Christianity 201

May 6, 2020

Look, Speak With, But Don’t Hug the Post-Resurrection Jesus

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'”
– John 20:17 NIV

Today we return again to Good Question, a blog by InterVarsity Press (IVP) author Christopher R. Smith. This is a treasure trove of Q&A on subjects that some people find difficult or controversial.  Click the title below to read at source.

Why did Jesus tell Mary not to hug him after his resurrection?

Q. Why did Jesus tell Mary not to hug him after his resurrection because he hadn’t yet returned to the Father? Why would Jesus object to Mary clinging to him … that is really puzzling. You would think he would have reciprocated with a bear hug for about an hour, if only for her sake. What’s the connection between the return to the Father and not clinging to him?

This is indeed a puzzling matter, and interpreters have offered many different explanations for it. Personally I like the way that Raymond Brown explains it in his commentary on the Gospel of John.

Brown suggests, first of all, that when Jesus tells Mary, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father,” we should not think he is speaking of the ascension that Luke describes as taking place forty days after the resurrection. Brown feels that that particular event, in which Jesus was seen ascending on the clouds into heaven, was intended to indicate evocatively that the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus had come to an end. Brown believes that Jesus also went to be with the Father in less visible ways in between his appearances to the disciples. The first of those times would have been right after the resurrection, and Mary would have seen him, in effect, on his way there.

As Brown understands it, this timing is actually crucial to the point John is making. At the Last Supper, Jesus had said, “I will come back to you. In a little while the world will see me no longer, but you will see me.” Brown says that when Mary sees Jesus, “she thinks that he has returned as he promised and now he will stay with her and his other followers, resuming former relationships.” Jesus had also said, “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” Brown says that Mary is “trying to hold on to the source of her joy, since she mistakes an appearance of the risen Jesus for his permanent presence with his disciples.” But instead, by “telling her not to hold on to him, Jesus indicates that his permanent presence is not by way of appearances but by way of the gift of the Spirit that can only come after he has ascended to the Father.” (Jesus had also told his followers at the Last Supper, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”)

So Jesus is basically saying to Mary, “I’m not on my way back from the Father” (this is not what my continuing presence with you will be like), “I’m on my way to the Father” (so that I can send the Spirit, who will be my continuing presence with you). So this would be yet another place in the Gospel of John where a person mistakes a physical reality for a spiritual one and Jesus needs to explain otherwise (as in the case of Nicodemus misunderstanding what it means to be “born again,” for example, or the woman at the well misunderstanding what Jesus meant by “living water,” and so forth).

Brown argues convincingly that the present imperative used here means “don’t cling to me” or “don’t hold on to me” rather than “don’t touch me.” So this isn’t an issue of what Jesus’ post-resurrection, pre-ascension body was like and how it could or couldn’t interact with earthly bodies. Rather, the issue is that Jesus’ followers are not to “cling to” him as they knew him on this earth, but rather experience his continuing presence through the Spirit he has sent from the Father.


Go Deeper:

Because Christopher Smith mentioned Raymond Brown, I thought some of you might be interested in further research Brown did on this topic, as located at Stack Exchange. (Warning: There’s quite a range of interpretations here!)

  • Jesus’ wounds were still sore so he did not like being touched.
  • Kraft proposes that the prohibition was because it was against ritual to touch a dead body.
  • Chrysostom and Theophylact argue that Jesus was asking that more respect be shown to him. This theory is sometimes linked to the notion that while it was not appropriate for a woman to touch Jesus it was fine for a man like Thomas.
  • C. Spicq sees the resurrected Jesus as the equivalent of one of the Jewish high priests who should not be sullied by physical contact.
  • Kastner, who believes Christ returned in the nude, believes the prohibition was so that Mary would not be tempted by Jesus’ body.
  • Mary should not touch Jesus because she should not need physical proof of the resurrection but should trust in her faith.
  • Bultmann sees the phrase as an indirect way of saying that the resurrected Jesus was not at this point tangible.
  • According to Moule Jesus’ intervention is not a prohibition on being touched, but rather an assurance that the touching is not needed for he had not yet returned to the Father and was still firmly here on Earth. His use of the present tense is said to mean that he should not be touched just at this moment, but could be touched in future.
  • Some link it with the next verse stating that they should be read as one to say “don’t touch me instead go tell my disciples of the news.”
  • In John Calvin’s commentary he argues that Jesus did not forbid simple touching, but rather that Jesus had no problems until the women began to cling to him as though they were trying to hold him in the corporeal world at which point Jesus told them to let go. Some translations thus use touch for the seemingly permitted actions in Mark and cling for the action Jesus chides Mary for in this verse.
  • Barrett mentions the possibility that between this verse and John 20:22 Jesus fully ascends to heaven.

