Summary: A sermon considering the role and place of Mary in the birth of Jesus
Do you ever get sick and fed up of all those Christmas songs? I googled ’songs for Christmas’ and it gave me millions of possible places to go. All the old favourites were there – Christmas carols old and new; Christmas songs (Frosty the snowman, Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, all I want for Christmas is my two front teeth); and some more serious ones like Ave Maria and the Messiah. There was even a song titled ’Grandma got run over by a reindeer.’ It was American needless to say and was quite funny but I can’t repeat it in polite company. Some Christmas songs are downright silly, others are funny but some have the capacity to transform hearts and minds.
One song that comes from a transformed heart is the one that we heard earlier – the Magnificat, sung by Mary. The song is a tremendous outpouring of joy from her heart knowing that she had been chosen to play a part in God’s plan for the world.
Mary – the Person and the Situation
I think that, to see and appreciate the significance of the song we need to understand a little of Mary’s background which is not easy because we actually know little about her. And it’s hard for us today to fully appreciate what life would have been like for Mary and others like her 2000 years ago.
Mary, like those around her would have been brought up ;living in Roman occupied territory, she would have been told stories from the nation’s and her people’s past – how God had brought them out of slavery in Egypt; tales of the great prophets, the exploits of King David, the expectation that, someday God would send someone to bring the kingdom to fruition.
Mary would have been very familiar with poverty; with the insecurity of living in a land that had been fought over for generations. She would have endured her fair share of hardship, she would have seen the struggles of her people and would, I’m sure, have wondered about God’s promise to his chosen people.
Mary is betrothed, sort of engaged to a man called Joseph. The two families would have met to agree that there would be a wedding and a wedding contract would have been prepared and a bride-price named. Then there would have been a time of waiting, at least a year, before the marriage took place. Mary would have been in this time when we meet her.
Mary – the Call
So this young Jewish girl, aged somewhere between 13 and 16 was no doubt thinking about the future, dreaming of married life with Joseph, and getting on with all the activities of living. When, all of a sudden, to this unassuming, ordinary peasant girl, comes the angel Gabriel with a message that was to turn her life upside down. The angel tells Mary that God loves her and he has found favour with her. When she reacts with fear she’s told not to be afraid but simply to listen to what she’s being told. God is going to do something wonderful through her. She is going to have a son, he will be the promised king, the saviour, the Messiah.
The promise of God, made years ago, and repeated often, was going to be fulfilled through her. The promise of everlasting peace, hope, joy, love; the promise of a King who would rule with justice and truth; the promise of someone who would be on the side of the poor – all of this, all the hopes and the dreams of a nation’s history was now to rest on a young girl engaged to a carpenter in Israel. So she was under no pressure!
Mary’s response was predictable – how? How can I give birth to the Messiah? But Gabriel persisted – the power of God will be at work. Mary was totally free to say ’No.’ She was quite at liberty to turn down the offer. But, eventually, after careful thought Mary agreed and said ’I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.’ No compulsion, no coercion.
Mary obeyed. But that wasn’t the end of it. For Mary obedience meant tremendous difficulties – she was a single women who was to become pregnant; she would be subject to gossip by those who stood around on street corners; she would have suffered the indignity of people talking about her behind her back but just loud enough so that she knew what they were saying. She would suffer all the stigma. Mary faced great difficulties. But, despite those difficulties, deep down in her heart she praised God ’My soul glorifies the Lord and my Spirit rejoices in God my Saviour for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.’