The Song That Changed The World
I read to you from the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke, events which transpired just prior to the birth of Jesus. I begin to read at the 39th verse. “In those days, Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country to a city of Judah. She entered the house of Zachariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why is this granted me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.’ And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior. For He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden, 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. And His mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm. He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of low degree. He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich He has sent empty away. He has helped His servant Israel in remembrance of his mercy, as He spoke to our fathers; to Abraham and to his posterity forever.’ And Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months and then she returned to her home.”
Soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory.
Let us pray. Now may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, oh God, our rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Every nation has its national anthem, that one particular song, which somehow stirs the hearts of the people. The American stands for the “Star-Spangled Banner,” the Frenchman for the “Marseillaise,” the Russian for the “Internationale,” the Englishman for “God Save the Queen.” But I would submit to you today that the national anthem of the Christian faith is the song of Mary, the mother of Jesus, a song known as “The Magnificat.” A song preserved for us in the verses of the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke.
It is a remarkable song, for it expresses the hopes and the dreams of every honest human heart. It is nothing less than Christianity itself put to verse and set to music. And it is a song which has changed the world. It changed the world when first it was a song and its echoes are changing the world still. For when we begin to sing that song as Christians, we discover that it changes the way we view moral principles and it changes the way we view economic prosperity and it changes the way we view other people in life. Look with me today at the song of Mary, the song that changed the world.
If you will look first at the first chapter of Luke, the fifty-first verse. “He has shown strength with His arm. He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.”
Begin to understand what those words mean, and it will change the way you view moral principles. Let me show you what I mean. We delude ourselves if we think for a moment that Mary’s growing up in the town of Nazareth was all sweetness and light. It wasn’t. She grew up in a little town, in the first century, on a bloodstained piece of real estate called Palestine, and it was every bit as bloody then as it is now. Roman oppression meant terrible injustice for the Jews; Mary was a Jew. The insatiable greed of the tax-gatherers meant grinding poverty for many others; Mary was one of those others. The hills which surrounded the little town of Nazareth were the hiding places for bands of guerrilla fighters who were carrying on a campaign to seek freedom from the domination of Rome. And I think we can safely assume that Mary had kinsmen or friends or both who gave their lives in the pursuit of that political liberty. Mary knew what it was to be at the bottom of the heap in life. She knew what it was to be used and abused and misused. She knew what it was to be trodden down beneath an oppressive, impersonal power. And that’s why I believe when Mary began to sing her song, she laid the foundations for a whole new moral code in this world. A whole new way of conducting the human life.
Thirty years, before her Son spoke on the same subject, she anticipated His words. So that thirty years later when, Jesus said things, well, like this, “Whosoever exalts himself shall be abased and whosoever humbles himself shall be exalted,” when Jesus said things like that, He was building on the foundation laid by His mother, Mary. And that was brand new in the world at that time; that human conduct would be governed, not by pride or by power, but by grace and by love and by genuine humility. It was brand new then and in a sense, it is brand new still. For the fact is, that way has never been tried, really tried, by the people of this earth. For we have a tendency, do we not, to try to rationalize our own behavior? We have a tendency to believe that what’s right for us or what benefits us must therefore be right for everybody else. We never take the time to ask everybody else. We just assume that it is so. But the great message of Christmas is that God is moving us in a new direction. God is changing the rules for human conduct. God comes to us in the radiant purity of His only begotten Son, and He demands through His Son that we renounce all impurity in our lives.
And that means that for us today, to gloss over the Ten Commandments as we do, and instead to give ourselves to living by what I suppose we could call the one modern commandment, do your own thing; that’s impure, and it must be driven out of our lives. To go through life, seeking to profit at the expense of the sufferings of others; that’s impure, and it must be driven out of our lives. To exert a power or for that matter, even to be supportive of a power that degrades, in any way, another human being; that’s impure and it needs to be driven from our lives. To see life as something which is designed primarily to satisfy our own personal desires and without much regard to who gets hurt in the process, that’s impure and it must be driven out of our lives. That’s what the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about, and that’s what Mary’s song anticipated. For the good news that Mary sings is simply this, that those who commit themselves to being obedient to the laws of God in life, those who commit themselves to move through life with grace and love and humility, they are the ones who will know the strong arm of God at work in their daily living. While the proud, Mary says, the proud shall be scattered away. Oh, we need to sing Mary’s song in our world.
