The music of Christmas is forever linked to the season of Christmas. We all anticipate the time when we can crank up Bing Crosby's “White Christmas” or Mel Torme belting out “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” Those are wonderful musical decorations, but Christmas is not Christmas without the genuine Songs of Christmas: The hymns heralding the coming of Christ. From the ancient “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” sung on the first Sunday in Advent, to the joyous strains of “Joy to the World” sung on Christmas Eve; from the hauntingly beautiful chorus of “What Child Is This?” to the quiet, assuring German folk hymn “Silent Night.” The Songs of Christmas reach deep into our hearts and stir believers to adoration and, I suspect, stir many unbelieving hearts to reconsider the Old, Old Story.
There are no musical notations given to these “Songs of Christmas” in the Bible, but when I read of the spontaneous, poetic and profoundly theological response of Mary bursting forth onto the pages of God’s Word, I cannot help but call that a song. When I read of John the Baptist’s father, Zachariah filled with the Holy Spirit, and breaking forth from a previously mute voice with the voice of rejoicing and prophecy, I call that a song. Likewise, the sight of angels appearing to shepherds in a night sky and praising God in a heavenly chorus is a Song of Christmas. So is the prayer from the lips of faithful old Simeon who ushered in the New Covenant with a prayer of astonishing wonder and hope.
The Songs of Christmas are needed today. I don’t simply mean the great hymns of the faith, (although the world needs those as well), but the divinely inspired, wondrous lyrics sung early in the dawning days of the Church. What became clear is that God’s promises were coming true, and the Lord was entering lives in a way not known before.
The ‘true’ Songs of Christmas were announcements that God was here.
The attitude of our generation may be summed up in the title of a song by a postmodern popular singer. Joan Osborne screeched and whined out a question that became a cry of a desperate heart “What if God was one of us?” The Songs of Christmas in St. Luke 1 and 2 give a stirring response to that cry. Luke 1:47-55 says: And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, For He has looked with favor on the lowliness of His servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; For the Mighty One has done great things for me, And holy is His name. His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; He has filled the hungry with good things, And sent the rich away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, according to the promise He made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
The Song of Mary – Mary’s "Magnificat," Latin for the word used by Mary, to “magnify,” arises with the Holy Spirit inspired force from the soul of a faithful young woman. The Angel Gabriel had announced to a young Nazareth girl betrothed to a carpenter named Joseph that: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God - Luke 1:35-36. From there, Mary the God-bearer, bore the most wonderful news ever revealed to man.
Mary’s excitement could not be hidden as she ran to share her encounter with her cousin Elizabeth. Upon her arrival at the home of Zachariah and Elizabeth, who was also with child, the embryonic 'John the Baptist' leapt in the womb at the news of the coming Christ. Elizabeth, we are told, was also filled with the Holy Sprit. The news of God’s Incarnation brought revival to that home, and can bring revival to any home that would receive such news.
Our God came not to tempt, but to be tempted for us. Our God came not to satisfy passions, but became the passion and left His royal dwelling place with the Father, in order to satisfy Divine justice by dying on an old rugged cross.
Through Mary’s Magnificat, we witness a hymn to the Lord that is unequalled by any other writer. It is a song of the soul: a ‘Praise’ Song, a ‘Sweet’ Song, and a ‘Deep’ Song.
A Praise Song - Mary’s Song starts strong and finishes strong. There are three distinct movements in her spontaneous symphony of the soul, as she leaves no room for wondering. In Luke 1:46-47 she tells us, in sweet poetic strain, that what we hear coming from her is the 'Song of her Soul' - “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” The Magnificat of Mary is a praise song because of her instantaneous response of ‘Worship.’ The revelation that God the Savior would come into the world through her, a virgin, caused deep soul-satisfying wonder in Mary’s heart. We all know that there are majestic hymns that weave strong, transcendent themes and can carry doctrinal truths about our faith. Some years ago, the distinguished German theologian Karl Barth visited the United States. His so-called “neo” or “new” orthodoxy was controversial, but it was primarily aimed at recovering a higher view of the Word, which had suffered under the weight of German higher criticism. Dr. Barth had completed a lecture at Princeton and a reporter there asked him, “Sir, in all of your years of study what is the greatest single thought you have ever studied?” Barth smiled and shocked the audience with his reply - “The greatest thought I have ever encountered is this, “‘Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Our experience with Christ and our understanding of His Word brings rejoicing and worship. Mary magnified God in her soul and rejoiced in God as her Savior.
