We all have our favorite Christmas playlists taht we pull out after Thanksgiving. But the FIRST playlist can be found in Luke 1.
I love Christmas music! Now, I try real hard to wait until after Thanksgiving to start playing it. This year I followed David Steltz on Spotify and added his Christmas playlist to my lists – it is 1,450 songs and can go 79 ½ hours without duplicating a song!
ASK: How many of you have a Christmas playlist?
This series we are starting this morning is entitled “Christmas Playlist”, and we’re going to explore four passages of scripture written in poetic form which testify to the work God has and will do through Christ. These four passages are the original Christmas Songs!
We begin with Luke 1:39-56. We’d love it if you’d follow along with us in your own Bible. While you open to Luke 1:39, we’ll give you the back story.
The first 38 verses of Luke set us up to understand what’s going on. In Luke chapter 1 we are told the purpose of the book and we are introduced to two couples. These two couples are the artists whose compositions we will be examining.
First, we meet Zechariah (a priest) and Elizabeth, a righteous older couple who have been unable to have a child. One day, while Zechariah was working in the temple, an angel appears to him and informs him that despite their old age, he and Elizabeth will soon conceive a son. Zechariah questions the angel, doubting that the message makes sense given their old age and previous fertility issues... And the angel shuts him up. Literally. He’s unable to speak until the child is born.
The second couple we’re introduced to is Joseph and Mary. We don’t hear too much about Joseph in this passage, but we do about Mary.
SIDE NOTE: most songs are written out of an experience: good or bad. In our playlist, it is no different. Each song is written in response to events that change people’s lives.
Mary is visited by an angel, and she is also told that she too will conceive... but that it will be through the power of the Holy Spirit. (Woah!?)
Mary is to give birth to a son, named Jesus. And the angel tells her “He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel* forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
Mary is a relative of Elizabeth’s, so she goes to stay with Zachariah and Elizabeth for a few months. And that’s where we join the story, in Luke 1:39:
Luke 1:39-45 (NLT) - 39 A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town 40 where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. 41 At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
42 Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. 43 Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? 44 When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. 45 You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.”
Isn’t that kind of amazing? Mary arrives to visit Elizabeth. The two women are both pregnant, and Elizabeth is about six months further along. But when Elizabeth’s baby – who grows up to be John the Baptist, the prophet who would prepare the way of the Lord – hears Mary enter, he does a backflip in Elizabeth’s belly.
Mary’s response to all of these events is her song.
Mary’s song is called the “Magnificat”. The word magnificat originates in Latin and means, “magnifies”. However, it’s association with this passage is so well known, that when the word is a proper noun, “The Magnificat” even the dictionaries refer to this song that Mary sings in the book of Luke.
This sing is a declaration of WHAT Mary believes, in a powerful and poetic moment:
Luke 1:46-56 (NLT) –
46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 And 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 mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
56 And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.
The first two lines of the song are the chorus that focus on worship:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”
Mary starts out by telling us the purpose of this song: to magnify God and rejoice in his Salvation. This call to worship is one that has been sung for generations, and one we still sing today!
We switch to the next section of the song in verse 48 where we read the words, “for He has...”
Mary magnifies God because God has blessed her! She has been chosen for a very challenging, joyful and painful ministry of being the mother of the Messiah. She understands what a privilege it is to be selected and used by God, and it humbles her and leads her to worship.
The next shift in theme, or verse, comes in verse 51.
Mary talks about the way God carries out his plan. God chooses not to use a ruler, but a servant, not to send an army, but a baby. God’s ways are not our ways, amen?
She clearly states that God exalts the humble and humbles the proud. This is a message that Jesus will also preach to the world during his earthly ministry. He will teach it to his disciples and he will model it through his humbling death on the cross:
Philippians 2:5–8 (NLT) — 5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. 6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8 he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
The last section starts in verse 54 when the focus changes to Israel and God keeping his promise to redeem his people.
Israel had long been waiting for a messiah; the redeemer promised by the prophets, who would deliver the nation from its enemies and bring peace. This Messiah had initially been promised back in Genesis 3, in God’s curse upon the serpent:
Genesis 3:14-15 (NLT) - 14 Then the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all animals, domestic and wild. You will crawl on your belly, groveling in the dust as long as you live. 15 And I will cause hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”
However, the promise continued to grow, as more and more of God’s plan was progressively revealed. God made Covenant promises with Abraham, Moses, and David. Each one showed more and more of what God intended to accomplish, and ultimately pointed to Jesus.
In her Song, Mary concluded with her belief that Jesus would be the Christ...
54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
Mary saw that Jesus would be the fulfilment of the Covenant Promises made with those that came before her. She saw the Kingdom aspect of God’s redemptive plan coming into play in a powerful way. Jesus would be the Messiah, Redeemer, and King!
Mary also saw a relational focus in Jesus’ redemptive work. That it wasn’t just about covenants with people groups, but also salvation for individual people on a personal level.
We’re reading this song roughly two-thousand years after the fact, and it’s easy to lose perspective. One of the things that most reveals Mary’s belief, is that the song was sung in the past tense, even though God hadn’t done all these things yet. For example, Mary sang “God HAS shown strength”, “He HAS brought down the mighty”, and “He HAS filled the hungry.” And yet, many of the things she sings of are things God had only promised to do, most fully in Christ.
We write about things that we experience... yet Mary had NOT YET experienced these things! She wrote about them in past tense, not future tense. Yet, the baby was not born yet, and the sacrifice not made yet. Mary had faith.
Hebrews 11:1 (NLT) — Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.
In verse 45, Elizabeth tells Mary, “You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.”.
Mary believed. She believed she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit. She believed that Jesus would be the Son of the Most High God, and that he would sit on the throne of David, as King of Kings. And, she believed in the mercy of God, which would be most fully expressed through her son, Jesus.
Mary believed. She believed all of what had been revealed to her. That’s why she could call God her Savior, not just for God’s covenant people, but for her, personally. She saw Christ as the agent of God’s salvation.
RANT: Often at Christmas time, we sing the song, “Mary, Did You Know?”. It speaks of the things Christ had to endure to accomplish the Father’s plan. At the end of the day, the answer to the question posed by the title is “Yes, she knew!”. She may not have known every aspect of what He would suffer... But early on in Luke 1, we see that she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt what His purpose was.
Mary is blessed because she believed. Put simply, she trusted that what God said was true. She saw Him as trustworthy, and lived her life such that her choices were led by that trust.
But, what about you?
Christmas is the perfect time to reflect on what God has said:
John 3:16-17 (NLT) - 16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave* his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.
Christ came to save sinners. That’s you and me, everyone who has ever lived, outside of a relationship with Christ. And belief is the key.
We don’t have to purchase our salvation. In fact, we can’t. We don’t have to DO anything, we simply believe. We believe that if we confess our sins to him, he will forgive us.
We believe in His life, which was lived without sin. We believe in His death, which paid the debt of our sin. And we believe in His resurrection, which defeated death.
We believe that Jesus, and the things He’s accomplished on our behalf, are the first and greatest Christmas gift. The one that all mankind needs to accept.
It’s our prayer that you would. That you would believe in your heart, and confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord. And that these next few weeks, leading to Christmas, would be more than trees, lights, cocoa, and wrapping paper.
But rather, that Christmas would take on a renewed, spiritual meaning for you. That it would be a celebration of the birth of your savior, and the work he’s done on your behalf.