“He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.”
Recently I walked through the garden of a local synagogue and saw a large square stone inscribed with words “Thou shalt not forget”. With that I was reminded of the importance of remembering for Jews. Remembering is at the heart of the Jewish faith, both their remembering and God’s remembering them.
The Jews were commanded to remember: remember the Sabbath Day, remember that you were slaves in Egypt, remember this, remember that, don’t forget this, and don’t forget that. The Jewish people were the only people on earth to exalt remembering to a moral and religious imperative. The Hebrew scholar Abraham Heschel wrote concerning the importance of remembering to the Jewish nation: “To us, recollection is a holy act: we sanctify the present by remembering the past. To us Jews, the essence of faith is memory. To believe is to remember” (Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays).
Remarkably, in today’s text Mary is a teenage girl with a memory reaching across millenia. She is remembering God’s ancient promise to Abraham 2,000 years before. When I was Mary’s age my historical memory reached barely beyond what happened to me last week! But Mary remembers tenaciously God’s promise that He would remember. God promised Abraham that He would remember him and his descendants forever.
Mary now understands that the Baby she carries in her womb is God remembering His promise. She then magnifies the Lord for fulfilling His promise through her Child, “in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants for ever”. Mary recalls God’s promise to Abraham and his family:
I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed…I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be to you and to your offspring after you (Genesis 12:3; 17:7).
Here is the extraordinary faith of two people: Abraham, daring against hope to believe God’s promise, and young Mary believing God’s promise to her. Mary dances and sings for joy that the incredible promise God made to Abraham is being fulfilled within her. In some elemental way she realizes that she is pregnant with the promised redemption of the world.
The Apostle Paul will later write that all the families of the earth are included in God’s promise to Abraham:
For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:26-29).
It is just as the herald angel announced to anawim shepherds: “good news of great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10). God remembers His promise!
Mary’s Song ends on a promise. Mary “remained with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home” (Luke 1:56). There she had to face Joseph and try to explain all that happened.
- What part does “remembering” play for you in your life of faith?
- Do you agree or disagree with Rabbi Heschel’s words: “To believe is to remember”? Explain your answer.
- Ponder for a few moments the words of the Apostle Paul, to non-Jewish, Gentile believers: “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise”.
- What does it mean to you to be included with Abraham as an heir “according to the promise”?