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The beautiful Christmas story should become more familiar and dear to us as the years go by. But we must not let this familiarity blunt the force of the story. The mere fact of the Lord’s advent should never cease to startle and amaze us. Though the world grows weary of its own Christ-less celebrations, we should be increasing and “growing fat” in our joy and wonder at the marvel of God’s fulfilled promises in His Christ.

John the Baptist leapt for joy in his mother’s womb when he heard Mary’s voice. So ought we to leap for joy as we listen to her song in Luke 1. She has much to teach us about exaltation and humility. She was and is exalted, but she was humbled first, for she had her own cross to bear. But throughout her Son’s life, God sent Mary messages of help, comfort, and confirmation through His servants. Thus, Mary’s story teaches us not only humble obedience and faith, but also God’s kindness and faithfulness to His people. He never left her or forsook her, but led her gently through to the end.

One of the predominant themes of Scripture is God’s exaltation of the humble. Consider Mary’s words in her Magnificat: “ ‘He has regarded the lowly estate of His maidservant’ ” (Luke 1:48); “ ‘He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts’ ” (v. 51); “ ‘He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly’ ” (v. 52); “ ‘He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty’ ” (v. 53).

Mary identified herself as a lowly maid-servant. She was not the daughter of a wealthy landowner. But she was, as the angel said, the “ ‘highly favored one’ ” and blessed among women (Luke 1:28), for the Lord was with her. She received the highest commendation a young woman can receive: “ ‘You have found favor with God’ ” (v. 30). God was pleased with her and bestowed His favor upon her.

Mary’s response was crucial. She magnified the Lord, rejoiced in her Savior, and submitted to His authority and power over her. “ ‘Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word’ ” (Luke 1:38). She could not have understood all that was in store for her. But she responded in faith and obedience. This is humility: believing God’s Word and submitting to it even if we do not understand all that it means. She did not respond with excitement or praise for herself. She bent her knee to the sovereign will of God, whatever those plans might be, and whatever they might cost her.

Imagine the stir Mary’s pregnancy probably caused. Even Joseph “was minded to put her away secretly” (Matt. 1:19) because he did not want to cause her public shame. Scripture is silent on her troubles during this time, but the situation must have been difficult. How did her parents take the news? What of her friends and neighbors? No wonder she went “with haste” (Luke 1:39) to visit Elizabeth! And what a confirmation and comfort it must have been to have Elizabeth greet her with words of faith: “ ‘Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord’ ” (Luke 1:45). By having His angel announce Elizabeth’s news to Mary, God gave Mary a way to visibly test the angel’s words. Thus, God provided comfort for her in the midst of her trouble, a clear reminder of His faithfulness to all His promises.

Mary’s story teaches us not only humble obedience and faith, but also God’s kindness and faithfulness to His people.

The next test for Mary was the birth itself. I have often wondered what we would think if someone in our church had a birth story like Mary’s. We would all be mortified! Yet God chose to bring His Son into the world in a humble, unpretentious manner. God exalts the humble; this is His way. And it is emphatically not the way we would do it, were we in charge.

But God didn’t leave Mary wondering at the stable, either. He sent shepherds to confirm again to her that He was still fulfilling His promises in His way. The shepherds spread “the saying which was told them concerning this Child” (Luke 2:17) by the angel of the Lord. And “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). She was remembering God’s faithfulness. She remembered Elizabeth’s word. Now she tucked away the shepherds’ words. All these things would help her through to the end. God showed Mary that she was still “ ‘highly favored’ ”; He sent her comforting words through His servants, messages of His love and reminders of His promises.

When Mary’s days of purification were ended, Jesus was presented to the Lord in Jerusalem. Again, God sent a message to Mary, this time through Simeon: “ ‘Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed’ ” (Luke 2:34–35). I wonder whether this parenthetical comment from Simeon came as the result of a worried look on Mary’s face. These were hard words for any mother to hear. We know that Mary would indeed be pierced as she watched her Son bear the heaviest piercing of all. But God continued to remind her to remember His faithfulness to all generations.

God used the prophetess Anna (in Luke 2:36–38), as well as the Magi, to send other messages of confirmation and comfort to Mary. “And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matt. 2:11).

God sent His angel to warn Joseph in a dream to flee to Egypt, to run away in order to save the life of the young Jesus. Mary must have been comforted to know that God was now sending her messages of help and comfort through her own husband. God was confirming His plan for Jesus, calling the family back when it was safe, and directing them once they returned.

When Jesus was 12, He frightened His parents by staying behind in Jerusalem after they had started home. This time Mary received the message from her Son: “ ‘Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?’ ” (Luke 2:49). And Scripture says, “His mother kept all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51b). The pieces of the puzzle were coming together. She was pondering, remembering all God’s messages to her from the angel of the Lord, Elizabeth, the shepherds, Simeon, Anna, the Magi, and Joseph. God was calling her to continue to trust Him to fulfill His plans. She was still the Lord’s maidservant, recalling all His words to her.

God chose to bring His Son into the world in a humble, unpretentious manner.

In Luke 8:19–21, Jesus reminded His mother of His duties to God. He had begun His ministry. Perhaps she was wavering, wondering what He was doing, questioning whether this was what God intended. He was stirring up so much trouble. She was probably being asked many questions about Him. But He reminded her, “ ‘My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it.’ ” Mary had heard the word of God, and she had done it. Jesus was reminding her to do so more and more.

At the cross, we read of one last message to Mary. As Jesus hung on the cross, Mary’s heart must have been breaking. Was this how it was all to end? But her Son remembered her: “ ‘Woman, behold your son!’ ” (John 19:26). He had not forgotten her or her needs as flesh and blood. He assigned His disciple John to care for His mother. God was faithful to Mary to the end. Though Scripture doesn’t record it, Mary probably saw the risen Lord and all of God’s promises fulfilled.

Mary is not the possession of the Roman Catholic Church. The woman they worship and pray to is not Mary the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ but some idol they unfortunately have named Mary. In much the same way, the holy day we celebrate on December 25 is not at all the same as the one that our culture celebrates. As C.S. Lewis lamented, it is too bad Xmas is on the same day as Christmas. Mary belongs to us. She was a remarkable saint whom we should praise and exalt because God praised and exalted her.

God delights in lifting up the humble and setting down the proud. If there is one thing that Jesus made abundantly clear in His teaching, it was this principle. He said in Matthew 18:4, “ ‘Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’ ” And in Matthew 23:11–12, He said: “ ‘But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’ ”

Mary followed Christ to the end. She was faithful all the way to the cross. She did not desert Him. She bore her burden with humility and grace. She pondered. She was pierced. “ ‘For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name’ ” (Luke 1:48b–49).

“Your Word Is Now Fulfilled”

“Come, Let Us Adore Him”

Keep Reading What Child Is This?

From the December 2002 Issue
Dec 2002 Issue