Humility and Hope
[T]he better the story, the more it begs to be told. Cicero, the ancient Roman philosopher, once said, “If a man ascended to heaven and saw the beautiful nature of the world and the stars, his feeling of wonder, in itself most delightful, would lose its sweetness if he had not someone to whom he could tell it.” At the very beginning of the Christmas story, in a mystery, a virgin named Mary heard the announcement from the Angel Gabriel that she would give birth to the promised Messiah Savior. Her response, which in Latin means her “big praise,” is worth reviewing for its humility. By that I mean Mary understands that the story isn’t about her, but about Someone Else.
My soul magnifies the Lord And my spirit rejoices in God my savior For he has looked on the humble estate of his servant For behold from now on all generations will call me blessed For he who is mighty has done great things for me And Holy is His name.
What I love about Mary’s song is that she recognizes her place in the Grand Story of the world: “He has looked on the humble estate of His servant” and “He who is mighty has done great things for me.” Yet, her role was certainly important: “all generations will call me blessed.” And Christians have, ever since, referred to Mary as “the blessed virgin.” Reading her response says to me that she sees herself blessed in this connection: God has richly blessed her. So Mary isn’t so much “BLESS-ED,” but “BLESSD.” Not so much one who is raised up by people (“bless-ed”) but one who has been raised up by God. C.S. Lewis once wrote that “religion is simply what man says about God, not what God does about man.”1
But this is the very thing we’ve been considering. In this sense, religion is man’s story, not God’s story. What God does for humankind, what God does about humanity—this is God’s story. Mary’s song goes on to describe this story:
He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts He has brought down the mighty from their thrones And has exalted those of humble estate He has filled the hungry with good things And the rich he has sent away empty.
The actor in this case is Jesus Himself, who being fully God, clothed Himself in human flesh in the manger and overturned all expectations with the “strength of His arm.” The proud and the thoughts of their heart, to quote Mary, are scattered; those who have power are removed from their thrones, and those of low estate—the “who mes?” in the world—are are exalted. It’s a shame that those who profess the Christian religion too often have forgotten this basic Gospel paradigm: Jesus came to the world to seek and save sinners. Why is it that sinners, once they are saved, so easily forget that they didn’t earn their place of blessing? Why do we so quickly depart from being blessd to the cheaper, tinsel BLESS-ED? It seems to me that once you’ve tasted God’s free grace and forgiveness in the person of Jesus—once you’ve looked to Him by faith, believing that being written into His story is the only safe place to be—that you become full and at the same time thirsty for more. I think this is what Mary did, even then, before giving birth. She found herself completely in God’s story and in that regard is a picture of an ideal, humble worshipper of God. Mary said as much in her song: the hungry you have filled with good things. The key then to Christmas is to keep hungering for more of Jesus. More of His grace. More of his story writing in our lives. To find out the real meaning of Christmas then is to understand that Jesus comes to write us into his story, as one contemporary Christian songwriter has put it. In conclusion, everyone has a story. Our stories tell of our triumphs and struggles, our mountain-top experiences and seasons in the valley of the shadow of death. All of these shape who we are. In the end, however, the question will be: do we live as if our story is the only story, or do we find our place in God’s story, where Jesus, God-in-the-flesh, makes His dramatic entrance in love and grace at Christmas? Mary ends her song with these words:
He has helped His servant Israel In remembrance of His mercy As he spoke to our fathers To Abraham and his offspring forever.
God’s work in Jesus was not a new story, but the continuation of an ancient story, one that began with Abraham, and others before him. His work in my life through Jesus, and in yours, is that same story. What I want to do is to so immerse myself in His story, to so feed from His grace, that I think neither too highly of myself, nor too poorly, but simply am available for His purposes whatever they may be. Now there’s Christmas Hope from Christmas humility: finding our purpose in His story through Jesus. 1 C.S. Lewis, Miracles
, chapter 11, p. 85.
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