Alternative translations mentioned by Brown:

  • Some scholars eliminate the negative leaving the phrase as “touch me,” implying that Jesus is telling Mary to verify his physical form
  • W.E.P. Cotter and others argue that the text should actually read “do not fear me”
  • W.D. Morris believes it should read “do not fear to touch me”

…we see as though through frosted glass, says the scripture, so some passages are not going to be immediately clear to everyone all the time.

 

March 3, 2020

What Was Mary Thinking? It’s Obvious.

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
 -Psalm 119:11

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
 – Luke 2:19

It’s several months past the Christmas season, but we were considering these two verses on the weekend and how they are related. I have to confess that in my younger days, I figured Mary simply held on to an angel’s promise as her only hope against the rumors that would circulate when she was visibly pregnant outside of marriage.

In later years, I figured that Mary’s thoughts would go toward the implications of having been chosen to bear Israel’s Messiah both in terms of what it would mean for herself and what it would mean for the baby Jesus, the infant Jesus, the adolescent Jesus and the mature Jesus.

But these would not be random thoughts. The scriptures would be clear.

In her outburst of praise to God that we call “The Magnificat” Mary directly quotes from or alludes to as few as seven or as many of 22 scriptures. We covered this back in 2013, quoting from K. W. Leslie:

Those who don’t understand how prophecy and inspiration work, tend to think of the Magnificat as something the Holy Spirit said through Mary, rather than something Mary said, empowered by the Spirit. They see her as some illiterate, uneducated peasant girl. In reality, the Spirit takes our innate abilities—the ones we have all the time, not just when we’re inspired—and points them at God. The Magnificat isn’t just a one-time freak of nature. Turns out Mary was a poet. Perhaps even a musician. Maybe untrained, with strong natural talents God put in her long before she said this. But maybe someone had trained her; we don’t know. All we have is her poem.

Her knowledge and ability didn’t show up overnight. K. W. Leslie continues,

Synagogues had a women’s section. That’s right: The Pharisees permitted women’s education. They didn’t expect (nor did they want) women to become scholars. But they did expect them to know the Law, same as the men: “A man is required to teach the Law to his daughter.” (Mishna, Sota 3.4e) You can’t obey it, or pass it down to your kids, if you don’t yourself know it. And throughout the Magnificat, Mary demonstrated she did know it. ’Cause, you know, all the quotes.

In a 2018 article here, Ruth Wilkinson wrote,

Luke records that she burst out in what is essentially a mash-up of Old Testament verses and phrases that she had memorized; verses from the books of Psalms, Job, 1 Samuel, Genesis, Deuteronomy, Isaiah… Poetry and prophecy. Truths that she’d been steeped in all her life and which suddenly, joyously, tumbled out in a hymn of praise to the God who had set her on an unprecedented path.

In 2017, I wrote,

But there is no arrogance in this. Rather it is preceded by a statement of great humility:

  • He has looked with favor on the humble condition of His slave (HCSB)
  • he has shown his concern for his humble servant girl (New Century Version)
  • he hath beheld the meekness of his handmaiden (Wycliffe)
  • he took notice of his lowly servant girl (New Living Translation)

Similarly, later verses have given rise to this being called a “song of reversals.” A new order is about to take place; a new paradigm is about to be introduced.

Did she get all the implications immediately? Maybe not. Clarke Dixon covered this here in 2018.

Did Mary really “get it”? Would Mary have been aware that “Son of the Most High” meant much more than that her baby would have a special relationship with God? That the “Son of God” she was to carry was actually “God the Son”? Keeping in mind the age and education of Mary, would she have been thinking “this must be what future theologians will call the incarnation”? Not likely.

To some extent, I agree with Clarke. If we, in the year 2020 don’t fully understand all the implications of the incarnation, I don’t think it’s fair to heap all that expectation on Mary.

At least at the beginning of the story. In those early days.

But as she ‘ponders in her heart’ the words she has ‘hidden in her heart’ I believe it crystallized for her clearer than to anyone else living at that time.

We’re told that Luke (at least and perhaps other gospel writers) would have interviewed Mary in composing their gospel accounts. I would expect that by that point, Mary’s take on the life of Christ would be more than names, dates and places; her contribution would be more than facts and figures.

