Mary's Song: The First Christmas Carol
The Christmas Carols We Sing
I do not care if Santa knows whether I am sleeping or awake (kind of creepy if you ask me), or whether Rudolph earns the respect of his peers. But rather I am inspired by carols that reflect on Christ's birth, as they should be on this holiday named after Christ himself. For many years, perhaps hundreds, we have been singing carols such as Noel, O Come All Ye Faithful, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, O Holy Night, Silent Night, and Away in the Manger, just to name a very few. They are rich with meaning and focus on the glory's and hallelujahs, angels and the shepherds and magi who came to worship the baby Messiah.
My personal favorite Christmas song is Mary Did You Know written by Mark Lowry.
Mary's response to the good news
Isn't it incredible to imagine the angel telling these things to Mary? I don't think He told her all the details this song does, but she knew the most important thing, which is that her little boy would one day be the Son of the Highest and would rule the throne of David (see passage below). She knew this because the angel Gabriel came to her and gave her this bewildering, but exciting news:
"Then the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end'" (Luke 1:30-33).
She asked him how this could be, as she was not yet married to Joseph. Not an unusual question, all things considered. And she was not rebuked for it. Gabriel simply told her that the baby would be conceived by the Holy Spirit. I think if I had been Mary, I would have continued with questions and doubts, "But what will everyone say? They'll stone me for being a loose woman and an adulteress because we are betrothed." But after Gabriel's words of affirmation and clarification, her simple response was "Let it be to me according to your word." She embraced this message and stamped it with her amen.
Mary's sings the first Christmas Carol
Do you realize that Mary, mother of our Lord Jesus, sang the first Christmas carol? She did. And her song has given us the proper perspective for Christmas. Mary did not, however, sing this song the day of her sweet baby's birth. She actually sang it when she was visiting her elderly cousin Elizabeth who was carrying John the Baptist in her womb. John would be the one to prepare the way of the Lord (his cousin, Jesus). When Mary arrived she was newly pregnant, about three months. Elizabeth was about six months along. When Mary called out her greeting to her cousin, little John leaped for joy in Elizabeth's womb, knowing in some way that His Lord, the one he would prepare the way for, was near him. Elizabeth, suddenly full of the Holy Spirit, told Mary about this. It's interesting because she and Mary had not even had a conversation yet, and Mary's pregnancy was not yet showing. And yet the Holy Spirit came upon Elizabeth and gave her this knowledge. She went on to confirm what the angel told Mary by saying to her, "Blessed is she who believed, for there will be fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord." In other words, Mary is blessed because she believed God would fulfill His promise to her, as spoken through the angel Gabriel. Amazing, since she had no way of knowing that an angel of the Lord had prophesied to Mary about her baby.
After hearing Elizabeth's anointed message, Mary then spontaneously burst into her rousing, but reverent Christmas carol, reminiscent of Hannah's song (see 1 Samuel 2:1-10).
"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. For the Mighty One is holy, and He has done great things for me.
He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear Him. His mighty arm has done tremendous things! He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things and sent he rich away with empty hands.
He has helped His servant Israel and remembered to be merciful.
For He made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his children forever."
Mary's Song and the Story of Christmas
Magnify the Lord!
Notice the first verse, "My soul magnifies the Lord." Magnifying the Lord means declaring the greatness of the Lord. Not only did Mary declare His greatness, but so also did Elizabeth (verses 42-45); Zacharias, husband to Elizabeth and father to John (at the same time he also prophesied about his son John as the one to prepare the way for Christ (verses 67-79; the Angel who announced Christ was born to the shepherds, followed by the heavenly host (Luke 2:9-14); the shepherds (vs. 17, 20); Simeon, a man in Jerusalem waiting for the consolation of Israel (vs. 29-32); and Anna the prophetess, who lived and served in the temple continually (vs 38). Proclaiming the greatness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ is what Christmas should be. It is was the Christian's life should be year round. The Messiah has come and we should glorify Him.