A Sweet Song - Mary’s Song was also a Sweet Song recorded in Luke 1:48-49. Mary moves from honest praise and worship, to humble gratitude and thanksgiving. She praised God for His thoughts towards her “for He has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.” In other words, God saves sinners. This is the first sweet chord struck in the passage. Mary was humbled because God had chosen a sinner as an instrument to bring forth a Savior. She understood her need for a Savior, and herein lies her repentance. She was the first to believe in Jesus as Messiah. She heard the Good News, she believed, and it caused her to say, “O Lord, I am lowly, I have nothing to offer You. I am a sinner.” This is the Good News of this season: "But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" - Romans 5:8. Her sweet song of “Thanksgiving” continued “Henceforth, all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me.” This is the core message of hope and wonder in Christianity. It is the ‘romance’ of our faith - God can save a sinner and so change him or her that future generations are affected, shaped and molded through God’s grace to one person. This is the Song of Songs for weary, desperate people who see no hope, who can find no consolation in life, who think things will never change, and that life holds no wonder. Jesus invites you to believe and receive Him as Lord and Savior and be free of the domain of cheerless living.
A Deep Song – Mary’s Magnificat continues in Luke 1:50-55. Here we come to learn the deep, theological foundation of Mary’s faith. Mary teaches us several great truths of the Incarnation. The Incarnation is about God’s Mercy. In verse 50 she declares “His mercy is on those who fear Him.” Mary grounds her salvation in the mercy of God. She understood the total depravity of mankind better than anyone else. She understood the need of a Savior who would meet the demands of the Law, and willingly endure the penalty of sin upon Himself, for without it, mankind would be eternally lost. This is a deep doctrinal statement of God’s mercy on sinners. In verses 51-53, Mary affirms her faith in God’s wonderful irony. “He has shown strength with His arm, not by man’s arm, and He has scattered the proud. He had put down the mighty. And He has exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry and sent the rich away empty.” The Jewish Rabbinical religion of that day expected the Messiah to come to the learned and powerful, the elite and fortunate. They expected and anticipated to form an alliance to defeat the 'foes' of God. This is a reflection of man-kind centered religion that boasts of its works, ceremonies, and ability to placate and please a Holy God. That is idolatry. The Nimrod impulse exists in the hearts of many who think that through science, government, or finance we can solve our dilemmas. That is atheism.
Mary provided the theological grounding for her praise: “God is God and we are not.”
The gospel of grace and eternal life offered by Almighty God to repentant sinners, seems contrary to what we know. God humbly came to us by the womb of a virgin maiden, born in a manger. His power revealed in weakness and the unconventional, His death holds the key to life, His Crown was the first molded in thorns, His people are often beaten for their faith, but are always more than conquerors. This is the irony of the Gospel.
The Gospel of a Savior dying on a cross is abhorrent to religious man who is always seeking to make his own arrangements for salvation.
The Incarnation of Christ is the fulfillment of the ancient promises. The Christmas Story is the story of the Bible. The birth of the Lord Jesus was promised to Abraham and brought to fulfillment through Mary. God has blessed us with the opportunity to enter into His family by trusting in Jesus Christ as Lord. The blessings extend from Abraham to Mary and to you and your household and to all that hear and believe.
Do you believe?
Credits: Michael A. Milton December 11, 2008