It’s good to be thankful and give praise to God. It’s even better to live a life of gratitude that seeks to honor God. Gratitude and praise are a lifestyle, not an occasional moment or even a seasonal celebration. We treat them that way when we live with a sense of priority and urgency in recognizing and responding to God’s goodness in the world and in our lives.
It’s easy to see Mary through twenty-first century eyes as the esteemed and admired mother of Jesus, respected by everyone. But we do so to our impoverishment. She became all of these things, of course, but she didn’t start out that way. She began as a frightened, (probably) teenage girl, pregnant and unmarried.
She spent the first three months of her pregnancy with her aunt Elizabeth (who was also surprisingly pregnant – Luke 1). When she returned to Nazareth, her intended, Joseph, wanted to get out of their pending marriage. He knew he was not the father of Mary’s child as he had not been with her sexually. It took an appearance by the angel Gabriel to convince him that marriage to Mary was the right thing to do.
That hardly put an end to her problems though. What did she tell her parents? Her friends? The synagogue? The neighbors? Did she tell them she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit and endure the ridicule that would have followed or did she just choose to silently bear her shame? (First century Jewish culture was quite different than ours in this respect). Neither path would have been easy, but whatever she chose, she hung in there. She must have wondered why God would make something so unquestionably magnificent (the birth of His Son), so full of difficulty and hardship.
When we read Mary’s song of praise to God in Luke’s gospel (1:46-55), we must remind ourselves that these were not the words of someone who had made it through the storm, but of someone who was about to enter it. Fierce winds of criticism and ridicule were getting ready to come her way and the rains of disapproval would pelt down on her. Her preparation was to offer up precious words of adoration to her King!
As we read, we should hear more than lovely sounding phrases and lines; we should hear the distinctive timbre of determined trust from a teenager who had totally thrown her lot in with God. Unbowed and unbent, she resolutely looked to Him and celebrated the deliverance He brings. She was full of wonder at who He is and what He does. These were her words prior to the storm and what a song it is!
And the beaten down world needed to hear her song! In heaven I imagine there will be songs like this from each of us and that will be fine, but it won’t be needed then as it is now. In heaven we’ll be preaching to the choir for sure—no one will need to hear our song in the way that they do now. On the precipice of pain and confusion, Mary sang her song for a broken world.
When the Persian king, Xerxes, confronted Leonidas and his little band of three hundred Spartans at the mountain pass of Thermopylae, he warned them that his army was so numerous (and they were), that when they shot their arrows it would darken the sun. Leonidas’ reply was that if this is the case, his men would be fighting in the shade. There’s something thrilling about a teenage girl who announced to world, “You can take your best shot at me, but I’ve made up my mind to stand with God” and then goes out and does it?