“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.” Luke 1:46-48 (ESV)
One of the many temptations while reading the Christmas story is the desire to glorify Mary to the status of a saint. But we should avoid that, because it isn’t true. We learn that, upon the visitation of the Angel Gabriel, Mary’s response was that of fear. And, fear upon heavenly visitation, (if we map through the scriptures) is the quintessential characteristics of a fallen-sinful human being. This characteristic is evidently seen in the Garden of Eden. The way Adam and Eve respond to God before and after falling in sin is marked by (a) ‘being willfully obedient to Him’ to (b) ‘hiding away from Him in fear’. (Gen 3:8, 10) In addition to her fearful response, we also learn that she doubted the heavenly message. And so, the angel instructs her to go see her relative Elizabeth; to make it clear in her head that with God ‘everything is possible’. (Lk 1:36-38) And it was so, only then, when she sees her barren relative bearing (herself) a child of promise, she began to believe. But the ultimate transformation of her unbelieving heart only occurred when she heard herself being referred as blessed by Elizabeth. (Lk 39-45) After which, we witness her glorious song of praise, now famously known to as The Magnificat. (Lk 1: 46-55) The point I am trying to make here is that: Mary was just another sinful human being like you and me, who was made blessed by the grace of God. The highlight of Mary’s life isn’t how saint-like Mary is – but how magnificent our God is.
I want to make here, a couple of notes on Mary’s response; which I find are important indicators of the change God works in our lives. But before that, I want to briefly discuss the meaning of the word humble here.
The word humble is derived from a Greek word tapeínōsis. It is a feminine noun. In its literal sense, it means feeling/made depressed. But it is here used in its metaphorical sense, meaning spiritual abasement. In other words, the word humble here means – leading one to perceive and lament his moral littleness and guilt. So, when Mary says, the Lord has looked on my humble estate, she is saying, the Lord has had mercy over my iniquities – my sinful life. See, this humility is completely different from the non-biblical understanding of the word, wherein, being humble is seen as ‘consciously being modest’ to gain favour. People often think humility is a moral exercise. But that isn’t so – that is arrogance, thinking you’re wise enough to compel God to bless you, on account of your moral strength.
Now, coming back to the matter. The two points I wanted to make were:
- Mary knew of her humble estate. Reprobates aren’t aware of their depraved condition. (Rom 1:22, Pro 26:12) Being aware of one’s sinful state, and the need to be saved comes only with divine revelation. Mary demonstrated that.
- Mary accepted her humble estate. She wasn’t just aware of her inadequacies. She demonstrated her need of a saviour by accepting her failing condition.
When we look at Mary’s life, we see how miraculously God has preserved her life, for the glory of God and fulfillment of His divine plan. From being arranged to marry a man whose genealogy traces back to Abraham, to being the woman who fulfills the prophesy YHWH made to Eve, and finally, being called blessed throughout the generations. Indeed, her life is a remarkable one, just because the Creator of Heaven and Earth chose to look into her humble estate. Let us pray and hope, that just as Mary found divine favour, may YHWH find us favourable as well, when He looks down on us this Christmas.
Read previous entries in this Series:
(i) Introduction: What Christ wants this Christmas (ii) December 1: Prepare the Way