How to Have a Christmas Heart

What is it about the Christmas season that makes it easier to act like Scrooge than Mary of Nazareth? Honestly, sometimes the Christmas frenzy can bring out the worst in humanity.

If you’re anything like me, I typically spend the majority of the Advent season consumed with Christmas minutia. Schedules, relationships, obligations, finances – sometimes it’s more than overwhelming. And before you know it, you’re battling over parking spaces at Wal-Mart and trying to avoid titanic-size meltdowns in the mall play area.  And even if you didn’t say it, you were certainly thinking ‘Bah Humbug!’

But for many women, Christmas is a difficult season because of more pressing issues. Old wounds, memories of lost loved ones, or even just simple, unmet expectations can easily dull the glitter and wonder of the holidays.

So, why is that so-called Christmas Spirit so elusive? Why is it so much easier to act like Scrooge than…say…Mary of Nazareth? For many of us, we simply don’t understand the true nature of the Christmas story and its implications for everyday of the year.

One woman who did understand the significance of celebrating the hope of Christmas was Mary. In Luke 1:46-55, the gospel writer records what scholars call the Magnificat, a song uttered by Mary after Gabriel broke the news that she would bear God’s Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:26-38). A song constructed after a joyous reunion with her cousin Elizabeth, who rejoiced over her own miraculous pregnancy (Luke 1:29-45).

And even though the biblical writers don’t record very many of Mary’s words, what IS shared is significant and possibly even life-changing for you. Because this highly-favored woman gives us some clues about capturing the wonder of Christmas. In her song, Mary reveals four ways we can have a true Christmas heart.

1)      A CHRISTMAS HEART TRUSTS IN GOD FOR SALVATION (Luke 1:46-47)

46 And Mary said: “ My soul magnifies the Lord,  47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior[1] 

Tradition tells us many things about Mary, and as women we particularly fall prey to speculating about this wonderful woman. But of all the things we truly know of her, Luke tells us that Mary of a woman of faith. She believed the messenger of God (Luke 1:38), and her belief is what prompts Elizabeth call her ‘blessed’/happy (Luke. 1:45).
Specifically, Mary tells us in her song that she believed God’s promises of salvation. And her belief in God as her Savior is foundational to her song of praise.

Mary’s faith was informed; she was familiar with the Scriptures’ claim concerning how she should interpret reality – hoping for a coming Messiah who would restore God’s kingdom.

Too often are presented with a picture of Mary as a demure woman, and her piety and purity is upheld over all of her other traits. While she was all those things, I’m sure, this passage clarifies that Mary is a woman of Scripture. Her song of praise reveals she was steeped in Old Testament prophecy and poetry, each line referencing and borrowing language from the Law and Writings.[2] Mary’s faith was informed; she was familiar with the Scriptures claim concerning how she should interpret reality – hoping for a coming Messiah who would restore God’s kingdom. For Mary, a Christmas heart trusts in God for salvation.

2)      A CHRISTMAS HEART TRUSTS IN GOD FOR SIGNIFICANCE (Luke 1:48)

48 For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.[3] 

Mary’s heart was not only characterized by belief in the promises of God, but her heart was also characterized by humility. Look at the words she uses to describe herself – ‘lowly,’ and ‘a maidservant.’[4] In reflecting on being chosen to bear God’s Son, Mary is claiming little self-worth.

Mary is favored by God, not because of her own accomplishments or demeanor, but because of Christ. Her blessings are derived, not in her own significance, but in her identification with the un-born Christ child.

Yet, interestingly, she says “all generations will call meblessed.” There is no discrepancy here. Mary is saying – “my significance, my importance for history lies not in my own accomplishments, but in the One whom I carry in my womb.” And of all women on the face of the earth, I’d be comfortable saying that Mary had room to brag. Right? No other woman in history can make that same claim.

Mary trusted in God for her significance. And Mary is favored by God, not because of her own accomplishments or demeanor, but because of her connection with Christ. Her blessings are derived, not in her own significance, but in her identification with the un-born Christ child. For Mary, a Christmas heart trusts in God for significance.

3)      A CHRISTMAS HEART TRUSTS IN GOD’S CHARACTER (Luke 1:49-53)

In her song, Mary reveals to us that a Christmas heart not only trusts in God for salvation and significance, but a Christmas heart also demonstrates trust in God’s character. In the next few verses, Mary outlines three of God’s character qualities that hold grave significance for the human soul – holiness, mercy, and justice.

