December 17 – Thankfulness and Praise

Luke 1: 39 – 56 (NLT)

39 A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town 40 where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. 41 At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

42 Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. 43 Why am I so honoured, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? 44 When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. 45 You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.”

The Magnificat: Mary’s Song of Praise

46 Mary responded,

“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
47     How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
48 For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
    and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
49 For the Mighty One is holy,
    and he has done great things for me.
50 He shows mercy from generation to generation
    to all who fear him.
51 His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
    He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
52 He has brought down princes from their thrones
    and exalted the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    and sent the rich away with empty hands.
54 He has helped his servant Israel
    and remembered to be merciful.
55 For he made this promise to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and his children forever.”

56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then went back to her own home.

It says that Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea a few days after the angel spoke with her. We don’t know the details of this situation, but I like to guess based on my own experience with life-changing events. I can see a couple of possible scenarios.

One is that Mary decides to visit and help Elizabeth because she sees that as a way to escape her family and town while she grasps the implications of what is happening to her. She may not have told her parents. But saying she will help Elizabeth out in the last months of pregnancy would be a kind thing to do for an older woman, and no one would question why Mary moved to that area for a while. That would give her an opportunity to see if she was really pregnant, or to figure out if the angelic visit had been some kind of weird dream. I can’t imagine what I would be thinking if something like that happened to me. I’m sure I’d question if it was real.

Or she may have told her parents, and they sent her away while they mulled the situation over. Mary is engaged to be married, and how are they going to break this news to Joseph? Or even more likely, Joseph is the father and they made up this unbelievable story to cover up what they were doing. Or if Joseph is not the father, then is someone else in the town the father – and if so, what kind of daughter is Mary anyway? Or if Mary’s story is true, then how do you explain that to a town that will think you have all gone crazy? In those days, adultery or other sexual sins were punishable by death. They would definitely have been in a quandary, and sending Mary away would give them time to figure out what to do.

What I see in this part of the story is God’s plan which does not fit with our human understanding. Really? The Messiah that Israel has been waiting for over thousands of years is going to arrive as a baby to a young unwed woman in a small, insignificant town? This makes no human rational sense at all. But then, does God’s plan to live as a human and sacrifice Himself on the cross to make sure we have a relationship with Him make sense either from a human point of view? It is an incredible story with an equally unbelievable beginning!

But wait! There is another detail that strikes my heart. When Mary arrives at Elizabeth’s home, Elizabeth has amazing words of comfort to Mary. Mary has not been dreaming.

“God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. Why am I so honoured, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.” Can you imagine what went through Mary’s heart and mind when she heard those words?

That is so like God. He may have plans for you that you don’t understand, but something will happen that will reassure your heart that you are going in the right direction. Words like these ones: Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT) “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” Words like those and many other verses in the Bible reassure us that God has plans for us that do have meaning and purpose even though we may not understand them at the time. For that I am sooo… thankful!

When Mary heard Elizabeth’s words of welcome, this was her response. This is a beautiful song of praise which includes 10 references to Old Testament scripture, especially words from the Psalms. Notice these words are full of praise to God for who He is and what He has done in the past.

These verses remind me of a similar story in the Old Testament. Hannah had been hoping for a child for a long time, and eventually she promised God that if He would give her a son, she would give that son back to God to serve the priest at Shiloh – the place where Israel worshipped before the temple was built in Jerusalem. God answers that prayer, and Samuel was born, the prophet/priest who would eventually anoint David as king of Israel. When Hannah brought Samuel to Eli, the current priest, she prayed these words:

1 Samuel 2:1-10 (NLT)

Then Hannah prayed:

“My heart rejoices in the Lord!
    The Lord has made me strong.
Now I have an answer for my enemies;
    I rejoice because you rescued me.
No one is holy like the Lord!
    There is no one besides you;
    there is no Rock like our God.

“Stop acting so proud and haughty!
    Don’t speak with such arrogance!
For the Lord is a God who knows what you have done;
    he will judge your actions.
The bow of the mighty is now broken,
    and those who stumbled are now strong.
Those who were well fed are now starving,
    and those who were starving are now full.
The childless woman now has seven children,
    and the woman with many children wastes away.
The Lord gives both death and life;
    he brings some down to the grave but raises others up.
The Lord makes some poor and others rich;
    he brings some down and lifts others up.
He lifts the poor from the dust
    and the needy from the garbage dump.
He sets them among princes,
    placing them in seats of honor.
For all the earth is the Lord’s,
    and he has set the world in order.

“He will protect his faithful ones,
    but the wicked will disappear in darkness.
No one will succeed by strength alone.
10 Those who fight against the Lord will be shattered.
He thunders against them from heaven;
    the Lord judges throughout the earth.
He gives power to his king;
    he increases the strength of his anointed one.”

In Hannah’s prayer, there are many references to the first 5 books of the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Those were the only books that were written for Hannah to read or know. Again, Hannah, Like Mary, praises God for who He is and what He has done.

As far as I know, neither of these women were educated women – at least not like the education that is available to women today. Yet they knew the Scripture that was available to them. When I look at us today – and that includes myself – I wonder despite all our education, do we know the scripture like Mary and Hannah did? Do we truly understand who God is and what He has done? I also don’t think it’s because they weren’t as busy as we are. They didn’t have stoves, microwaves, frozen dinners, washing machines and dryers, vacuum cleaners – I think you get what I mean. They also tended to have larger families since there was no reliable method of birth control. It really makes me stop and think. Could I praise God while I quote scripture?

Here is a challenge for you today. With the lockdown now, maybe you have a little more free time. Could you write a song of praise? Maybe you should try it and see how it goes – think about who God is and what He has done for you and write it down. You could use references from Bible verses, or lines from songs/hymns, or just make up your own song/poem of praise. You might be surprised and delighted with the results. You might be surprised at how much closer to God you feel as a result of praising him.

Our song today is Mary Did You Know by Danny Gokey

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