But jump down now to Luke 1:53. “He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent empty away.”
Take that to your heart and it will change the way you view economic prosperity. You know, If you read through the pages of the New Testament, you very quickly begin to realize that that was not only a great cardinal truth for Mary, it was also a cardinal truth for the members of her family who followed after her. For example, there was John the Baptist, the son of Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin. John the Baptist, a careful analysis of his preaching will reveal four distinct recurring themes. There is the theme of the individual God-given worth of the person. There is the theme of the imminent coming of the kingdom of God on earth. There is the theme of the urgent necessity for repentance, and there is the theme, and this is the one that I want you to note, there is the theme of the voluntary sharing of food and resources for those who are poor. John the Baptist singing Mary’s song.
And then there was James, the brother of Jesus. He came to the faith late after the resurrection but then wrote a letter, the letter, which bears his name in our New Testament. And in that letter, James says things like this, “If a brother or a sister come to you ill-clad and without food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go and be filled and warmed, go in peace,’ without giving to them the things that are needed for the body, what does it profit? Faith,” he says, “by itself, without works, is dead.” James, the brother of Jesus, singing his mother’s song.
And then, of course, most importantly of all, there was Jesus Himself. The Jesus who said, “Go and sell what you have, and give to the poor and come and follow Me.” The Jesus who said, “The poor you will have with you always and therefore, whenever you will, you can do good to them.” The Jesus who said, “Let that person who has two coats, share with the one who has none. And let the person who has food, do likewise.” That was Jesus singing His mother’s song.
Well, there’s something we need to make absolutely clear at this point. You must understand this, Mary and John and James and Jesus, were not condemning wealth per se; they were condemning the misuse of that wealth. It’s no sin to be rich, but what we do with those riches most often is sin. To be rich and not to be profoundly concerned about the poor of this earth, to be rich and to give yourself to a hunger and a thirst after more and more of those riches, to be rich and to hold it to yourself and to dare to call it your very own, that it is sin. And Jesus hit it and He hit it hard. That’s what they were condemning. It’s no sin to be rich, but it is a sin to misuse those riches.
I think I have to say to you at this point, that a man whom I regard as, just maybe, the greatest Christian man I have ever known is a man whose name is Donald Leverett? He’s a rich man. He lives in East, Texas. And the land which he owns is covered as far as you can see with oil wells. Do you know what he says? It’s almost unbelievable. He says, “It was the providence of God that put that oil beneath land which my family happened to own. It is not mine, it is His.” And as a result, he has given staggering sums of money earned from that oil to help those who are in need in this world, both in North and in South America. Hundreds and hundreds of people whose lives have been shaped and molded and helped and healed by this one man, a rich man singing Mary’s song. And what I have seen of the result, are beautiful to behold. A rich man who dares to sing the song of Mary. And because he does, his life is beautiful to behold.
God, at Christmas, alerts us to the fact that He is moving in a new direction and the day will come when the hungry of the earth will be filled with good things. And that’s good news for us as Christians, and that’s good news for a hungry world.
But I want to tell you something, there’s a kicker here and we dare not miss it. For Mary’s song goes on to say that the rich will be sent empty away.
That’s the kicker Because, you see, most of us here have a tendency to think of ourselves as not being rich. I mean, after all, we see ourselves engage in this struggle every month to be sure that the checkbook balances at the end of the month, and it’s the same way every month. We’re not rich. But the fact is if our income is more than $500 per year – that’s right, more than $500 per year – then we are in the top one-third of the world’s wage earners. We are the rich. And if we are not willing to invest ourselves in the poor by word and by deed, then the day will come when we shall be sent empty away.
