Is there a time in your life when your situation, your mood, your outlook, etc., was changed because of someone’s willingness to serve?
Maybe in that moment, that person did something for you that hit right in the heart. It changed you, it impacted you in ways you can’t even imagine.
Or maybe, maybe you’ve been that for someone else. You might have been that in someone’s life and never knew it. The love from a servant’s heart has the potential to change the world.
That’s why this Christmas story is so compelling. Time and again, Christmas is the story of servants willing to give of themselves, who are willing to love and open themselves to God’s Spirit and who change the world by doing so.
The story of two of those servants, Mary and Elizabeth, is found in Luke 1:39-56. Here’s how it reads:
39 Mary got up and hurried to a city in the Judean highlands.
Mary is taking a tremendous risk by taking this trip. First, Mary is pregnant and pregnancy in the First Century is risky. The travel itself is extremely risky. Robbers could be waiting around every turn for a possible attack. Mary is “with child” and she still takes the trip that will take several days of travel and will cover close to 100 miles. It’s all because of the person she will see when she gets there.
40 She entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.
Elizabeth is reason that Mary would go to all of this effort to travel such a great distance. Elizabeth and her husband, Zechariah. are both very “mature” and well beyond the years to have a child. And, they also had visits with angels and were told they would have a baby. Then the angel came to visit Mary and tell her what she was going to go through. And that Angel mentions to Mary that “Nothing is impossible with God” – even your older relative Elizabeth is going to have a baby.
Mary and Joseph have had a conversation and Joseph had a visit from an angel too, but there are just some things that Joseph isn’t going to be able to talk about. So, Mary turns to a person she knows who is going through a similar experience and she seeks her support.
41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
That’s a profound moment. Even the babies know what’s going on here! Elizabeth is about six months pregnant at this point and her child is a lot further along than Mary’s baby.
Why does Elizabeth experience this moment with the Holy Spirit in the presence of Mary? Maybe it’s because she has chosen to open herself to the Holy Spirit. When we open ourselves to God’s spirit, then God’s spirit opens itself to us. It’s funny how that works.
Here’s how Elizabeth responds when she experiences this:
42 With a loud voice she blurted out, “God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry. 43 Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. 45 Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.
In a beautiful moment, Elizabeth, this wife of Zechariah who views herself as a servant, offers a word of affirmation to Mary. Mary has had a lot on her mind and she’s acting in her faith, but there still have to be questions for her. Elizabeth tells her, “Mary, happy, blessed is the woman who believes that God is going to keep the promises he made to her.” It’s really a statement that, “Mary, God is going to do what He said he would do.”
And with these words of encouragement, love and affirmation, Mary moves to her own song. Sometimes it is called the Magnificat.
Mary praises God
46 Mary said, “With all my heart I glorify the Lord! 47 In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
Mary, a teen-ager who is having the most important baby in human history, begins to praise God by said, “With everything I am, I glorify the Lord.” This is the act of worship.
Mary, in this statement, is taking it all the focus off herself and placing it on God. With everything she has, she’s rejoicing and praising God.
48 He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant. Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored 49 because the mighty one has done great things for me Holy is his name.
It’s the idea of the name again. Mary says she is the servant, the one with the low status. But because of what God has done in her life, others are going to consider her to have been favored. But notice who she says does the great things. It’s not Mary and Joseph or Elizabeth. It’s God – the Holy one.
And here are some of the things that God does.
50 He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God. 51 He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations. 52 He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.53 He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed. 54 He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, 55 just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”
It is easy for us to get wrapped up in who we are. We make a name for ourselves, we earn our own way, we solve our own problem and, if we’re completely honest, we start to sound a whole lot more like gods with a little “g.”
But God reverses things. God shows favor to servants such as Elizabeth and Mary. God reverses the fortunes of those who are beat up and beat down. God brings down those who abuse power and lifts up those who have been stepped on. He feeds the hungry and humbles those who make money into a God.
Does this sound like a Christmas story that we normally hear?
Christmas is a story of an invasion and a revolution that steps into the middle of a world that is run by the powerful and says, “There is a better way.”
From a manger in Bethlehem, God establishes a kingdom that will never go away.
56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months, and then returned to her home.
I’m going to admit something. This song of Mary, the Magnificat is not one of my favorite passages of scripture. It is a tough passage that should make all of us a little uncomfortable.
Sometimes, we romanticize the story of Christmas, but it is in some ways, the start of a revolution.
We live in a world filled with rhetoric. You just have to tune into the news channels for a brief period of time. It’s easy to see that the world, our nation, others, are wrapped in a battle of political power.
Yet, all of the rhetoric that our political system produces is nothing compared to the words uttered in a song from a pregnant teen-ager.
It is a vision of the world where the humble, the poor, the hurting and the broken have value. It’s a world where the powerful fall and the poor are lifted up.
It is a world where we are no longer measured by what we make and what we take, but by how we love and give. It’s a world that gives second, third, etc., chances and lives are measured in terms of before and after.
And what makes this song so revolutionary is that it is sung as a song of joy. This is a song about rejoicing – because things are going to change.
Mary is singing the song that so many others had been singing before her in the Old Testament. It’s the song that the Israelites were singing after their country had been decimated by the Babylonians – the super power of the day. In the book of Psalms, there are references to “How long must we sing this song?” – this song of sadness and pain. When is hope coming? It’s the line that’s referenced in U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday – How long must we sing this song?
The promised land fell and people were hurting and hungry and broken. The prophets offered words of hope that at some point in the future, God was going to set things right. For 100s of years they sang this song.
And thing things change. God decides that the way to right this world, to change this world, to bring true hope is to physically step into it.
And to make that happen, he offers a chance to the people who understand the very situation that God is coming to fix. Elizabeth, Zechariah, Mary, Joseph – are all poor humble servants who are outside of the power structure and at the bottom of the social ladder.
When God wants to change the world, he turns to servants.
- Servants give of themselves.
- Servants sacrifice their name for God’s name.
- Servants find a blessing in the journey and know the destination.
And God is still looking for servants today. Right here. Right now. In this community and in communities all over the world.
Elizabeth, Mary and even Zechariah and Joseph changed the world when they chose to follow and serve God no matter what.
How over the next seven days do you find a way to serve and honor the God for whom nothing is impossible, the God who is with us and the God who blesses us when we serve?
ReigniteMyStory.com is based on the idea that every life story can be reignited when we reset it, renew it and redeem it. You can contact me with ideas, questions or suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org or by following me on Twitter at @reignitemystory.