by Bekah Vickers
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. — John 1:9-12
The world did not recognize him – Because he turned all our expectations upside down. This week, we are looking closely at the characters involved in Jesus’ birth in order to further understand that “the world did not recognize” Christ: in the Nativity Story, God turns every expectation upside down.
“And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Luke 1:45
Most scholars agree that Mary was quite young when Gabriel visited her to let her know that she was about to become pregnant with the Messiah. When we imagine her carrying this child, interacting with her betrothed Joseph, and perhaps dealing with her own family and village in the aftermath of this unlikely conception, we tend to envision it as tainted with the burdens of lost reputation and lonely struggle. Our hearts go out to this unwed teenage mother in her shame and disgrace.
But Mary’s own voice tells a different story: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” Sure, she was afraid at the initial sight of Gabriel – but so is every other person who encounters God or His messengers! Once the angel delivers his news, Mary’s fear turns to faith – faith that believes in a God who does impossible things. We may assume that she had back pain and perhaps varicose veins – and that the journey to Bethlehem was incredibly uncomfortable, and the cave-side delivery less than ideal – but let us not assume that Mary was unhappy about her unplanned pregnancy.
When she joins her cousin Elizabeth, who is also miraculously with child, the women immediately rejoice together, and Mary bursts into song, praising the Lord. Her song – familiarly known as the Magnificat – echoes the words of her ancestor-in-faith Hannah, who also praised God for the gift of a son. Mary’s song, like Hannah’s, celebrates a God who “has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate” (Luke 1:52). Her words forecast the heart of the ministry that her Son will helm – one of scattering the proud but showing mercy to the faithful, feeding the hungry and dismissing the wealthy to the emptiness of their worldly riches. She praises God for honoring her with this mission of mothering His Son, and she acknowledges that her own humiliated state provides a clear backdrop for His majestic glory.
Mary’s song highlights God’s penchant for turning our expectations upside down, just as she herself is evidence of His tendency to do the unexpected. Mary is of lowly status, unwed, and very young – and yet she is entrusted with the physical care of the Christ child. Mary is forced into an unsavory predicament by a premarital pregnancy – and yet she rejoices in the experience and treasures each moment in her heart. Who better than Mary to remind us that God works in opposition to all our sense of reason and decorum? Who better than Mary to point out that God’s might and holiness matter more than all the other powers in the world, and that we can trust Him, even when it goes against everything our world would have us believe?
Christ again enters our world this season, and His Advent will again be accompanied by the unexpected. He will ask us to extend our boundaries of belief, eliminate our concept of the impossible, and open our hearts and minds to the work of a God who shines brightest through the humblest hearts. Let us join Mary as we celebrate this season – echoing her song of praise with those of our own, glorifying God for the ways He has worked in our lives: how He has raised us up and filled us with good things, how He has kept all of His promises, and how He is always inviting us to play our own specific role in His great salvation plan.