“He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.”
Every Advent I thrill to the tenor voice in the Handel’s Messiah proclaiming God’s promise of justice for the world: “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low, the crooked straight, and the rough places plain” (Isaiah 40:4). The music is, well, breathtaking! But the words even grander, for here is God’s vision of the world made right. In poetic imagery the tenor sings of how the lowly are exalted and the mighty brought down.
In Mary’s Song she exults in a world turned upside down, or better, right side up! Her Song picks up themes she had likely learned from Hannah’s Song in which Hannah sings of God bringing justice:
The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
He brings low, he also exalts.
He raises up the poor from the dust;
He lifts the needy from the ash heap,
To make them sit with princes… (I Samuel 2:7-8).
With her Song Mary also joins her voice with the psalmists and prophets rejoicing in the vision of the world set right. Those whom the world has lifted up, God will humble, and the humble He will exalt. Mary’s Song challenges the values of our world.
Mary rejoices in the great reversal that her Child will one day speak of in parables: “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 14:11; 18:14; Matthew 23:12). “Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last” (Luke 13:30).
God’s Kingdom overthrows what we see in our culture, revealing that the powers of this world are not the powers that really matter. Messiah will cast down the powers that destroy life and raise up the humble and poor.
In today’s text Mary sings in the “prophetic perfect”, rejoicing in future prophetic events as though accomplished: “He has scattered… He has brought down… He has filled…” God has promised and it is done! Since the Most High God has become incarnate within her Mary knows God’s plan is being fulfilled. All the powers of this world are powerless to stop the mighty arm of the Lord.
When the arm of the Lord is revealed, what was once humble and despised becomes glorious and great. The manger is made noble and the cross becomes resurrection. The mighty bow before the lowly Babe, and Caesar and King Herod are as nothing before the mighty arm of the Lord.
We are not surprised that it is lowly shepherds who are the honored guests at Messiah’s birth, and the first to tell His Good News. Nor are we surprised that the poor and lowly are the first to follow one born in a manger and put to death on a cross. Nor are we surprised that it is a poor, ordinary girl from despised Nazareth that will bear and care for the King of Kings.
When the Spirit of God gets inside us we find our lives turned upside down. We begin to share in God’s compassion for the broken and lowly around us. We learn from Him who is meek and lowly of heart.
- “And you must clothe yourself with humility in your dealings with one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time” (I Peter 5:5-6).
- Talk to God about what Peter’s words stir in you.
- Does God’s “paradoxical reversal” (i.e. God will cast down the high and exalt the humble), say anything to you about ways to perhaps improve how we celebrate Christ’s birth? If so, what?