Flipping through the radio dial you hear all kinds of Christmas music right now, and one of the songs that seems to be on the loop for most of the radio stations or in the stores that you go into is a song called "Santa Baby." It's not the most holy or reverent of all the Christmas songs that you can find, but it is sung by a woman who calls herself simply Madonna, no last name, just Madonna. This woman built a career over the past, twenty, thirty years that she's been around, becoming kind of a counterfeit of the woman for whom she was named. Madonna grew up in an Italian, Catholic family. It was deeply reverent in its Catholicism with a very high view of the blessed Virgin Mary. She had a father, an Italian, Catholic father, who named her Madonna after this woman, after the mother of our Lord Jesus. For the rest of her life Madonna, in rebellion against her father and in rebellion against her family and in rebellion against her church, has been using her name to shrink away from everything that that word represents. She's scared of it.
I think most of us in our churches, most of us are scared of the idea of the Virgin Mary. We're scared of her because our Catholic friends make so much of her, and we're afraid that if we say too much about her that somehow we're going to be detracting away from the Lord Jesus. Sometimes it's almost as though when we speak of the Virgin Mary we see her as simply a pod through whom Jesus came or some kind of a prop that we have in our Christmas pageants. We see her as a two-dimensional kind of a figure. The Virgin Mary becomes this really mousy lady with droopy eyelids and a blanket on her head, and that's about all she is to us.
The Word of God presents a very different picture of Mary and of what she represents for us. As a matter of fact, when the apostle John sees the whole scope of everything that has happened for our salvation, in Revelation 12 he sees a woman giving birth to a child. That's exactly what we read in the Book of Genesis—that the way that God is going to save the world, the way that the snake is going to have his head crushed is through a woman giving birth to a child. This passage of Scripture shows us something about this woman, a woman that God favors, the text says, a woman whose response God receives as being righteous and being praiseworthy. He honors her in this text, and he shows us in this Scripture something about the kind of response that God favors in dark times.
You know it seems as though so much of the kind of emotion and the kind of response that we ought to have at Christmas is manufactured for us in animated Christmas specials and in Christmas music piped into stores and in all of the little things that we can buy. Yet if we're attentive to what the Holy Spirit is saying this morning maybe we should turn and listen to a song, turn and listen to the most shocking Madonna song ever. As this woman hears the Word of God and she responds exactly the way, in light of Christ, that God says she should.
A song about blessings
In this text we've been given, in light of the Christ, we ought to sing of kingdom blessing. Mary is a young girl who has just been told in a vision from an angelic being that she is pregnant, that she's going to give birth to a child. Now that's been really filtered for so long as we have heard the Christmas story told over and again, reading it around the Christmas tree with our families, seeing it with little claymation figurines on television, and listening to our children do it at Christmas programs. We've heard it so much that we don't see how dire the situation is for this girl. She's growing up, in a little hick town out from the beaten path there in the hill country. She's a young girl who receives a word that she is pregnant and she is assigned to be married to a day laborer.
What is happening is absolutely threatening her with social and economic collapse. After all, when Mary goes to tell Joseph "I'm pregnant," his response is not, "Well, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas." His response is exactly what your response would be. If any teenage girl in this congregation came forward at the end of this service and said to me, "Brother Moore, I just did a pregnancy test, and I'm pregnant and I want you to know that I am completely a virgin, but I am pregnant just as sure as the world," my response would be exactly like your response would be to that. Joseph sees her as being a cheater. He sees her as somebody who has done him wrong. She is threatened here with having that betrothal broken off, with being a single mother in a society without a welfare system, in a society in which her entire life would be crashing on around her.
In the midst of all of that, she goes to see her cousin. She goes to see Elizabeth. She goes and speaks to Elizabeth, her relative, and she speaks to her of a blessing. Notice what happens when she walks in there to see Elizabeth. Elizabeth says "The baby in my womb started jumping up and down when I saw you." She says to her, "Mary, you are blessed. You are highly favored among women." She uses the same kind of language that the angel uses with Mary. When Mary listens to this, when Mary hears this, notice what Mary does. She starts to sing and she starts singing about her blessing. She sings, in verse 46, "My soul magnifies the Lord. My spirit is rejoicing in my God." She is seeing this as a blessing. She sings, first of all, of the blessing of God's attention. She says, "He has looked on the humble estate of his servant." Her God has heard.
You know, the people of Israel had gone for hundreds and thousands of years, and they wonder as they cry out, "O God, when will you bring deliverance? O God, when will you bring salvation?" They wonder if their God is even hearing them. They wonder if their God even knows what they are experiencing. Some of you do, too. Some of you right now are praying and praying, and for some of you it seems so difficult to continue to pray because it seems almost as though you're just mouthing out words. Mary says, in the midst of all of this, "I see that I am blessed because God has heard the prayer of this little servant girl. He has chosen me for this task. It's a blessing."
But she sings also of the blessing of mercy. Notice in this song she starts singing about a God whose mercy is for those who fear him, a God who is doing all of these things for his people, forgiving the sins of his people. He's not turning away from them. He's going to hear them. She sings about the blessing of the glory that God is giving. She says, "From now on all generations will call me blessed." God is honoring her name. He is glorifying her. Mary doesn't say, "I'm the first virgin ever to get pregnant. I really need to make a lot of public relations out of this. We can get figurines sold. We can name football passes after me. Why we can even wind up with people seeing my face in toast." She doesn't do that. What does she do? She humbles herself down before the Lord, she recognizes and knows that her name, her glory is found only in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
A song of humility
Now there are some of you today who are working really, really hard for your name. You are working really, really hard for your glory. It might be your glory just in the little pool of your family. You want to make sure when you get together with all your relatives at the holiday season that you're seen to be doing fine. Some of you are looking to preserve your name at your workplace. Some of you are looking to preserve your glory and your name at church. Some of you are looking to preserve your glory and your name in your neighborhood.
