A Song of Greatness
What does it mean to be great?
Recently, my friend Bethany and I got together for coffee and some Christmas shopping and ended up having a conversation about abiding in Christ. The passage about the vine and the branches in John 15 came to mind like a longtime friend often does. In a surprising twist, a second passage came to mind just as quickly and closely: Luke 1:46–55, the portion in the nativity story often referred to as Mary’s Song or the Magnificat. Why this passage?
The Magnificat is primarily a celebration of God’s goodness, faithfulness, and power. It reflects Mary’s closeness to God and understanding of Scripture as it contains at least twelve references to Old Testament texts. It is reminiscent of Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2 and is a precursor to the prophecy of Zacharias in Luke 1:67–79. As much as the words of this prayer move me, the most surprising and beautiful thing about this passage is the timing of the song and its place in the nativity story. It takes place after Elizabeth conceives John the Baptist, after Mary’s visit from the angel Gabriel when the Word of God was fulfilled and Jesus was conceived, after Mary’s visit to Elizabeth when the baby in Elizabeth’s womb responded to the presence of the Savior in Mary’s womb—and before the arrival of Jesus the Christ in human form.
Why is this amazing timing? At this point in the story, Mary is experiencing cultural rejection for being pregnant while betrothed. She is a citizen of a despised, neglected city with an unfavorable reputation. Both societally and socially, she is considered lowly, a stark contrast to the words of Gabriel: blessed, highly favored, and surrounded by God’s presence. And yet, even before the coming of the Savior, she had these words to sing that are full of biblical heritage, inheritance, and truth.
When Christians recall the Christmas story, we revere Mary as a woman full of faith and confidence in the Lord. They see a perfectly godly choice for the mother of the Messiah. We read her story, and in our own human understanding we find a way to make sense of why she was chosen by God. You may have pondered these thoughts before or heard them spoken: Of course it was Mary! She was free of fear and full of faith! She had confidence in our God! She was pure and obedient! The perfect vessel for the coming King. But was she actually perfect? Blameless enough to bear the Son of Man? Pure enough to deliver the Savior of the world? We know she wasn’t. Her imperfection was not the only thing working against her. The cost of carrying a child for someone so young and unwed was not only scandalous but dangerous to her life. Yes, it is true that she had faith in Yahweh who had selected her for this task and revealed Himself to her through an angelic messenger—all of which are details that make up an incredibly heroic story. But it wasn’t her courage in the midst of uncertainty that made her story so powerful. It was the Messiah within her and the Holy Spirit’s presence drawn near to her that made her story possible.
The same is true for me and you. It is not our triumphs over the burdens of life that make us great. It is the greatness of God’s presence within us. There are moments when I look at my life and I can’t make sense of why God has chosen me. I’m sure you can relate. In a world that prioritizes affirming the self, the truth of my sinfulness can be lost in daily affirmations that pump up my ego and motivate me to make my bed and do great things today. But the reality is that apart from Jesus, my Savior and King, I am in despair. I am depraved. I am separate from my divine Lord forever. But, out of His mercy, Jesus did not pass me by. He invites you and me into the beautiful gift of abiding with Him. He does not require greatness from us to make our lives meaningful, purposeful, or beautiful. He simply requires our faith in what He has said: that we are blessed to be a blessing; that we are the apple of His eye, and that He is our Emmanuel both now and forever.
I hope you are encouraged by this thought and drawn to abide in Christ. He is great within you. He will not fail. This is our song of greatness.