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An Advent Song that Catches God’s Attention

 

The Holy Family, by Julie Lonneman

Written by Jim Heuving. You can scroll to the end of this article to read Mary’s Magnificat in its entirety, or click here to read Luke 1:46-55 on biblegateway.com

“My soul glorifies the Lord
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
   of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
   for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.”
Luke 1:46-49

God turned his attention on his servant Mary’s humble state and did something great! 

What is it about Mary’s “humble state” that catches God’s attention? It is amazing, isn’t it, that she was chosen among all the women of the world to be the one to bear the Son of God? I have often, as a kid and as an adult, wondered what made Mary so special that God would be mindful of her and show her favour. 

This advent series has granted me the opportunity to explore that intriguing question. 

What stood out about Mary? Her song tells us what. Although God calls her to something unique and special, Mary’s song reveals to us what catches God’s attention and thus inspires us to also catch his attention. Here is what I believe she is saying: God’s eyes turn toward those who call out in prayer to him because they cannot find justice to address their suffering or the suffering they see.  

Follow me for a bit, as I do a little bit of Bible detective work.

It turns out that the Greek word, tapeinosis, is behind the English phrase “humble state.” It offers an important clue as to why Mary caught God’s attention. Stick with me for a couple of sentences. The word pops up three times in the New Testament. It is used 30 times in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. Still with me? Good, because here is the best part: it is the word connected to other major and memorable Old Testament characters who also caught God’s attention just as Mary did. Let me list a few examples.

Hagar’s suffering catches God’s attention and she names her son Ismael because God  heard her misery [humble state] (Genesis 16).
Jacob, who had to work 14 years for his two wives, says to his over-demanding father-in-law, “God has seen my suffering [humble state]” and is dealing with you (Genesis 31).
Joseph, the slave who became ruler, names his son Ephriaim because, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering [humble state]” (Genesis 41).
Moses reminds Israel of their defining story, “The Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression [humble state] and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand” (Deuteronomy 26).
James, a heavyweight disciple of Jesus, commends to the church the character of their life, “Believers in humble circumstances [humble state] ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation [humble state]” (James 1:9-10).
King David, the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, Queen Esther, the leaders Ezra and Nehemiah, and a number of the Psalmists, also, catch God’s attention because of their “humble state”. 

This one thing is clear: God’s eyes turn toward the humble who cry out to him for justice. They are people who deeply know the world isn’t as it should be. A proverb sums this up wryly, “Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed than to share plunder with the proud” (Proverbs 16:19). Isn’t this what Jesus teaches more directly in the beatitudes—that famous Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the poor, the mourning, the meek, those who hunger for justice, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those persecuted for justice” (Matthew 5)?

Back to Mary—the blessed one. Thanks for hanging in there!

Mary was a young woman acutely aware of suffering around her and, like her famous predecessors, cried out to God for justice because she knew it could not be found anywhere else. We don’t have a record of that personal prayer but her song assumes it. She responds gloriously to God’s amazing answer because her son, Jesus, is not just an answer to her prayers but to the prayers of all who ask God to make our world right. The beautiful and genuine faith of this one young girl of no worldly significance catches God’s attention and she becomes the mother of Jesus who is today redeeming our world. 

This offers an explanation of why I value Food for the Hungry’s (FH) work. 

It is grounded in Jesus’ work to make all things new. We are inspired by Jesus’ first preaching passage, a prophecy in the Old Testament book of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Luke 4:18-19). We believe Jesus is continuing to fulfill this in our own days. FH comes alongside communities in “humble states” to share in their struggle, join them to call upon God for help, and come alongside through relationship and resources to help our fellow sojourners thrive. This faith and this activity catches God’s attention. Together, trusting in God’s mighty hand, we expect and see great things. 

Have you ever made the connection between Mary the mother of Jesus and Eve the mother of all the living?

Mary Consoles Eve, Sr. Grace Remington Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey
The art piece, Mary Consoles Eve, graphically highlights the connection. Eve is the mother who grieves how she and her children made a mess of God’s good world. Mary is the mother who rejoices that God is going to make things good again. Mary’s song celebrates God’s promise to Eve that her offspring would one day end the enmity that seeks to ruin our world. This is what Mary is saying when she concludes her song, “He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”

Mary’s Magnificat is the jubilant song of great reversals—of God’s mighty hand that is more than able to reverse creational struggle to creational thriving. What fell upside down in the days of Eve is righted up by new life in Mary. By choosing Mary—one of us—God became one of us. As one of us, Jesus, who also cries out to God for justice to deliver him (Matthew 27:46, Psalm 22), and with God’s resurrection answer, now leads the revolution against the powers of the world that seek to undo us. A profoundly new, never-happened-before reality has altered cosmic realities—a saviour has been born who extends, as Mary declares, mercy to those who follow him and confuses the minds of those who refuse him. Even today, she claims, he lifts up those who are made to sit low (humbled) and lowers those who sit high (proud). He fills the hungry and empties the full. 

The chorus of angels at Jesus’ birth saw it all coming and sang what is to be, “Peace on earth and good will to all.”

Mary’s song is rightly named the Magnificat because she praises God for his mighty deeds done through her. She is declaring that God can do mighty things through you as you lean into God to make good what you can’t.

If you are one oppressed and unjustly treated, cry out to him for help. Mary’s song testifies that God will hear you. You will catch God’s attention. 

If you become aware of another’s suffering, ask yourself, is God calling me to act with hopeful prayers and actions on behalf of my fellow brothers and sisters? 

If you are not in the same lowly situation as Mary, let me ask you, what catches your attention in the world? Is it the same thing that catches God’s attention? Are you willing, as James commends, to lower yourself for the sake of others? 

This Christmas, as we celebrate the one “who made himself nothing, by taking the very nature of a servant, and being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:7), let us also rejoice that Jesus, the humble servant, is the mighty saviour who comes alongside the oppressed. And let us consider how we can go and do likewise. 


Luke 1:46-55 (NIV)

46 And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49     for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”


About the Author:


Jim Heuving is FH Canada's National Church Engagement Lead. He and his wife Monica live in Langley, BC with one son, Iain, in Grade 10 and another son, Eric, studying close by at Trinity Western University. Jim pastored for 30 good years and enjoys paddling and racing outrigger canoes and stand up boards where there is lots of water and a long horizon.

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Food for the Hungry: An Advent Song that Catches God’s Attention
An Advent Song that Catches God’s Attention
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Food for the Hungry
https://blog.fhcanada.org/2021/12/an-advent-song-that-catches-gods.html
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