I believe by that point, having pondered these things out of urgency (in the beginning) and reflection (after Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension) that Mary was in fact the greatest theologian of her day. The gospel accounts are richer because they contain, to varying degrees, her input.

Next Steps: So…let’s start with basics. Using this checklist, how many of these scriptures do you know from memory? Click here to read the list.

 

 

December 31, 2019

A Quiet Servant

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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And if you give yourself to the hungry And satisfy the desire of the afflicted, Then your light will rise in darkness And your gloom will become like midday. And the Lord will continually guide you, And satisfy your desire in scorched places, And give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. — Isaiah 58:10-11 NASB

As the year ends, one thing I’m looking forward to in 2020 is the release of the new Max Lucado book, Jesus: The God Who Knows Your Name. Reading an advance copy of it has reminded me why he is such a popular, gifted writer. What follows is a short excerpt from what is his is currently newest book, How Happiness Happens. Clicking the header below will take you to a site where you may learn more and purchase the book.

Service With A Smile

…I’ve seen thousands like him. Quiet servants. The supporting cast of the kingdom of God. They seek to do what is right. They show up. Open doors. Cook dinners. Visit the sick. You seldom see them in front of an audience. That’s the last place most of them want to be. They don’t stand behind a pulpit; they make sure the pulpit is there. They don’t wear a microphone but make certain it’s turned on.

They embody this verse:

For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. — Galatians 5:13

These words appear toward the end of a document on liberation. For five chapters the apostle Paul proclaimed, “You are free! Free from sin. Free from guilt. Free from rules. Free from regulations. The yoke of slavery is off, and the liberation has begun.”

Our freedom, however, is not an excuse for us to do whatever we want. Just the opposite.

    Because we are free, we can serve.

We voluntarily indenture ourselves to others. In a society that seeks to be served, we seek opportunities to serve others.

Andrew was such a servant. He was the brother of Peter. He came from the same town as James and John. Yet when we discuss the inner circle of Peter, James, and John, we don’t mention Andrew. His name never appears at the top of the list of leaders. He lived in the shadow of the others. In the group photo he stood at the side, hands in pockets. Then again, he probably held the camera.

Quiet, however, does not mean complacent. Just because Andrew avoided the limelight, that doesn’t mean he lacked fire. He led his brother Peter to Jesus. Peter went on to preach the first sermon. Peter led the Jerusalem church. Peter took the Gospel to Gentiles. He wrote epistles that we still read. He defended the apostle Paul. Anyone who appreciates Paul’s epistles owes a debt of gratitude to Peter. And anyone who has benefited from the rocklike faith of Peter owes a debt to the servant spirit of Andrew.

And it was the servant spirit of Mary that led God to select her to be the mother of Jesus. She wasn’t a scholar or a sophisticated socialite. She was simple. Plain. A peasant. She blended into the crowd. She hailed from Nazareth, a dusty village in an oppressed district in Galilee.

In the social strata of her day, Mary occupied the lowest step. As a Jew she answered to the Romans. As a female she was subservient to males. As a young girl she was second to older women. She was poor, so she was beneath the upper class.

Mary was extraordinarily ordinary. Yet this virtue set her apart:

I am the servant of the Lord. Let this happen to me as you say!
— Luke 1:38 NCV

When God wants to bring Christ into the world, He looks for servants. No diploma required. No bloodline specified. Bank accounts are not a factor. Place of birth doesn’t matter. Let all unassuming people of the world be reminded: God can use you.

____

Jesus came to serve.

In one of His appearances to His followers, they were on the Sea of Galilee when they heard Him call out from the shore. When He told them where to find fish, they realized it was Jesus. Peter plunged into the water and swam to shore. The other disciples grabbed their oars and paddled. When they reached the beach, they saw the most extraordinary sight. Jesus was cooking! He told them,

Come and eat breakfast.John 21:12

Shouldn’t the roles be reversed? Jesus had just ripped the gates of hell off their hinges. He’d disemboweled the devil. He’d made a deposit of grace that forever offsets our debt of sin. He’d sentenced the demons to death row and set free every sinner since Adam. He, the unrivaled Commander of the Universe, wore the apron?

Even more, He has yet to remove it. He promises a feast in Heaven at which

He will gird Himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. — Luke 12:37

Can you imagine the sight? Row after row of food-laden tables. The redeemed of the ages celebrating and singing, and someone asks, “Has anyone seen Jesus?”

“Yes,” another replies. “He’s on the other side of the banquet room serving ice tea.”

