Jesus The Revolutionary: Mary's Song
Luke 1:48-55When the history of the 20th century is finally written, it may well be that the last forty years will be called the Age of Revolution. First we had the cultural revolution, then we had the sexual revolution, which was followed by the technological revolution. In the last few years we have had a political revolution.
Consider the amazing events of 1991. Just 12 months ago the eyes of the world were focused on the Persian Gulf. There was talk in the air about World War III, Armageddon and the end of the world. We all wondered what would happen in Kuwait and Iraq when the “Mother of All Battles” broke out. Then, just like that, it was over, and Saddam Hussein was reduced to the status of tinhorn dictator, a howling dog whose bark proved to be much worse than his bite.
As 1991 comes to an end, all eyes have shifted to the Soviet Union. Who could have believed the amazing things that have happened there in the last few months? If someone had predicted last December that the Communist Party would be outlawed in Russia, he would have been laughed off the stage. But that’s exactly what happened in the aftermath of the abortive coup in August. Communism is out, Gorbachev is on his way out, Yeltsin is in, independence is in, and the new commonwealth is in.
Did you notice what Mr. Gorbachev said this week? When details of the new treaty were announced, he said, “My life’s work is finished. There is nothing left for me to do.” It’s true, his work is finished. History has already passed him by. But the events of the last few days have surprised everyone.
With the new commonwealth, the old USSR has effectively ceased to exist. No one knows what to call the new arrangement, but everyone knows the old way is gone forever. Who could have predicted such a thing even three weeks ago.
“I Don’t Know What Country I’m From”
Sometimes we forget what these stunning changes mean on a personal level. Last Friday Marlene and I attended the International Friends Christmas Party at the Keuer’s house. I found out later that over 100 people were there, including international students from China, Korea, Japan, Germany, Great Britain, Sweden and Russia. When we came in, we were asked to fill out a name tag with our name and country of origin. During the evening I met Lena from Moscow, whose husband is a Ph.D. student at UIC. They came to America just two months ago. When I asked her what she thought about the changes in her country, she said, “I think they are wonderful.” But then she looked at her name tag and said, “I know my name, but I don’t know what country I’m from anymore.”
Meanwhile, a man named Erich Honecker is holed up inside the Chilean Embassy in Moscow. For many years he led East Germany, but once the Berlin Wall fell, his job ceased to exist. Mr. Gorbachev allowed him to come to Russia to escape prosecution for crimes against the people of Germany. Now that Boris Yeltsin is in power, he has nowhere to go. Refused asylum by Russia and then by Chile, he has been given until tomorrow morning to get off Russian soil. He can’t go home because if he does he’ll be arrested the moment he steps off the plane. When he was the leader of East Germany, he gave standing orders to shoot anyone who tried to escape to the West. Now he himself is a fugitive from justice. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
The Age Of AIDS
We do live in revolutionary times. Before our very eyes the old order has collapsed and in its place a new world order is taking shape. In the last two years communism has cracked and broken apart. Where in the world can you go to find a true communist anymore? To Cuba perhaps, or possibly to North Korea. But even in those two countries the winds of change are blowing.
Did you notice what Newsweek magazine said this week about the AIDS crisis? It said the 60s and 70s were the Age of Aquarius. But now the Age of Aquarius has given way to the Age of AIDS. Optimism has been replaced by pessimism, and confidence with fear, and young people who used to be excited about the future are now filled with uncertainty. The world is revolving on its moral axis, and we’ve been given box seats to watch the moral, spiritual and cultural revolution going on all around us.
It Started In A Stable
A stable would seem to be an unlikely place from which to begin a world-shaking revolution. But that’s where it all started—in a stable outside a forgotten village called Bethlehem. The inn was full because weary travelers were making their way back home to register for the census. No one took a second look at the young couple who appeared briefly at the door. The young man had an anguished look on his face, the woman was obviously very pregnant. There had been a brief discussion, a strong plea from the exhausted father, but the innkeeper simply shook his head and turned away. He wasn’t a hard man, or a harsh man, or an evil man. He was simply telling the truth. His inn was full that night.