You remember Zacchaeus? It wasn’t until he made a profound response to Jesus Christ by offering one half of all he possessed to the poor it wasn’t until then that Jesus said, “Today, salvation has come to your house.” Oh, we need to sing Mary’s song in our world.
But look at Luke 1:52, “He has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of low degree.”
Wrap your life around those words, and it will change the way you view other people in this world. You know, psychology has taught us that a mother has a profound impact upon the life of a child. As a matter of fact, I think that we can go so far as to say that children reflect their mothers above and beyond any other person in life. Children reflect their mothers. It’s interesting. I think that the ancient Jewish Talmud recognized that great psychological truth long, long ago, and expressed it so beautifully. “God couldn’t be everywhere, so he made mothers.” And that’s so true.
You see, God understands psychology. I mean, after all, He invented it. And God understood that Jesus’ earthly mother was going to have a profound impact on the young Christ. And I believe that God specifically chose Mary for good reason, because He wanted His only begotten Son to grow up loved and taught and nurtured and cared for by a woman who could say things like this. “He has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of low degree.” And I believe Jesus heard those words as He was growing up and He believed them and He remembered them. And I believe that those words became the foundation for his ironclad belief, that the true worth of an individual, the true greatness of our lives is measured not by climbing higher, but by bending lower. The true greatness, the true worth, the true value of people’s lives, is going to be measured, not by how many people serve that person, but by how many people that person serves.
Back during the middle ages, there was a wandering scholar named Muretas. He was a brilliant man, but he was very poor. On one occasion, he was taken seriously ill in a city in Italy. Having no financial resources, he was placed in a hospital there for the poverty-stricken. One day there, the doctors on his case were discussing his case right there in his presence, but they were speaking in Latin, believing that such a poor and common man could not possibly understand so cultured a language as Latin. And in the course of their discussions, they suggested that since this Muretas was such a common man, that it might be good to use him for some medical experimentation. At that point, Muretas rose up in anger and speaking in a Latin infinitely more perfect than that of the doctors, Muretas said, “Call no man common for whom Christ died.” That’s it. Yes, that’s the song of Mary. Call no one common for whom Christ died.
The great message of Christmas is that God is in the process of building a whole new world; a world in which the aristocracy will be one of love, a world in which the social register will contain the names of those who are the most compassionate. A world in which the true leaders are the ones who have heard and responded to the cries of the least. And my dear friends in Christ, I take to this pulpit today to declare to you that the people God will use to build this new and coming world are people who are not born high necessarily, or don’t know great power necessarily, or don’t have bulging bank books necessarily. No, the people God will use to build this new and coming world, are the people who whatever their circumstances may be are possessed of the Lord Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and are possessed by His Spirit with a passion for people in the name of this Christ. These people, these people-loving people, these are the forever family of God. These are the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. These are the mighty chorus singing the song of Mary in the midst of our world. And these are the men and the women and the young people and the children whom God will use to build His new and better world, and that world is coming.
I said at the beginning that the song of Mary is the national anthem of the Christian faith. I believe it to be true. And it’s such a shame really that more people have not studied it and examined Christ’s life in the light of it. For Mary’s song proclaims the Gospel of her Son, that those who are loving and serving and caring and sharing and sacrificing and carrying the cross of Christ into the world, those people cannot lose not now and not ever. They are the ones who are singing the song of the carpenter’s wife. They are the ones who are echoing the teachings of her firstborn Son. And what this Christmas Christ wants to know of us today is simply this, are you one of them? Are you one of His? Have you made your commitment to Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior to be possessed by Him? If not, then why not today? And if you’ve made that commitment, then in the name of Jesus Christ, start to sing the song of Mary in your life. For if you do, it will change the world and we have Christ’s word on that.
Let us pray. Almighty and most gracious God, let us sing the song of Mary in our daily living. Let us be the forever family of God, the brothers, and sisters of Jesus Christ. Let us be those upon whom You will build this new and coming world. Amen.