Christ Himself was like God in everything. But He did not think that being equal with God was something to be used for his own benefit. But He gave up His place with God and made Himself nothing. He was born as a man and became like a servant. — Philippians 2:6-7 NCV

He was content with the humblest of titles. He was content to be called a servant.

December 27, 2019

The First Christmas. An Ordinary Day?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This week Clarke Dixon posted both his Christmas Sunday message and his Christmas Eve message. We decided to share this second one while it was still closer to the 25th.

by Clarke Dixon

For most of us, Christmas is no ordinary day. We prepare for it, we take time off, we meet with family, we play special music. This is no ordinary day. Yet the first Christmas was actually quite ordinary in many ways. It was not marked on anyone’s calendar as being a holiday, or anything out of the ordinary. Yet there was something extraordinary about that first Christmas. Let us consider the many ways Christmas Day points to both the ordinary and the extraordinary.

Mary. An Ordinary Woman. An Extraordinary Calling!

Mary was an ordinary young woman, like every other young woman. We don’t know too much about her, but we can assume that she had quite an ordinary childhood. Like other young women of her age, she was engaged to be married. Her life was quite ordinary, until she had an extraordinary calling from God.

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee,  to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David.  Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”
 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean.  “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God!  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”
 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.  What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. For the word of God will never fail.”
 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.Joseph.

Luke 1:26-38 (NLT)

Joseph. An Ordinary Man. An Extraordinary Family!

Joseph was also quite an ordinary person. He was a descendant of David, but he was also a normal man like any other man. In fact when he learned that Mary was pregnant, he decided to do what any good man would do, he decided to call off the wedding. However, this was no ordinary child Mary was carrying. As it turns out, while Joseph was an ordinary man, he would have an extraordinary family.

This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.
 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.  And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:
 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
which means ‘God is with us.’” Matthew 1:18-23 (NLT)

Bethlehem. An Ordinary Town. An Extraordinary Fulfillment!

That first Christmas took place in an ordinary town. Bethlehem at that time was probably no bigger than the small town we live in which only has 2000 or so people. It had a rich history, with King David being from Bethlehem. However, living in Bethlehem would feel no different to the locals than living in a small Canadian town does today. Life there was quite ordinary. But something extraordinary did happen there.

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.
And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them. Luke 2:1-7 (NLT)

While being an ordinary town, through the birth of Jesus this town became the site of an extraordinary fulfillment of prophecy.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”
King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”
“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:
‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’” Matthew 2:1-6 (NLT)

The Shepherds. Ordinary People. An Extraordinary Invitation!

You might think that the birth of a long awaited king would be announced to a long list of important people, like rulers or religious leaders. God chose to announce the birth to quite ordinary people, shepherds working nearby. In doing so, God indicated that ordinary people are important people. They are important to him.

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!  And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.  All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them. Luke 2:8-20 (NLT)

Jesus. An Ordinary Baby. An Extraordinary Baby!

Jesus himself was quite ordinary in some very important ways. He was a baby like any other. Despite the claim of a favourite carol, he cried like any other baby would. He needed fed like any other baby. He probably kept his parents awake at night, like any other baby! But he was also extraordinary. He was the incarnation of God. He was “Immanuel,” God with us.

In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone…
So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. John 1:1-4,14 (NLT)

Christmas. An Ordinary Day. An Extraordinary Event!

That first Christmas Day was a very ordinary day. It was not marked as special on anyone’s calendar. There were no decorations. There were no Christmas carols. There were no Christmas trees. There were no gifts under the trees. There was no Christmas shopping. It was such an ordinary day, that really the only ones who knew about it were Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, and perhaps a few others. The Magi probably didn’t arrive until later. It was actually a very ordinary day with a very ordinary birth.

Yet that first Christmas Day was an extraordinary day. It was a day which would lead to the possibility and opportunity for reconciliation with God. Because of the Son of God, Jesus, who was born on that day, we could become God’s children.

But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. Galatians 4:4-5 (NLT)

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. John 1:10-12

We could go on to speak about how ordinary people would experience the extraordinary teaching, miracles, and presence of Jesus. We could speak of his crucifixion, unfortunately an all too ordinary event in that time and place. We could speak of God’s extraordinary love expressed through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Although we may feel like we are far far extraordinary people, we can experience that extraordinary love.

My family and I wish you a Merry Christmas!

December 12, 2019

Did Elizabeth and Mary Earn their Special Place in the Christmas Story? Do We Earn Our Place in God’s Story?

by Clarke Dixon

God was up to something big at Christmas. Elizabeth and Mary were chosen to participate in very important ways. Why were they chosen?