It had been a long time since anything important had happened in Bethlehem—almost 1000 years in fact. That’s how long it had been since David had been born there. Since then more than 30 generations had come and gone, and Bethlehem had become nothing more than another quiet little village in Judea.
Out behind the inn was a stable—really just an enclosure, a little cave dug out of the hillside. That’s where Mary and Joseph went after the innkeeper turned them away. When Jesus was born, they put him in a feeding-trough meant for cattle or sheep. No doubt Mary had to brush away the dirt and the leftover grain before she laid Jesus there. It wasn’t a very comfortable place for a newborn baby to rest. Mary wrapped her young son in rough strips of cloth to keep him warm against the chill of the cold mid-winter’s night. The traditional term is “swaddling-clothes.”
Thus did Jesus come into the world—born in a forgotten village, to two teenaged parents, laid in a feeding-trough, unnoticed by the sleeping world. No, you wouldn’t expect a revolution to start here. And if you were planning a grand entrance, this isn’t the way you would do it. But that’s the way it happened. The greatest revolution in history started in a stable. And Christmas is about the birth of the greatest revolutionary of all time—Jesus Christ.
Our story this morning isn’t really about Bethlehem. It ends there, but it starts about nine months earlier, when Mary realizes that she is pregnant. Our focus is on Mary, herself, in those very early days when she first realizes that she has been chosen by God to give birth to the Messiah.
We pick up the story in Luke 1 when she goes to visit Elizabeth, who was herself pregnant with John the Baptist. When Elizabeth saw Mary, she greeted her with those famous words, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” (Luke 1:42) When Mary heard those confirming words, she broke out into song. The words of her song are recorded in Luke 1:46-55.
The song itself has traditionally been called “the Magnificat,” from the first word of the Latin version. As such, it holds a very important place in church history. For 2,000 years it has been sung by Christians all over the world. Unfortunately we in the evangelical world don’t know much about it, but in other branches of the Christian movement, the Magnificat is a very important part of Christian worship. In some places they sing this song every single Sunday.
Did Mary Really Say These Words?
Before we look at the song in detail, one observation is helpful: Mary’s song is steeped in the Old Testament. As you read it, it sounds like one of the psalms of David. When Mary says, “His mercy extends to those who fear him,” that sounds a lot like Psalm 103. There is also a strong resemblance to the song of Hannah in I Samuel 2—a fact that should not surprise us since Hannah’s song was occasioned by the birth of her son Samuel.
As a side note, I should mention that some critical scholars have questioned whether a teenager—particularly a peasant girl like Mary—could truly compose a song so beautiful as the Magnificat. Without the slightest evidence for their position, they suggest that the early church composed these words and inserted them into the text of Luke. Such a suggestion carries its own refutation. Why should it be thought unusual that a bright, intelligent girl, who was raised in a godly home (and who learned the Scriptures from the very day of her birth), should compose a song like this? People who doubt that Mary truly said these words reveal more about themselves than they do about Mary.
So, then, when you read the Magnificat, you are reading the words of the Old Testament through the eyes of a young girl who has been chosen by God to bring the Messiah into the world.
Don’t Read This In Public
One other point deserves mention. Besides being the very first Christmas carol, besides being the very words of Mary, besides being steeped in the Old Testament, the Magnificat is one of the most revolutionary documents ever written. Dr. E. Stanley Jones, the great Methodist scholar, author and evangelist, said that the Magnificat was “the most revolutionary document in the history of the world.” That’s quite a statement to make, isn’t it? But consider this. Years before Dr. Jones made that statement, William Temple, the Archbishop of Canterbury, instructed his missionaries to India never to read the Magnificat in public when unbelievers were present. Why? Because in a country like India with all its poverty, this portion of Scripture, if taken out of context, would cause nothing but trouble.