I have heard well-meaning people, even Christians, say "Christmas is about giving," or "Christmas is for children." First of all, Christmas is not for children. The Angel who proclaimed the Messiah's birth to the shepherds in the fields said, "I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people" (Luke 2:10). If Christmas is only about or for children, then the world is in trouble (which it is) because the adult hearts are not on glorifying Christ, but building a lust for things in their kids. Giving is good if it is an overflow of our love and joy in the God we praise. There are many people who give out of the spiritual abundance of their hearts, and the resources God has given to them, to those in need, or as an act of love to someone special to them. Many, in fact, most (Christians included), have gone the way of the cultural norm and just buy, buy, buy, and give, give, give, because it is what is expected. Christmas has lost its meaning. They might try to fit Christ in like you would an impromptu guest at the Christmas meal and offer a spare chair. "Oh Hi Jesus, we just so happen to have one extra chair left for you." Or we throw in a birthday cake for Jesus after the madness of opening gifts just to "remember what Christmas is all about." I did this with my kids and shame on me. We did read the passages and talk some about the Christmas story; we went to church; went to or participated in pageants, but we were caught up more in the commercialism, and we gave Christ a polite nod with a cake or reading a verse. We fit him in to appease our guilt. We were deceived into thinking we were magnifying the Lord when we were magnifying primarily the secular Christmas. The world thinks December 25th is a day of wonder. The next morning, the kids are bored and fighting and Mom and Dad are haggard and worrying about the credit card bills.
Christmas is about magnifying the Lord, who left His throne in heaven, and all the privileges He possessed there, and came down as a human baby, a baby who would remain sinless, and was destined to die on a cross for all mankind, that someday we might join Him in heaven.
"Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even to death on the cross. Therefore God also highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:5-11).
And so while here on earth, we are meant to have the mind of Christ, and be humble and obedient to Him. We are to spread the good news of hope to all who will listen. I believe the giving part of Christmas is magnifying Christ first, giving Him the glory to His name (which should be every day, year round), then to others as an outpouring of God's love. That is not to say it is wrong to give at Christmas, but putting the greatest emphasis on giving each other stuff for no other reason other than it is what is expected in our culture, is sad and grievous to the Prince of Peace. Perhaps giving to others who have less or nothing at all, or doing acts of kindness is better, but always giving glory to Christ as we do so.
Mary speaks of God's gift of mercy, justice, doing tremendous things, and feeding the hungry (spiritually as well as materially). Does your spirit rejoice in God our Savior at Christmas time, and all the year through? Are those the kind of gifts we give, in the Spirit of Christ?
Mary speaks of "God my Savior" and what He has done for her and the world:
- Regarded her lowly state
- Did great things for her -
- Shown strength with His arm -
- Put down the mighty from their thrones
- Exalted the lowly
- Filled the hungry with good things
- Sent away the rich empty
- Helped His servant Israel in remembrance of His mercy
- Spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his seed forever.
Her song reveals that she recognizes God's love and attention to the humble, and the hungry; showed mercy to Israel; and made and kept His promise to Abraham by sending Christ out of Abraham's seed. She also knows that God is all powerful as He puts down the kings and those in high authority who do not honor Him; And she sees, as Hannah did, that God does not reward the rich (who are not honoring God with their treasure).
Mary knew the greatness of God our Savior and so should we.
"I will praise the name of God with a song and will magnify him with thanksgiving" (Psalm 69:30).
"O magnify the Lord. Let us exalt His name together" (Psalm 34:3).
After Mary magnifies the Lord from her very soul, she then follows with," And my spirit has rejoiced in God My Savior "(vs. 47).
The Christmas carols we sing today are jubilant, and full of rejoicing. And my, but the Christmas story is full of rejoicing. Not just from Mary, but again from all the others who magnified the Lord. They did just know and say God and His Son are great, they rejoiced in it. Mary's dear heart, her spirit rejoiced with all that was in her. Do our hearts really rejoice in our Magificant Savior? To be able to rejoice in God our Savior, one has to be grateful, thankful, for the hope that Christ brings. Oh, God has come. Thank God we now have the promise fulfilled, we have one who will rescue us, and love us, and who will watch over us, and will bless us here on earth and in eternity.
It is easy to leave our first love. As the years go by we allow the clamors of life take our attention until something bad happens, or we just seem to lose our passion and gratitude. I am there too often. I want to have a Mary heart - full of rejoicing and gratitude - and to magnify His name. O come let us adore Him; rejoice, rejoice Emmanuel; glory to the Newborn King; O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant; tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is Lord. The thrill of hope in our Messiah should cause us to rejoice.
"Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say rejoice" (Phil. 4:4)!