What Mary sees and recognizes is that when Jesus is coming the only thing that is significant for her glory is her relationship with Jesus. As a matter of fact, there's a sense in which what's happening to Mary is very unique. But there's a sense in which what's happening to Mary is not unique at all. The apostle Paul wrote about what the Holy Spirit is doing with all of you, those of you who believe in Jesus, as you are being brought closer and closer to what God has for you, that Christ is being formed in you. That's what God is doing with you, he is changing you into the image of Jesus. That is where your blessing is. That is where your glory is.
Notice also that Mary here, in light of Christ, sings of kingdom humiliation. She sings about the fact that what God has done is demonstrating his power. She says, "You have shown your arm. You have shown your might." She says that he has uprooted the proud. She says, "You have knocked the proud off of their thrones." That doesn't seem true though. The proud are still marching around. Herod is still on the throne. Luke is going to tell us this is when Caesar Augustus was reigning. The proud are still marching all around. Mary sees what is true. Through the Spirit she sees that God is going to knock the proud down and knock the mighty down, and he's going to raise and exalt the humble. She says he's going to feed the poor, and she rests in the fact that God is going to do that. And with the coming of Jesus that is exactly what God is doing.
God is taking a baby, who is born and placed in a feed trough; he is taking a young man who is going to be stripped of all of his clothes, who is going to have his beard pulled out of his face, who's going to be spit upon, who's going to be stapled to an instrument of torture, who's going to drown in his own blood, who's going to be placed in a borrowed tomb because he doesn't even have the finances to be able to have a grave. He is going to take this man and this event and save the world through that. Mary says this is a humbling, humiliating kind of experience. This is the way that faith sings in light of that. What Mary's doing here is taking a song that has already been sung almost word for word by a woman named Hannah, who was singing and thanking God that she was able to have a child. Now Mary is singing this and saying God is going to knock the proud down and rescue the humble.
There are some of you that are too proud to pray. There are some of you who are deeply fearful this morning, because you are on the precipice of economic collapse. There are some of you who are deeply fearful because you do not know what is going to happen to your health in the next few weeks or months or years. There are some of you who are deeply anxious because there is some subterranean sin that is tearing you to bits and you are too proud to grab your brothers and sisters in Christ around you and say, "Pray with me. Help me with this." Mary says God will knock you down. Those that God rescues in light of Christ are the ones that God sees humbling themselves before him, and he lifts them up. Mary says, "See this and recognize this. See the exaltation of the humble."
Blessings in Christ
Mary sings of kingdom triumph. Mary says, "He has filled the hungry with good things, the rich he sent away." Notice in verse 54 she says, "God by bringing to us this embryo, this baby Jesus, that he has helped his servant Israel in remembrance of his mercy." She sings that our God remembers his mercy and he remembers it through Jesus Christ. She declares that our God is doing just as he spoke to our fathers. He stands by his words. Mary sings about God keeping exactly what he has said all of these years. Through the coming of this baby, who is the king of the universe and the Savior of this world, he is triumphing over all of his enemies. And yet, it doesn't seem like it. She's crying out in triumph, but it doesn't look like a triumph at all, because it is the kind of triumph that is hidden in a feed trough and hidden in the place of the stall and hidden in that empty hole in the ground. Mary is singing of a blessing, of a blessing that triumphs.
I wonder if we will sing with her? I wonder if we will see what God is honoring here and blessing in her response? You ought not to be scared of the Virgin Mary. She's the mother of our Lord. Jesus tells us that if we are in Christ we are his brothers. We are his sisters. This lady's part of our family and this lady's faith is exactly the kind of faith that God is calling us to. The question is are you with her seeing and crying out to God in thanksgiving for his blessing this Christmas? Or are you with one of those, the proud and the haughty, that God's going to knock down?
There are some of you who are here at this Christmas in very difficult and hard times, but you have no idea how difficult and how hard it is because you don't know Christ. The blessing that can be yours this morning is to cry out for mercy. All you need to do is to just bow your head right where you are and say, "O Lord God, I'm going to allow you to be king over my life. I believe in this Lord Jesus crucified for me, buried for me, raised from the dead for me. O Lord, please hear me when I cry out to you for mercy." And he will.
There are others of you who are living out your life in Christ, but you are in a situation in which you are not able to see and rejoice in the blessing that you've been given. Listen to this little pregnant girl's song, and sing of the blessing that has come to you in Christ. You may be terminally ill with cancer, but in Christ you will be raised from the dead. You may be laid off from your job, but you have a God who provides for you and says he will never allow you to be without bread. You may be completely alienated from hostile family members, and yet God has brought you into a new family with multitudes of brothers and sisters and cousins and aunts and uncles. Your blessing is here, but it doesn't seem obvious if you're looking according to the flesh. It only looks obvious if you're looking through the Spirit. So this morning as we prepare our hearts for Christmas let's look and see what has changed in that manger, and let's listen to the song of this virgin. After all, she's our lady, too.
Russell Moore is the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.