We might write a sermon on how they earned their special place in the Christmas story. Elizabeth has a fine resumé:

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. Luke 1:5-6 (NRSV)

Elizabeth is a descendant of Aaron, so has a good family lineage. She is righteous and blameless according to the Old Covenant law. She is also married to a priest, which as anyone married to a pastor will know, means she must be a saint. Elizabeth is a very good woman. She ticks all the boxes for being top of the list for earning God’s favour.

What about Mary? Mary does not get the same build-up from Luke in his Gospel account as Elizabeth, but we can point to her humble character and her willingness to follow God’s lead:

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Luke 1:38 (NRSV)

We might therefore write a sermon about both Elizabeth and Mary earning their special place in the Christmas story and encourage everyone to earn divine favour. But I won’t. Why? The message “we are good, therefore God was good,” was not a sermon Elizabeth or Mary would preach.

Consider Elizabeth’s response when she conceived:

“This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.” Luke 1:25 (NRSV)

Notice what she did not say; “being good has paid off. I was good, so God was good.” Elizabeth does not put the spotlight of her own goodness, she highlights God’s goodness. Notice further her response when Mary comes to visit:

She exclaimed with a loud voice, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child in your womb! 43 And who am I that the mother of my Lord should come and visit me? Luke 1:42-43 (NET)

Elizabeth’s attitude is not, “I have earned this privilege,” but “who am I that I should have such a privilege?”

Let us also consider what Mary has to say:

And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
 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.
 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 forever.” Luke 1:46-55 (NRSV)

Mary praises God, not herself. She does not say “he looked on the goodness of his servant,” but “he looked on the lowliness of his servant.” Throughout the song, God is spoken of as doing great things for others, especially the “lowly” and the “hungry.” He acts according to His promise, and not according to Mary’s perfection. In this song, Mary sees herself as being an example, not of perfect obedience and righteousness, but of weakness. In this song God does something special, not because people are perfect and deserve better, but because people have needs and God is good.

Neither Elizabeth nor Mary get overly religious. We are being very religious when we think that our own goodness leads directly to the experience of God’s goodness. When we experience blessing, we think it is because we earned it. When we don’t experience blessing, we think we have failed to earn it. Mere religion puts the focus on us, and what we do or don’t do. Truth is more important than religion. Truth is, God is good. His goodness to us does not flow from the building up of our merit, but the outpouring of His love. Our goodness follows from the goodness of God, it does not lead to it.

Religion has a nasty habit of putting the spotlight on us. We humans have a nasty habit of enjoying that spotlight. Christmas puts the spotlight on God. God has done something amazing, regardless of the goodness of the people involved. Neither Elizabeth nor Mary focus on their own goodness, or their lack thereof. Both point instead, to the goodness of God. Christmas causes us to stop thinking of ourselves for a moment, of how good we are, and instead to focus on God, how good He is.

A spirit of entitlement comes from one’s religiosity. “I am so good, therefore God must be good to me.” Elizabeth and Mary don’t say that.  A spirit of humility comes from one’s grasp of reality.  “God is so good! Who am I to receive a blessing?” Elizabeth and Mary do say that. Do we, through our goodness, earn a place in the story of God? A spirit of truth will bring our focus where Elizabeth and Mary’s was; on the goodness of God. God makes us a place for us in His story because God is good.


Listen to the sermon on which this article is based. Look for the December 8th message.


Clarke Dixon appears here most Thursdays and is the pastor of a church in a town located about an hour east of Toronto, Canada. Click here for his WordPress blog.

 

December 16, 2018

Mary’s Burst of Worship

by Ruth Wilkinson

Magnificat. It’s a wonderful Christmas word.

I must confess, though, that when I hear it what springs to mind is an image of a feline superhero. “Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…. MagnifiCat!”

But that’s not what it means. Magnificat is simply the first word of the Latin translation of the passage we’re looking at today. And it just means, “I magnify.”

It’s a big, flashing arrow pointing at something. It means, “Pay attention! This is important!

It’s a magnifying glass held up to a fingerprint, allowing us to see all of the detail we’d otherwise miss. It’s a big, fat, stinky magic marker writing out a message, so it can be seen from a distance. It’s a melody played on a great, honking tuba, so you can’t possibly miss it.

I magnify!

When Mary, Jesus’ mother, realized what was happening — what she was in the middle of; what she had become instrumental to — Luke records that she burst out in what is essentially a mash-up of Old Testament verses and phrases that she had memorized; verses from the books of Psalms, Job, 1 Samuel, Genesis, Deuteronomy, Isaiah… Poetry and prophecy. Truths that she’d been steeped in all her life and which suddenly, joyously, tumbled out in a hymn of praise to the God who had set her on an unprecedented path.