Understanding The Structure
Our first step in understanding this song is to grasp its various parts. Like most songs, the Magnificat may be easily divided into stanzas. When you look at it closely, you can see that it basically has two stanzas—Stanza one comprising verses 46-50 and stanza two consisting of verses 51-55. We may further divide it by observing that in stanza one, Mary is reflecting on what it means to her to be chosen to bear the Messiah. She is praising God for his great mercy to her personally. Her words are personal and her point of view is turned inward. In stanza two, Mary seems to fade from view; she is praising God for the effects the coming of Christ will have on the world. Her point of view is outward and her words are global in their scope. Finally, we can observe the two stanzas by noting that each one ends with a reference to God’s mercy (vv. 50 & 54).
If God Had Wanted Wealth
With that as background, we turn to stanza one. In verses 46-48 Mary praises God because he has chosen her to bear the Messiah, despite her lowly estate. Verse 48 is the key: “For he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.” The word “humble” refers to her age, her background, her economic condition, her lack of social standing. In short, Mary is astounded that God would choose her of all people to bear the Messiah. “Why me, O Lord, when you could have had one of the rich girls from Jerusalem?” She’s just a poor Jewish girl—one among thousands. In all of Israel there was no one less likely. Mary is overwhelmed by the thought that she has been chosen by God.
—If God had wanted wealth for his Son, he could have arranged it.
—If God had wanted power for his Son, it would have been done.
—If God had wanted Jesus to be born in the lap of luxury, he had only to say the word.
—If God had wanted Jesus to be born in the upper class, he had hundreds of homes to choose from.
—If God had wanted education, or elite schooling, or the proper social connections, or any of the other things men usually associate with success, it would have been done.
God didn’t have to do it that way! That’s the wonder of Christmas.
It is a statement about the sovereign grace of God. Mary is really saying, “Lord, there was no reason for you to choose me.” It was a choice made in pure grace. There was nothing about Mary that recommended her to God. Yes, she was obviously godly, but so were many other girls her age. Mary is saying, “I know you chose me because of your mercy. You didn’t choose me because of my education, or my background, or because of my parents, or because of my high standing in society.” Mary is praising God because he chose her despite all the things that made the world overlook her.
He chose a poor peasant girl when he could have had any girl he wanted to be the mother of the Messiah. That’s what Mary can’t get over. If it had fallen to her by lot, she would be grateful but the honor would not be the same. But it didn’t happen by chance or circumstance. Mary was not the last choice after everyone else said “no.” Mary was God’s first choice. No, stronger than that. Mary was God’s only choice.
And isn’t that just like God to choose the most unlikely girl for the greatest privilege any woman would ever know? No wonder Mary says, “From now on all generations will call me blessed.” She didn’t know how true that statement was. After 2000 years we are still talking about Mary. Outside of Elizabeth, can you name even one other mother who lived in Israel in Mary’s day? The rest are all forgotten, but Mary is remembered forever.
That’s the first stanza of the Magnificat.
He Turned The World Upside Down
In the second stanza the focus shifts away from Mary to the world around her. As God has done great things by choosing such an unlikely person, he will now do great things in unlikely ways. As you read verses 51-55, you not only notice a change in focus, but you also notice a change in tenses. When Mary talks about herself, she uses the present tense; but when she talks about the world, she uses the past tense—"He has performed, He has scattered, He has brought down, he has filled.”
What’s going on here? When she says “He,” Mary is talking about Jesus Christ. When she says “has,” she is talking about what Christ will do. But at this point, the Lord Jesus is still growing inside her body. How can she speak in the past about what Christ will do in the future? The answer is that Mary is using what the grammarians call the “prophetic aorist.” Sometimes the prophets would look into the future and be so certain of what they saw that they would use the past tense to describe what was for them an absolutely certain future event. She is so utterly convinced about what her Son, the Lord Jesus, will do when he comes, that she speaks of it as if it had already happened. In time, it is yet future; in Mary’s mind, it is an accomplished fact because God has willed it to happen.
