Christmas Through the Eyes of Mary (11am)
Scripture: Luke 1:26–1:38, Luke 1:46–1:55
Christmas is a time of the year where certain things get a lot of attention that normally don’t even come to our mind. Think about it for a second. Fruitcake. Aside from the occasional joke, when else does fruitcake ever even come up in conversation let alone actually get baked and put on a table? Eggnog. A certain acquired taste that might as well be declared the official yuletide beverage. Christmas parties and dairy aisles seem to explode with this stuff around the holidays but then, just as quickly as it came, it disappears. No one walks out into the backyard at a bbq in the middle of 4th of July and offers folks a refreshing glass of egg nog. Even certain movies get this kind of treatment. The Grinch, Frosty, Rudolph, and every rendition of a Christmas Carol collect dust until right after Thanksgiving.
For me, there’s one object that especially comes to mind in this category. It’s a Christmas Star Wars t-shirt I own.
Y’all know I love Star Wars and, in total, I own probably 15-20 different Star Wars shirts. But this is one I can only wear a certain time of the year. And so I take advantage of wearing it at every opportunity. We took Isaac to go see Santa, I wore it. Family Gingerbread House event last weekend, I wore it. In my mind I can really only wear this shirt around Christmas, even though I like it so much, and so I do, and then when Christmas is over…it goes back in the closet until next year.
Whether it’s fruitcake, eggnog, a certain t-shirt, or whatever, there are certain things that only make an appearance around Christmas. And, unfortunately, I really feel like Mary is one of those things. Mary, the mother of God. The central adult figure in the story of Christ’s birth. If you stop and think about it, I’m sure you’ll be as hard-pressed as I was to come up with another time of the year Mary gets as much hype or even mentioned in comparison to Christmas time. Maybe the occasional look into the miracle at Cana where Christ turns water to wine? Usually on Good Friday. But nothing like Christmas. Just like eggnog, fruitcake, and one of my favorite t-shirts, Mary usually only makes an appearance around December. And that’s a tragic loss for the church.
The truth is that when we look at Christmas through the eyes of Mary we see a lot more than just a new take on Christmas. We see an example of humility, faithfulness, and character that is almost completely unprecedented in all of Scripture. Our text this morning shows us that in Mary. We’re in the first chapter of Luke this morning and we’ll look at both the scene when Mary learns of the child as well as her own personal reflections. Read Luke 1:26-38, 46-55.
So the first part of our text takes us to the same scene we looked at last week with Joseph but instead of being given audience to Joseph’s internal struggle, we are brought to how Mary encountered and endured this wonderful and terrifying news. In fact, Luke doesn’t mention Joseph’s feelings or reaction at all.
Mary is engaged to Joseph and going about her life when an angel of God appears before her. And then Mary experiences what I’ll call the most drastic and gut-wrenching roller coaster moment she could have endured. Most of us get these kinds of feelings on a roller coaster. You know, you’re probably a little nervous but you strap in and the little car starts off. You’ve got some fear but also a lot of adrenaline and you hit the top of that first hill and you probably are thinking this isn’t as bad as you thought. And then the track goes under you, you careen down the hill, and feel the world and your stomach go out from under you. And you immediately regret getting on the ride in the first place.
I went through this when a bunch of my youth group students convinced me to go on a roller coaster at Hershey Park called Fahrenheit.
The way I describe it is that this coaster goes more than down. You go up this massively steep climb and then when you come over the top you plummet into a 97-degree fall. I thought I was going right into the ground. It was awful. My students thought it was the best. Well, Mary gets something of this kind of shock in her conversation with the angel.
First, the angel appears. That’s shocking enough. Then he says, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” This is the equivalent I think of when a friend or co-worker comes up to you and says something like, “You’re exactly who I was looking for.” You know something unpleasant is coming next. And the Bible tells us Mary had sniffed this out. She was troubled and was already preparing herself for what the angel would say next. And the angel says, “Don’t worry. Don’t be afraid. You’ve found great favor with God.” Sigh of relief. That was close. Ok. This is the top of the roller coaster. And then the angel throws her over the incline. You’re going to conceive and have a baby. Oh, and he will be the son of God. Oh, and he is the fulfillment of God’s prophecy and work throughout all of history.