And in this moment of irrepressible, inexpressible joy, she not only magnified God, she magnified something in particular about him. Something that was profoundly, thrillingly relevant.

As we read together these, her words, pay attention to what it is about her God that she magnifies.

Look for the details. Read the message. Listen for the melody.

And rejoice!

“My soul shouts the greatness of the Lord.
My spirit sings the joy I’ve found in God my Saviour.

Because He has looked on ordinary me
and now I, His servant, will be known in every generation
as happy and blessed.

The Mighty One has done great things for me,
and His very name is unlike any other name.

For those who stand in awe of Him,
His mercy flows from
generation to generation,
wave after wave.

He has shown the strength of His arm against those with prideful hearts,
as He scatters them,
as He topples the powerful from their thrones.

He lifts up the lowly and the humble.
He has filled and satisfied the hungry with good things.
The rich He has sent away empty and empty handed.

He has helped His chosen, Israel,
keeping His kindness in mind.

And faithfully remembering His promises,
from day one, through Abraham,
and to eternity.”

Luke 1:46‭-‬55

 

December 3, 2017

Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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This Sunday morning, being the season of Advent, many churches may have looked at the announcement to Mary by the angel Gabriel that goes by the title, The Magnificat. That name is based on the first word of the text in Latin, and three other prayers or exultations with regard to the birth of Christ have names based on the first word in Latin. The passage in Luke 1 begins:

Magnificat anima mea Dominum;
Et exultavit spiritus meus in Deo salutari meo,

This announcement is also sometimes referred to as the annunciation, again based on a Latin word annuntiatio.
The full text in English reads:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.”

The text contains allusions to at least a dozen Old Testament scriptures with which Mary would have been familiar. (Some set the number much higher.) Mary is conscious of the implications of the role to which she has been called, saying “Many will call me blessed.” But there is no arrogance in this. Rather it is preceded by a statement of great humility:

  • He has looked with favor on the humble condition of His slave (HCSB)
  • he has shown his concern for his humble servant girl (New Century Version)
  • he hath beheld the meekness of his handmaiden (Wycliffe)
  • he took notice of his lowly servant girl (New Living Translation)

Similarly, later verses have given rise to this being called a “song of reversals.” A new order is about to take place; a new paradigm is about to be introduced.

Some additional resources:

Here is a somewhat recent version of the prayer set to music by Keith and Kristyn Getty.

Second, the following resource was posted, with permission at the source linked, but the link in the introduction itself is no longer working. We felt this work was worthy of further exposure.

The Magnificat: A Prayer

Here’s a prayer based on Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:47-55). It was written by Janet Morley, and posted on the Canadian Foodgrains Bank website.

The Magnificat: A Prayer

(based on Luke 1: 47-55)

O God, whose word is fruitless
when the mighty are not put down,
the humble remain humiliated,
the hungry are not filled,
and the rich are;
make good your word,
and begin with us.

Open our hearts and unblock our ears
to hear the voices of the poor
and share their struggle;
and send us away empty with longing
for your promise to come true
in Jesus Christ.
Amen.

—Janet Morley, in Tell Out My Soul, Christian Aid, 1990. Reprinted by permission.
From Bread of Tomorrow: Prayer for the Church Year, ed. Janet Morley
Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1992, p. 151.

Go Deeper: We looked at The Magnificat in much greater detail in 2013 at this article.

December 10, 2013

Mary’s Prayer: The Magnificat

This article by K.W. Leslie is probably the best treatment of Mary’s prayer that I’ve seen, insomuch as it addresses several popular misconceptions.  I encourage you to read it as his blog, More Christ, but also to send your friends and family to the article as it appeared.

The prophecy Mary gave to Elizabeth during her visit is called the Magnificat [män•YĒ•fē•kät] from the first word in its Latin translation, Magnificat anima mea Dominum…. It’s a Hebrew poem in that it repeats concepts. Some have wondered whether it’s a hymn which Mary composed on the spot. Or maybe she composed it beforehand, and came out with it now.

Those who don’t understand how prophecy and inspiration work, tend to think of the Magnificat as something the Holy Spirit said through Mary, rather than something Mary said, empowered by the Spirit. They see her as some illiterate, uneducated peasant girl. In reality, the Spirit takes our innate abilities—the ones we have all the time, not just when we’re inspired—and points them at God. The Magnificat isn’t just a one-time freak of nature. Turns out Mary was a poet. Perhaps even a musician. Maybe untrained, with strong natural talents God put in her long before she said this. But maybe someone had trained her; we don’t know. All we have is her poem.