In verses 51-53, Mary describes three revolutionary changes that will happen on earth because of the birth of Jesus Christ:
1. His Birth Will Bring About a Moral Revolution.
“He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.” (51) The coming of Christ means the end of all human boasting. It’s the end of vanity and outrageous ambition. His coming means an end to insatiable greed and uncontrolled lust for power. The mighty are brought down by the strong arm of the Lord.
So it has happened across the centuries. Proud and daring men lift their heads to challenge the Almighty, but he swats them down like flies. What happened to Saddam Hussein? What happened to Erich Honecker? What about Idi Amin? What about Vladimir Lenin? When was the last time you thought about Juan Peron? Or Pinochet? Or Ho Chi Minh? Or Mao Tse Tung? They come, they rise to power, and sooner or later, they disappear.
In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “The arm of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
The coming of Jesus Christ means that God has set a moral revolution at work in the world, a revolution in which the workers of iniquity are eventually brought to justice. Write beside this verse “Tower of Babel.” That story tells us how God works. He lets the proud gather together and in their grandiose schemes, they plan to rise up to heaven. God watches for awhile, he waits, he seems even to ignore, and in their temporary success they congratulate each other on their cleverness. But God scatters the proud, and he does so suddenly.
Where is Donald Trump? Where is Ivan Boesky? Where is Robert Maxwell? One man is broke, the other is a convicted criminal, the other is dead.
Proud men expect to carry all with them. But God crosses them up. He breaks their bows. He blasts their projects. He brings them low. And he does it by the very counsels with which they thought to advance themselves.
2. His Birth Will Bring About a Social Revolution.
“He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.” (52) Some of you may have seen a movie last year called “Reversal of Fortune.” That’s what Mary is talking about here: The coming of Christ brings about a great reversal of fortune in society. The proud are brought low and the humble are lifted up.
What men call luck, Mary calls the work of God. When someone loses it all, we talk about bad luck. When someone hits the jackpot, we say he had good luck. Not Mary. She understands that behind the faceless mys-tery called luck stands God himself. He lifts up, and no one can bring down. He brings down, and no one can lift up again.
As John Calvin says, the princes of the world don’t understand this. They grow insolent, fat and lazy and greedy. They indulge in luxury, swell with pride and grow intoxicated with power. They soon forget that all they have comes from God. And to quote Calvin exactly, “If the Lord cannot tolerate such ingratitude, we should not be surprised.”
But go one step farther. No one lives forever—not the just nor the unjust. Sam Walton will someday die, along with George Bush and Madonna and Billy Graham. No king reigns forever. Just ask Elvis. If we lived forever, we would all soon forget God. But the Bible says, “It is appointed unto man once to die, and after that the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27)
But by raising the lowly to power, God triumphs over the world. Mr. Gorbachev, please say hello to Boris Yeltsin. Treat him nicely. He’s your new boss. That’s the way God works.
Make sure you get the lesson: The ups and downs of history are really the hand of God at work. One man rules, then another, then another replaces him. And behind the seemingly impersonal flow of history is the very personal hand of God—suddenly pulling down a proud man (or nation) and replacing him with someone else. Those movements which seem to upset society are all regulated by God with unerring justice.
1. The mighty think they are secure.
2. The poor despair of their fate.
3. God delights to reverse their fortunes.
Magic Johnson Speaks Out
Did you the watch the interview that Magic Johnson had with Connie Chung the other night? He’s singing a different tune now. You remember that when he was first diagnosed as having the AIDS virus, he said he was going to be a spokesman for safe sex. And then he went on the Arsenio Hall show and made jokes and got the crowd laughing. He basically said that as long as you use a condom, you’ll be okay. At the time I told you that I thought that was an essentially immoral comment—and I stand by that judgment.
