Monday, December 1, 2014

Mary's Song - The Magnificat

SCRIPTURE: Luke 1:39-56
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: December 1st, 2014

It's the most wonderful time of the year, so goes the popular year end song. After American Thanksgiving, and the infamous Black Friday sale, many stores and retail shops switch to Christmas sales mode to capture the spirit of giving, of discounting, and of frantic buying. Many Churches follow the traditional format of Advent themes. This year, my Church will look at four songs, that make up four sermons prior to Christmas. Yesterday, I started off with my sermon on Mary's Song.

The Magnificat is Latin for "glorifies" or "magnifies." It is a joy unspeakable from within that needs a channel of expression. Words and explanations do not quite cut it. It has to be sung out loud with pompous gladness and gusto. Two themes are evident from the song of Mary.

1) Submissiveness: How the Lowly is Held High

Imagine the shock and amazement on Mary when she was interrupted by the angel. Look at her face of bewilderment as she ponders on the words of Gabriel, and the promise that not only will she be impregnated by the Holy Spirit, the baby in her would become king!

Why me? Of all people, why not choose someone who is more worthy? Why not someone in a higher social class instead of one who is an unknown, unheard of, and under the radar of most people? Why choose an ordinary damsel and not some princess that we have heard about in fairy tales?

Instead of trying to reason it out or to spiral into an "analysis unto paralysis" mode, Mary burst into song. She praises the Lord with rejoicing in her heart. She knows that the reason for being chosen is totally and absolutely the grace of God. God chose her. God promised her. God gave her. She simply believed, and the song arose out of that simple act of faith. Beautiful.

Sometimes, I feel like while the Roman Catholics have elevated Mary beyond sainthood, Protestants have ventured to the other extreme, of underplaying the importance of Mary. The Roman Catholics have their "Blessed Virgin Mary" doctrine, putting her as the "Divine Mother of God," something that the Protestants and evangelical groups felt does not have sufficient biblical support. In other words, Mary is great, but not that perfect. For only Jesus is perfect on earth.

That said, both groups would agree that Mary is certainly one of the heroes of the faith. From beginning to end, she was found faithful, trusting, gracious, and utterly praiseworthy. She was obedient to the very end.  As a humble lady, she simply said:

"Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word." (Luke 1:38b, NKJV)

Simple acceptance and obedience. Mary, the ordinary virgin about to be married, has shown us the way forward.

2) Subversiveness: How the Haughty is Brought Low

The second theme is something that would trouble world powers, rich groups, and powerful institutions. Mary's song contains elements of subversiveness. While God is strengthening the weak, enriching the poor, and showing mercy to all, He is also central to dethroning the powers of the world and pulling the rug under the rich and the famous. Verses 51 and 52 are direct and dramatic.

51He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.

It reads very similar to the chorus in the song "Give Thanks" written by Henry Smith in 1978, but made famous by Don Moen.
And now let the weak say, "I am strong" Let the poor say, "I am rich Because of what the Lord has done for us"
Recognize how subversive this is against the world? It is this subversiveness of Mary's Song that led several governments to ban the Magnificat. When the British were ruling India, pockets of the poor found strength and hope in the Magnificat. Not the rich and the powerful then, who saw the words as threats to their positions of power and wealth. They banned the public display of words from the Magnificat. They even prohibited the singing of songs about it. What the poor did out of faith, the authorities did out of fear. The same scenario was played out back in time in the countries of Nicaragua, Argentina, and others.

It's surely the most wonderful time of the year for many people. The retailers too believed it, but it will only be for a season. For Christians all over the world, the Advent is about hope, not simply remembrance. It is about faith, not simply about belief. It is about love, of the One who became the very submission sung about, and that very subversion echoed around. For Jesus was the very First and also the Last to truly personify the submissiveness and the subversiveness of Christianity. Perhaps, that is the way ahead for us to live in our Christian lives. Like a coin with two sides, one of submission to God and the other of subversion of worldliness, we can truly be able to live like Mary's song. As we praise God of the Most High, we live as people down below, trusting, obeying, and believing.

For the day will come, when the rich and the famous, the powerful and the haughty, the arrogant and the abusive, will all be brought low, humbled, and reduced to who they truly are: Sinners needing grace.

Christians are first off the mark in the receiving of grace. The rest is witnessing it, living it, and completing the race with it. They are to run the race of faith with perseverance and with gratitude to God, to be witnesses wherever they go. They are expected to reach the finishing line as witnesses, and to be like Paul, who fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith.

THOUGHT: "In an infantile state - and this is true regardless of our chronological age - we have the perception that we are the center of everything. Our needs take precedence over everything, absolutely everything. Our appetites, our welfare, our comfort. We are as gods and goddesses, worshiped and adored and served. Then we arrive at Square One and are told that we must wait our turn, or that our behavior is quite despicable and we must go to our room, or that we must share our toys with our sisters. There is a lot more going on than you and me. We experience finitude." (Eugene Peterson, Subversive Spirituality, Eerdmans, 1997, p21)


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