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Blessed Is She Who Believed

Luke 1:39-56
“Understanding is the reward of faith.
Therefore, seek not to understand that thou mayest believe,
but believe that thou mayest understand.”
--Augustine—
This is our morning text, Luke 1:39-56:
[39] In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, [40] where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. [41] When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit [42] and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. [43] And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? [44] For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. [45] And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."
[46] And Mary said,
"My soul magnifies the Lord,
[47] and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
[48] for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
[49] for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
[50] His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
[51] He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
[52] He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
[53] he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
[54] He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
[55] according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.
[56] And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
In Luke’s Gospel, singing is the mode of revelation, at least in the first two chapters. One New Testament professor formerly from Atlanta says, “When I teach my students Luke, we just hum through the first two chapters.”[1] In Luke everyone sings. The angels sing, Elizabeth sings, Zechariah sings, the shepherds sing, Simeon sings, and when “the cattle are lowing the poor babe awakes,” we could even say that the animals of creation are singing. Out of all the singing, however, one song stands out among all the marvelous songs that first Christmas. That is the “Song of Mary,” often known as the “Magnificat” from its title in Latin. Luke bases the Magnificat largely on Hannah’s prayer: (see 1 Samuel 2:1-10). Considering the news Mary has received this is an amazing song indeed!
Honestly, there are two ways to understand Mary’s magnificent song. One way to understand it is from the biblical account. Here we see the grace and mercy of God. We love to hear and to tell this story. We do it every Christmas. This morning’s passage recounts many events revealed to us from scripture. Mary is visiting Elizabeth and Zechariah. God’s messenger, Gabriel, has told Mary that she will bear Jesus, “the Son of God,” successor to David and founder of an eternal kingdom. With God, “nothing is impossible” (v. 37). Mary now thanks God in her song, the Magnificat, the first word of its Latin translation. Speaking today, she might begin: “From the depth of my heart, I declare the Lord’s greatness and rejoice in God my Savior.” “Servant” (v. 48) can also be rendered slave or handmaid: in v. 38, she has acknowledged that she is a “servant of the Lord.” Mary is obedient to God in all things. People of every age, in this new era of salvation, hail her as the mother of Jesus. Why? Because of the seemingly impossible “things” (v. 49) God has done for her, through her, and by her.
Verse 45, “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord,” portrays Mary as the model believer. Mary trusted that God would keep his promise made through Gabriel, preposterous as it sounded.
There is, however, another way to understand the story. What would this story sound like if we heard it as if it were happening today? Mary comes home and tells her parents that she is with child. This situation has come to pass because an angel tells her that she is to give birth to the savior of the world. How would such a story play in Graham? Even Mary’s husband-to-be, Joseph, was suspicious of her story, at least according to the Gospel of Matthew. Mary, however, was a person of deep faith, and in spite of all appearances, she deeply believed in God’s message that she received. Because she believed, she sang. Her song can give us a sense of the wonderment of this miraculous birth.
Mary illustrated what J. S. Bach later demonstrated in his music. Bach rightly deserves the reputation as one of a handful of the greatest composer of sacred music of all time. J. S. Bach said, “All music should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the soul’s refreshment; where this is not remembered there is no real music but only a devilish hub-bub.” He headed his compositions: “J. J.” “Jesus Juva” which means “Jesus help me.” He ended them “S. D. G.” (“Soli Dei gratia”) which means “To God alone the praise.” Music and the story of God, especially at Christmas, seem to naturally belong together.
Here is a story about a young singer and about whom some of our older members may remember. In a small village in Sweden lived a young girl who was terribly poor and unskilled, so she could get along only by doing the most menial of jobs. She loved to sing, and despite her poverty, she dreamed of someday being a great singer. She began to sing on street corners, hoping passersby would toss her a copper or two.
Each day she sang—in wind and rain, heat or cold, yet barely had enough at the end of the day to buy food. Some in the village protested to the town council that it wasn’t right for children to be on the street in rags, begging, yet no one did anything to help her. One day a great musician happened to pass by and hear her. He was entranced by her beautiful voice. He took the ragged urchin home with him and began to teach her how to use her glorious voice to its fullest. In time she became the toast of two continents and everyone knew and loved “The Swedish Nightingale,” as they called Jenny Lind.[2]
We could describe Mary as “The Galilean Nightingale.” We could also describe Mary, the mother of our Lord, as Jesus’ first disciple. From the beginning of his life in the manger to the end of it on the cross, she was there with him as a follower and a learner. Humanly speaking, her introduction to the things of God must have been terrifying. After all, some of Gabriel’s first words to her were, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30). How would her parents, their synagogue community, and her fiancée understand the miraculous and marvelous things that were happening to her? More than anything else, the text reminds us that she rejoiced in being the Lord’s handmaiden, regardless of the personal trauma.
Each of us has our own reasons to believe and to not believe in the magnificent promises of God. Are we able to follow Mary? Is she worthy of our devotion and following? Can we hear a young unwed mother sing of the joy of salvation. Listen again:
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
[47] and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
[48] for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
[49] for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
[50] His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
[51] He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
[52] He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
[53] he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
[54] He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
[55] according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
David Neil Mosser
Graham, Texas
[1] From an unpublished sermon by Fred B. Craddock, Southwest Texas Annual Conference, June 1980.
2 Bits and Pieces, April 1990, p. 23
[1] From an unpublished sermon by Fred B. Craddock, Southwest Texas Annual Conference, June 1980.
 
[2] Bits and Pieces, April 1990, p. 23