But now the truth has begun to sink in. He said that he now knows that what he did was wrong. He even said that he knows it was wrong in the eyes of God.
Magic Johnson certainly qualifies as a man who was on top of the world a month ago. He would be one of the “rulers” Mary was talking about. As one who has enjoyed watching him play basketball over the years, I take no joy in saying that God has brought him down from his throne. Suddenly—just that fast—his career is over and his life is threatened. Now he’s singing a different tune. Now reality has set in. Now at last—and at a terrible price—Magic Johnson is learning the way of wisdom.
In the interview he said, “I was wrong. I lived a bachelor’s life and I slept with a lot of women. I now know that was wrong.” He even said, “In the eyes of God I know it was wrong. I now know that abstinence is the only way to go.”
God doesn’t pull the mighty from their thrones just to punish them. He also does it in order to teach them the truth they couldn’t learn any other way. I should only add that our thoughts and prayers are with Magic Johnson—not only for his recovery—but that he would continue to grow in his knowledge of the truth and that he would use his enormous platform to call the young people of America back to abstinence, chastity, purity, and ultimately back to God.
3. The Birth of Christ Brings an Economic Revolution.
“He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” (53) This is the most revolutionary part of Mary’s song. Not only does the coming of Christ upset the proud of this world, not only does it lift up the humble, but it actually means that the hungry are fed and the rich go away empty.
Do you know what this means? It means that in Jesus Christ there is no such thing as a “common man” or a “common woman.” Sometimes we use those terms derisively to refer to the working men and women, to the blue collar people who drive the trucks and deliver the produce. We contrast the “common man” with the “upper class” and we all like to feel we’re a little bit better than being just a “working man” or a “working woman.” After all, it’s part of human nature to look down your nose just a little bit at people who have less than you do.
But in Jesus Christ there is no such thing as a common man. God doesn’t know any “common” men or any “common” women. How dare you call anyone common for whom Christ died.
The Poor Are Usually The First To Believe
Let me explain the practical meaning of this moral, social and economic revolution which the coming of Christ brings about. Throughout history whenever the gospel has gone into a society, it has usually entered at a lower socioeconomic level. It’s a rare thing for the rich to be the first to embrace the gospel. Poor folks usually make up the first church in any culture. Why? Because the poor have nothing in which to trust, so when they hear the gospel they embrace it as truly good news. But the rich don’t see their need of Christ, so they ignore the gospel.
It’s not usually the rich who listen. It’s usually the poor, the lowly, the widowed, the forgotten and the dispossessed who are first willing to listen to the gospel. Do you remember what John the Baptist did when he was thrown into prison? He had heard about Jesus and his miracles and wondered if Christ was indeed the promised Messiah. So he sent his disciples to Christ with one simple question: “Are you the One we are waiting for, or should we look for another?” Christ answered with these words: “Go back and tell John what you have seen. The sick are healed, the deaf hear, the blind receive their sight, the dead are raised, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” At first glance, that last phrase may seem out of place. But not to Jesus. There were many miracles that proved his Messiahship—among them the miracle that the poor were hearing and responding to the gospel message.
That is the genius of the Christian faith—that it goes out first to the poor of the world. First to the hungry, first to the hurting, first to the needy, first to the homeless, first to the forgotten classes of mankind.
The Gospel Makes Better People
Better People Make A Better World
Here’s an additional fact you may not know. Whenever the gospel has entered a society and made an impact on a significant group of people, it has always had the effect of lifting those people up economically. Whenever the gospel goes in to the poor, it raises that group up in society. That happened in England. That happened in Brazil. That is happening in Africa and Latin America. It’s happening in India and Indonesia. It’s happening right now all over the world. The young people who traveled with Bob and me two years ago saw it happening in Haiti.
