafted is torn away, and they lose themselves in their pride. If they could only look to Jesus for their identity, how different would their loss be!
He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. The concept of heavenly rewards vs. human success is a big one in the Bible (Beatitudes, I’m looking at you) and of course it’s present here. And while it could be an ‘aha! At last I will get what I deserve’ type of message, I don’t think that’s it. What’s at the heart of the exalted low/dethroned mighty dichotomy is God’s complete knowledge of man’s heart. There’s nothing wrong with being king just as there’s nothing wrong with being ‘low’. What matters is how high God factors into your life. If you’re sitting on a six figure salary and can’t find time in your day for your Creator, then yeah, there will be recompense for that. But it’s not because of your paycheck, or your prestige, it’s because of your heart. So when your heart is close to His, this verse isn’t a threat, but a promise, of spiritual satisfaction.
He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever. And now, after all of that, Mary comes back around to why the birth of Christ is important. Because of mercy. Because of God’s relentless love for His children, His Israel. For the people He’s delivered since the beginning of their time, for the people to whom He has been their Strength, for the people He’s known through the generations. All that love, all that mercy, all the decades and centuries of salvation, all culminate in one moment: the birth of Christ.
Guys, I am as excited as the next person by the sight of a perfect tree, sparkling with lights, and with poinsettias and holly. I love seeing someone open a present I picked out months ago; I love cider that’s been mulling all day, and I love unpacking kitschy nativity sets. And all those things are pretty great, and families are great, and so is the fact that the world pauses to remember a little baby. But we don’t worship because of a baby. We worship because of the Savior that baby became.
Let’s not get so caught in the festivity of the season that we forget the reason we’re celebrating. We celebrate because of mercy, because of grace, and because of salvation. Adolphe Adam is the one who originally wrote the words to Oh Holy Night:
Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till He appeared and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices! O night divine, O night when Christ was born.
We have a thrill of hope, our hearts rejoice, because on that night, our deliverance was born.