That’s a jaw-dropping, stomach-turning, mind-blowing roller coaster of an exchange. And you have to love Mary’s response. “How?” How can this happen since she’s a virgin? A few might be tempted to think Mary is fearfully becoming lost in the logistics of the matter but I don’t think that’s all there is going on. Yes, she’s wondering about that. But we have to take notice of what is missing here. Just as the pauses and silences form the fabric of the music we love so dearly, so too does Mary’s absence of refusal or argument shape her character. Mary asks how, not why. She wants to know how, not seek to change the mind of God. She is open and accepting, albeit likely terrified, by the angel’s message. And then when the angel does explain further, Mary’s response is the definition of faithfulness and love of God: “I am the Lord’s servant.” She possesses such a profound humility that her love of God and trust in Him overrides any fear she may have concerning logistics, public opinion, and fallout of what is to come. It is one of the most inspiring examples in all of Scripture.
And from that, we go to the second part of our text this morning, with what is commonly called the Magnificat and what popular author John MacArthur calls “unquestionably the most magnificent psalm of worship in the New Testament.”
In these precious lines of verses 46-55 we read a declaration, a bearing of the soul, from Mary concerning not how she’s feeling, not her own fears. No. This isn’t her equivalent of a social media rant or anything like that. Instead, what pours out of her heart is an assurance of the goodness of God that has a diamond-like quality of both beauty and density. She recounts God’s tenderness and activity throughout the history of humanity. She declares God’s presence with those who are hungry and those who suffer oppression and violence. Instead of questioning God’s goodness out of her own fear, she holds firmly to the mercy and faithfulness of a God who has just turned her whole life upside down.
Last week I said that, for Joseph, Christmas likely was a stressful and trying time. Those words fall short when we consider what Christmas looked like through the eyes of Mary. She is bearing, simultaneously, the most profound joy and the heaviest burden. I told you that her story doesn’t belong relegated to only the Christmas season like eggnog and fruitcake. And that’s because Mary, more so maybe than any other character in the Christmas narrative, bears a penetrating representation of all of us as human beings.
Karl Barth is a renowned theologian and a real heavy-hitter in terms of our own Reformed understanding of faith. His view on Mary is a compelling one. He believed that Mary represents humanity and the truth that God performs miraculous things in the lives of the common person. The grace and call of God that comes upon Mary can be representative of God’s own grace and call upon all of us. We’re fortunate that we get to avoid the pregnancy and labor pains that Mary endured but we bear our own burden. Because, you see, when we see Christmas through the eyes of Mary we learn the Christmas is less about the gifts we receive and more about the gift we are called to be. It is less about the warm and fuzzy feelings we seek and more about the warmth of our Savior breaking into a cold and hurting world. We’ll talk about that call, that burden, more on Christmas Eve when we look at Christmas through our own eyes. This morning the place I want us to rest in is the response found in Mary’s voice and in her heart.
It’s no secret that Christmas can be a difficult and painful time for many. For some, it merely serves a reminder of a loved one no longer with them. I struggle with this in my own life wishing that my mother could be with me and celebrate Christmas with Caitlin and Isaac and I. And for some, Christmas brings the reminder of inadequacy. It may be inadequate funds in a bank account. It may be enduring the feelings of inadequacy we face with certain family members. It could even be a feeling of inadequacy concerning our own self-worth or our worth to those around us. Those struggles and tremors of inadequacy, in whatever form they take for you, are echoed for us in the feelings Mary felt when the angel came to her.
But her response teaches us that there is more than despair, fear, and anger. Mary faces what many would consider a devastating situation. Everything in her life is now uncertain and filled with potential danger. She could lose the man she is betrothed to. Her family could disown her. She could face public trial and even execution. It doesn’t get much worse. But her posture is one of hope. One of faith. One of promise.
In a season where the exterior is as shiny and joyful as wrapping paper, we know there is internal struggle and pain. That it’s not all related to the holiday but very well may simply be another chapter in a long narrative of sorrow and confusion and doubt. Friends, Mary shows us rather than tells us how our hearts can respond in those times, in these times. So to those of you who are struggling and suffering and hurting, remember that we have a God who inspired faithfulness in the heart of a young girl whose life was on the line and who, for all intents and purposes, should have lost all faith. To those of you who are not enduring those things, your role very well may be that of a Joseph or a shepherd or the magi. Someone close to you may need to know that you are not going anywhere. Perhaps a complete stranger is in need of knowing you saw them hurting and took the time to stop and be with them. Or maybe you have a unique and rare gift to offer one who is facing confusion and dramatic life change. Regardless of where we stand and what condition our heart may be in, when we look at Christmas through the eyes of Mary we find that every occasion is the season of remembering God’s faithfulness and promise.