How does it happen? Here’s a husband who’s been an adulterer, sleeping around with every woman he can find. When he comes to Jesus Christ, his whole life is redirected. Here’s a woman who has abused alcohol for 35 years. When she comes to Christ, her whole life is changed and she learns how to get sober and stay sober. Here’s a man who hasn’t done a lick of work in years. He’s lived off welfare and the handouts of his friends for a long, long time. But when he comes to Christ, he gets a new purpose in life. And that new purpose gives him a new desire. And out of that new desire, he gets a good job. And he keeps it. And in the process becomes a productive citizen.
So it is that the gospel makes better people and better people make a better world. The gospel not only works an inner transformation; it also works an outward transformation that literally changes the way people think and talk and act. And in the process it produces the qualities that tend toward economic progress.
What America Owes The Gospel
Let me say it plainly. There is an economic implication to the gospel. When gospel principles are followed, the hungry are filled and the rich are sent away hungry. Our problem here in Oak Park is that we’ve got so much money, so much wealth and so much worldly prosperity that we’ve forgotten why Jesus came in the first place.
Do you understand that, in a large part, what we have in America today has come about because of our Christian heritage? It is the spillover from the Puritans and others who taught gospel principles of hard work, thrift, saving and investment. It is the residue of an educational system that taught children to read by using the stories from the Bible—and not the lurid tales of the Impressions curriculum. It is the result of generations of believers who founded hospitals, sanitariums, libraries, colleges and universities. In large part, the liberties we enjoy and the economic standing that is ours have come about because of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Atheism, agnosticism and humanism could never produce what we have today. If you want to see what they produce, take a look at the crumbling Soviet Union.
The gospel is the only hope for mankind—not only for his soul but also for his body, not only for the church but also for the world, not only for the individual but also for society. When the gospel makes headway in society, there you will find peace, harmony, tranquility and (ultimately) prosperity.
Jesus Was Born In Austin, Not In Oak Park
Seen in that light, what Mary is saying is really quite revolutionary. We’ve tended to privatize the gospel so much that we don’t see this truth. We talk about “asking Jesus into your heart” but we never talk about “asking Jesus into your boardroom.” We want to have Jesus and still spend what we want, wear what we want, do what we want. And we’d rather not have to worry about the poor at all.
But if the Bible teaches anything—and if the story of Christmas means anything—it is that God is on the side of the poor. He’s not the God of the rich; he’s the God of the poor. He’s on their side because nobody else is. He takes up their cause because no one else will. He fights their battles because nobody else will fight for them. He lavishes special attention on them because the rest of the world neglects them.
The same is true for the hungry, the hurting, the homeless, the discouraged, the depressed, the handicapped and the lonely. God is on their side too, because if he doesn’t stick up for them, who will?
Mary’s heart is filled with praise, because she knows the world will be a different place because Christ has come. He will pull down the proud. He will lift up the humble. He will fill the hungry. And the rich will be sent away empty. This is the ultimate reversal of fortune.
He Remembered To Be Merciful
Verses 54-55 bring us to the end of Mary’s song. She concludes by praising God that in sending Jesus Christ into the world, God is keeping his ancient promises to Abraham. There is a wonderful phrase in verse 54: “He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful.” That’s a wonderful way to put it. God remembered to be merciful. Aren’t you glad at Christmastime that God remembered to send his Son? What would we do if God had forgotten? Where would we be if Jesus had not come?
Then Mary mentions Abraham, and that takes us back 2000 years before Christ. Something like 70 generations had come and gone between Abraham and Mary. They all lived in prospect of the promise of Christmas. That’s what they were looking for, even though they never heard that word. Now after all these years, Mary is seeing the fulfillment of what her ancestors only dreamed about. Her heart is so full that she cannot contain herself: “You did it, Lord. You kept your promise. It’s been 2,000 years but you remembered mercy.”