Mary said,

“My soul knows how great the Lord is.
My spirit rejoices over the God who saves me,
because he looked at the lowness of his slave.
Look: From now on, every woman will call me awesome,
because the Almighty did a great thing to me.
His name is holy.
His mercy, to those who fear him, lasts for generations.
His arm performed powerful things.
He scattered those who were overconfident in their thinking.
He pulled dynasties from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.
He filled the hungry with good things.
He sent the wealthy away empty.
He supported his child Israel,
remembering mercy as he spoke to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his perpetual descendants.”

Mary stayed with Elizabeth three months, and returned to her house.

Luke 1.46-56 KWL

Mary’s education.

Most of the Magnificat comes from Old Testament concepts. Sometimes direct and indirect quotes. Those who think Mary was an ignorant peasant clearly don’t understand her culture: Mary went to synagogue.

In the first century, synagogue wasn’t simply a Jewish church, like it often is today. Synagogue was school. The Pharisees had invented the synagogue system to teach the Law, the bible, to the general public. They wanted to encourage men to become bible scholars, grammatís, “scribes.” But if they didn’t go so far, they wanted the men to have a functional understanding of the scriptures.

Synagogues had a women’s section. That’s right: The Pharisees permitted women’s education. They didn’t expect (nor did they want) women to become scholars. But they did expect them to know the Law, same as the men: “A man is required to teach the Law to his daughter.” (Mishna, Sota 3.4e) You can’t obey it, or pass it down to your kids, if you don’t yourself know it. And throughout the Magnificat, Mary demonstrated she did know it. ’Cause, you know, all the quotes.

For I’m your god, the LORD.
I’m El-Qanná/‘Possessive God.’
I have children suffer consequences for their parents’ evil
—and the grandchildren, and great-grandchildren—
when they hate me.
But I show love to a thousand generations
when they love me and observe my commands.

—The LORD,

My heart is happy in the LORD. […]
The experts’ bows are cracked.
The stumblers are belted with courage.
The well-fed have hired themselves out for bread.
The hungry have stopped being hungry. […]
The LORD makes people either destitute or rich.
Some he lays low; some he exalts.
He lifts the poor from the dirt.
He exalts the needy from the landfill.
He puts them in the seat of rich patrons.
He assigns them positions of honor.
For the things which hold up the earth are the LORD’s.
He set them up.

—Hannah, 1 Samuel 2.1, 4-5, 7-8 KWL

My life exults in the LORD.
His salvation thrills it.

—David, Psalm 35.9 KWL

The prowling life is satisfied.
He’s filled the starving life with goodness.

Psalm 107.9 KWL

He sent the ransom for his people:
He instructed his child in his holy covenant.
His name is respected.

Psalm 111.9 KWL

You’ll give Jacob the truth.
You’ll show love to Abraham.
You swore these things to our ancestors long ago.

—Micah, Micah 7.20 KWL

Of course there are other verses. But even if you’re taking your imagery from the bible, you still have to put it all together, as Mary did.

The structure of the poem.

People tend to divide the Magnificat into two parts. First, Mary spoke on how God blessed her personally. Lk 1.46-50 Second, Mary spoke on how God turns the world upside down in order to make it right. Lk 1.51-55 The key to Mary’s thinking is in her statement, “He scattered those who were overconfident in their thinking.” If you think you know how the world works, but your thinking is entirely based on your own comfortable position, are you in for a shocker. (Fellow Americans: Pay attention.)

Mary began by pointing out how her soul and spirit—the immaterial parts of her, which moderns refer to as our “consciousness”—recognize God’s greatness. Partly in comparison with her position, “the lowness of his slave,” because it’s how she thought of herself. Lk 1.38 Partly because she realized she’s now part of salvation history: She referred to “the God who saves me,” for she of course believed, as Jews did, the whole point of Messiah is salvation. Her son’s name Jesus Lk 1.31 means “the LORD saves.” She didn’t yet know how he’d save them; only that the first step was to get born and raised. And she got to raise him.

