No Ordinary Event: An Advent Reflection
“And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord.…’”
—Luke 1:46–55 (ESV)
The Christmas story begins in the most unlikely place and with the most unlikely person. In the dusty town of Nazareth, a young Jewish girl is saying her prayers when an angel of the Lord appears to her and announces she’ll give birth to God’s Son. After the angel’s visit, Mary goes to stay with Elizabeth and Zachariah, the parents of John the Baptist. Mary walks in the door and the unborn John the Baptist jumps in his mother’s womb. The text says Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
These were no ordinary mothers, no ordinary pregnancies and no ordinary babies.
Then, Mary responds with one of the most beautiful and joyous hymns in the whole Bible. It is called the Magnificat after the first word in the Latin translation of this section of Scripture. Magnificat means glorifies in Latin. We find Mary’s song of praise in Luke 1:46–55.
The long anticipated arrival of the Messiah is here, and Mary and Elizabeth have front row seats. This news fills them both with great joy! However, in the world’s eyes Mary doesn’t have too much to be singing joyfully about. She is an unwed teenage mother at a time when unwed mothers aren’t treated too well. This is Mary’s earthly circumstance, but in her joyful song of praise Mary turns her gaze heavenward. She isn’t overwhelmed by her outward circumstances; she is overwhelmed with joy—the joy growing in her womb. Because God has chosen her to give birth to Jesus, she’s overwhelmed with the joy of serving her God.
Joy-filled people aren’t people without problems, and they aren’t people who are oblivious to their problems. Joy-filled people don’t walk around with rose-colored glasses or bury their heads in the ground. Joy-filled people understand that happiness can fade and that circumstances don’t always go as planned, but they run to the One who gives true joy. They run and cling tightly to God, no matter what may be going on in their lives. Joy defies circumstances, even the most difficult circumstances, because joy is anchored in and comes directly from God. Joy-filled people aren’t seeking to make themselves feel good; joy-filled people are seeking to serve the Lord.
How can we be joy-filled people in a pain-filled world? We follow Mary’s example and turn our gaze heavenward to the source of all joy. We focus our gaze on God’s promise of a Savior. We hold tightly to God’s presence through Jesus Christ in our lives. We anchor deep to the one thing that will hold firm in the midst of life’s greatest storms. Joy is as unchanging as the God from whom our joy comes. Our joy is grounded in God and flows from him. In a world filled with pain and uncertainty, this is something for each one of us to hold tightly to during this Christmas season and into the New Year.
By Rev. Tom Haugen, Gordon College Chaplain