This is a great song, isn’t it? The pity is that we evangelicals pass right over it without considering what it really means. Let me share the words of William Barclay as he sums up the deeper meaning of the Magnificat.
There is loveliness in the Magnificat, but in that loveliness there is dynamite. Christianity begets a revolution in each man and revolution in the world.
What’s the overall message of the Magnificat? If you put the two stanzas together, it comes out like this: God works in the same way all the time. When Mary was praising God that he chose her in spite of her lowly status, she was showing the pattern that God always follows. He shows mercy to those who don’t deserve it, he chooses the lowly over the proud, he finds the hungry and fills them, and the rich of the world are sent away empty. He always keeps his promises even though it means reversing the false values of human society. These two stanzas are really saying the same thing, only from different perspectives. Mary is Exhibit A of the way God works. She is the symbol of what the second stanza is talking about.
When God sent his Son, he deliberately took the side of the forgotten people of the world. He still does the same thing today. If we were going to plan the birth of Jesus, we wouldn’t do it that way. We’d get on the phone, call CNN and plan a big press conference. We’d say, “Meet us at 931 Lake Street because we’ve got a big event about to take place. Make sure you get the cameras there because you don’t want to miss it.” We get Connie Chung and Dan Rather and Charles Jaco and Wolf Blitzer and Diane Sawyer and all the rest. Plus we’d arrange for a ticker-tape parade with a big brass band leading the way. We’d call Paul Harvey to make sure he got it on his newscast.
We’d have Jesus arriving in a chariot. After all, that’s the least you’d expect for the Son of God. That’s how he’s supposed to come. First class. Pull out all the stops. Red carpet treatment. Spare no expense. Lots of money. Lots of show. Lots of glitter.
That’s not the way God does business.
When God wanted to send his Son into the world, he picked the most unlikely girl he could find to be the mother. He picked a forgotten province in the Roman Empire. He arranged so that his Son would become a part of the hated Jewish race. Then he found the most unlikely hometown and arranged for his Son to be born in a stable and take his first nap in a feeding-trough.
Jesus was born that way in order to send us a message about how God does business. Mary’s song teaches us that this is how God always does business. He doesn’t do business with the proud. He doesn’t run with the rulers of the world. He doesn’t side with the rich. God is at home with the humble, the tired, the weak, and the lowly of this world. He does business with those who fear his name.
Let me say it again so we cannot miss it: The message of the Magnificat is that God is always on the side of the lowly. He’s always on the side of the hurting. He’s always on the side of the handicapped, the deaf, the blind, the lame, the feeble. God is on the side of those who can’t take care of themselves.
If Christmas teaches us anything, it is that God doesn’t come to the aid of the self-sufficient. He lets them flounder all by themselves. He doesn’t come to the people who think they’ve got it made.
That’s why if Jesus were going to be born today, he wouldn’t be born in Oak Park. He’d be born a few miles east of here—in some crack house in Austin.
And that’s what Mary was praising God for—He always does the unexpected. And he moves against the false, humanistic values of this world. When God gets ready to move, he surprises everybody.
In short, Mary is praising God that when Jesus comes he’s going to start a revolution of love and reconciliation and forgiveness that will eventually spread to the ends of the earth. The revolution he starts will be greater than anything the world has ever seen.
And the revolution started in a stable in Bethlehem—the most unlikely place of all.
What started 2,000 years ago is still going on today. 1991 has been an amazing year, hasn’t it? We’ve seen some shocking things happen all around us. I think even the most hardened observer would concede that these are truly revolutionary times.
But the greatest revolution is not one you’ll read about on ABC or CBS or NBC. The greatest revolution—the one that is making the biggest impact in 1991—is the one that started in Bethlehem.
Let me wrap this up with three concluding statements:
1. The Birth of Jesus Marks the Beginning of the Greatest Revolution in Human History.
What God began in Bethlehem is far greater in impact than any other revolution in history. Far greater than the English Revolution. Far greater than the French Revolution. Far greater than the American Revolution. Much greater than the Russian Revolution. All those movements were started by man for purely political reasons. What God started in Bethlehem was a spiritual and moral and economic revolutions whose effects are still being felt today. Nothing in all history can match what God did when he sent his Son to the earth.