Much too much emphasis is made on how Mary birthed Jesus, and not enough on how she raised Jesus. Probably that’s because a lot of Christians unconsciously think since Jesus is God, he needed no one to raise him: He already knew everything, and knew better. They point to how he taught the scribes in Jerusalem when he was only 12, Lk 2.41-51 or how the folks in his homeland wondered where he got all his wisdom. Mk 6.2 Or they even borrow some stories out of the ridiculous apocryphal gospels. They don’t understand how, when Jesus gave up his divine privileges, Pp 2.7 this includes his all-knowingness. The only knowledge he took with him was that of the Father. Jn 7.29 The rest he had to learn—from his parents.

Mary appreciated all God had done for her, and the honor he’d given her, and said “His mercy, to those who fear him, lasts for generations,” loosely quoting Exodus. Ex 20.6

Her lowliness led her to recall God likes to use the lowly to accomplish his goals. They recognize their achievements are only done through God’s power, not their own. They appreciate him more. So Mary proclaimed a few of the things God does to put the world topsy-turvy to establish his Kingdom. He scatters the overconfident, knocks down dynasties, fills the hungry and empties the wealthy, and looks out for Israel—an occupied vassal state of the mighty Roman Empire—because it was founded on God’s relationship with their trusting ancestor Abraham.

Yep, Mary understood how God worked. It’s why she was well-equipped to raise him.

December 24, 2010

When God Invades a Life

From Internet Monk, this question:

Mary was more than likely no more than 13 or 14 years old when the angel appeared to her. She had her whole life in front of her—a marriage to a man who would be able to provide for her, and that was not something to take for granted in those days. And then … and then God came and turned her whole world upside down.

Was this fair? Shouldn’t God knock before entering someone’s life? How would you have responded if the angel had come to you with this news? And does God still move in impossible ways today? Is God still coming and turning people’s lives upside-down?

And these responses:

  • Karin: Being told that you are favored by God would make saying ‘yes’ a whole lot easier and saying ‘no’ a whole lot harder. Mary seemed wise beyond her years and said, “I am the Lord’s servant.” At age 13 or 14 one usually does not have preconceived ideas about the consequences of such a life changing decision. Perhaps this kind of visitation by an angel and being chosen to be the mother of the long awaited Messiah was every young spiritually minded Israelite girl’s dream!If my daughter had come and told me that she experienced the same as what Mary experienced, I would probably have needed a visitation from an angel to confirm it, just as Joseph did!
  • Joanie: I have noticed that when Zechariah questioned the angel about how his wife could possibly become pregnant, he was made unable to speak until John was born. But Mary questioned the angel about how she could possibly get pregnant and the angel explained. I have read that Zechariah was a priest, was old and should have known that God could do whatever God wanted to do. Mary was a young girl and as such, was treated more…patiently. Do you often wonder what it would be like to encounter an angel? Do you think angels take on human-like properties so that they can communicate with us? I wonder how long it took for Jesus as he was growing up to fully realize who he was, why he was and what he had to do? And how much of that would Mary have understood? When they were at the wedding in Cana together, she obviously knew that he could turn water into wine. How did she know he could do that and would do that?
  • Hannah: Mary’s response of submission to God is so beautiful. I wonder if this was, completely and utterly out of the blue for her, or if, in some way, God had been preparing her for what He needed her to do? He doesn’t test us beyond what we can bear, so says the word, and she must have trusted God so much to just submit to him like that, not knowing at that time if Joseph would stick by her or not. And if God was preparing Mary in some small way, would He have been preparing Joseph too then, to do the right thing and stay with her. Did they risk small town humiliation and unbelief, or was the culture of the time open to what they said to curious neighbors and family friends about Mary’s pregnancy? They had to be so strong, it seems to me, in their commitment to God and each other and their trust in what God had told them. I wonder what Mary and Joseph’s individual relationships to God had been like up to that time?
  • John: I think when God speaks to people in these more direct and miraculous ways, we encounter more closely just what the nature of his kingdom is and how it operates. And because of that, things like having our lives turned upside down tend to pale in comparison. It’s not that there aren’t real effects on our lives, but that we have encountered in some very real way an intersection between our earthly plodding and the fuller reality of God’s eternal kingdom and purpose. When that happens, priorities get shifted a bit. In other words, the reality of God with us begins to take hold and change things, starting with us. “Shouldn’t God knock before entering someone’s life?”  I think God does, but in our dullness and distraction we aren’t always listening. And even if we are, he still tends to look and act a little different than we imagined before the actual encounter.God still turns lives upside down and moves in impossible ways today, but it’s easy to miss if I’m not looking and listening. Lord, give me the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

Read the other comments and join the discussion at Internet Monk.

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Heartfelt thanks to faithful blog readers and wishes for God’s best in your life in the year to come.   Merry Christmas.   ~ Paul.