Do you know what Christmas really is? Christmas is the anniversary of the revolution. Do you know what you are doing when you set up a manger scene on a table in your living room? You’re setting up a revolutionary symbol.
Every time you sing a Christmas carol, you are singing a revolutionary anthem. Every time you send out a Christmas card—if it makes any reference to Jesus at all—you are sending out revolutionary literature.
And that is why the secular humanists don’t want Christmas in the public schools. They understand the implications of Christmas better than we do. When you celebrate Christmas, you are turning the secular values of the world upside down—just like Mary talked about in the Magnificat.
And the oddity of it all is that the secularists understand this truth better than we do. Far too many of us think of Christmas as just another religious holiday. But the humanists know that Christmas means that God has invaded this planet! They know that, and that’s why they want every trace of Christmas removed from the public school system. In many ways they see the truth of Christmas better than we do.
To us Christmas is a warm and fuzzy time of the year. But there was nothing warm and fuzzy about the first Christmas, because there is nothing warm and fuzzy about the beginning of a revolution. It’s bayonets and bugles and the call to arms.
2. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is Therefore the Greatest and Most Revolutionary Message the World Has Ever Known.
Through the gospel of Jesus Christ, there is a moral revolution let loose in the world. Men who are outcasts are suddenly made welcome. Races of people that cannot get along suddenly become friends. The hungry are fed, the sick are healed, the lonely are encouraged, the lepers are cleansed, and hurting people are helped. All of that and much more comes through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Again, our problem is that we’ve heard this so often that the gospel has lost its power to move us. We say “Ho-Hum” and go on wrapping presents. But the people out there—outside these sacred walls—the people out there intuitively realize the power of the gospel, even if they can’t articulate it completely.
3. That Means That Jesus Christ Himself is the Greatest Revolutionary of All Time.
All the great human leaders pale before his record. Name them all—Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Charlemagne, Napoleon, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln—who among them can be compared to Jesus Christ? Which of them would you mention in the same breath with his name? Or put them all together and their impact on this world is less than the impact of the Man from Bethlehem.
One Solitary Life
Many years ago someone wrote a very famous essay about the impact of Jesus’ life. It goes like this:
Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked in a carpenter shop until he was thirty, and then for three years he was an itinerant preacher. He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put his foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but himself.
While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied him. He was turned over to his enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. While he was dying, his executers gambled for the only piece of property he had on earth—his coat. When he was dead, he was taken down and laid in a borrowed tomb, through the pity of a friend.
Nineteen long centuries have come and gone and today he is the centerpiece of the human race and the leader of the column of progress. I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever were built; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life. (Evidence That Demands a Verdict, p. 140)
Come Join The Revolution
It is his birthday that we celebrate at Christmastime—the birth of Jesus the revolutionary.
He came to change the world. Since he came, the world has never been the same. He started a revolution that continues across the centuries to this very day. His followers have continued the revolution in his name.
Outside these doors at Christmastime the battle is raging. Jesus started a war against Satan and his kingdom, a war that goes on all around us day and night, a war in which men and women are the spoils of battle.
This year and every year our Commander in Chief seeks volunteers who will rally to his cause, take up his banner and fight in his name. Today and every day his call is the same: “Come join the revolution and let’s change the world together.
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The Songs of Christmas
» SEE SERMONS IN THIS SERIES
Behind The Scenes At Christmastime: Zechariah's Song Luke 1:67-80
The Impossible Dream: The Angels' Song Luke 2:14
Jesus The Revolutionary: Mary's Song Luke 1:48-55
The Cradle And The Cross: Simeon's Song Luke 2:25-35» Index for this sermon series