  • God is holy (vs. 49)

49 For He who is mighty has done great things for me,  And holy is His name.

Mary says God is worthy of trust because He is holy.[5] But when Mary says “holy is His name” she is speaking of more than God’s moral perfections. As a woman learned in the Scriptures, Mary knows that the Old Testament paints a broader portrait of God’s holiness. Often, the Old Testament prophets spoke of God’s holiness with respect to His “acts of righteousness and justice by which he fulfills his covenantal promises to the humble and lowly.” [6]

God’s holiness is linked to this holy activity toward mankind (Ps. 79:19). And in affirming God’s character as holy, Mary is saying –“I understand the impact of what’s about to happen to me. Not only am I pregnant by a miracle, but I’m bearing the Promised One, through whom God will restore the universe.”

God’s holiness is revealed in His faithfulness to fulfill His promises of salvation and restoration. And Mary realizes that the restoration promised by God (to make his servants holy once again) is inaugurated with the birth of her son (Ps. 111:9). A Christmas heart trusts in God’s holy character.

  • God is merciful (vs. 50)

50And His mercyison those who fear Him From generation to generation. 

In verse 50, Mary says that God is worthy of trust because He is merciful. Mercy means God withholds the judgment for sin that we rightfully deserve. And even Mary counted herself among those in need of God’s mercy (Lk 1:47). Yet, Mary speaks of more great news; qualitatively, she says, God’s mercy is eternal.[7] But in order to experience the eternal blessings of God’s mercy, Mary says we must “fear” God. This isn’t a fear-fear, but a reverential awe. God is after the human heart, but He won’t restore it without permission (or submission). According to Mary, our heart’s submission to God precedes our heart’s transformation. A Christmas heart trusts in God’s mercy.

  • God is just (vs. 51-53)

Not only is God worthy of trust because of His holy and merciful character, but in verses 50-53 Mary reveals her trust is secure in God because He is just.

51 He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

God’s just character requires Him to act justly toward His people and His creation. The Jews, having endured centuries of oppression at the hands of pagan governments and evil kings, deeply anticipated God’s justice for their lives. Justice, they believed, would bring the restoration of Israel and the fulfillment of God’s promises to them. However, God’s plans for restoration were (and are) cosmic. God’s plan for justice includes restoring the entire cosmos and His eternal throne (Is. 65).

And being saturated in the Scriptures, I believe Mary saw the big picture of God’s justice. How so? In verse 51, Mary references the “Arm” of the Lord. Throughout the Old Testament, the Arm of the Lord functioned as the means of God’s justice. Most frequently, God’s Arm is a symbol for His might (Ps. 89:13-14). But more specifically, it is through His Arm that God reclaims and restores His throne (Is. 40:10-11).

Later in Isaiah, the prophet reveals to us that the Arm is none other than the promised Servant whom God would send to save His people; the Arm of the Lord is the Messiah (Is. 52:9-10). Today, we know this individual to be Jesus Christ, a fact that surely wasn’t lost on Mary. Hence, we see her reference to the “Arm of the Lord” in this verse. The Servant, the Arm of the Lord, has arrived to reclaim His throne and reestablish His kingdom; the Arm of the Lord is the fulfillment of all the promises of God. And this Arm of Justice is the helpless baby she is carrying in her womb.

So, what kind of justice does the Arm bring to the earth? Mary’s Song is very descriptive. Mary envisions a society free of pride (Luke 1:51b; Ps. 68:1). Mary envisions a society free of oppression (Luke 1:52: Job. 5:11).[8] Mary envisions a society free of poverty (Luke 1:53; Ps. 107:9).[9] For Mary, a Christmas heart trusts in God’s transformative justice.

4)      A CHRISTMAS HEART TRUSTS IN GOD TO FULFILL HIS PROMISES (Luke 1:54-55)

Because God is holy, merciful and just, we can confidently trust in His promises to make us holy, show us mercy, and bring His justice to our lives. But the object of Mary’s trust was not vague. In verse 54, Mary says that through the baby she is carrying, God is remembering His promises of mercy to His people (Ps. 98:2-3).
54He has helped His servant Israel, In remembrance of His mercy, 55 As He spoke to our fathers,“To Abraham and to his seed forever.” 

Mary knew the promises of God were being fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. She trusted in God for salvation, fully aware that God’s promises of salvation were being manifested in the baby in her womb. And note the verb tense in verse 54! So confident is Mary that God is “remembering His mercy,” that she speaks in the past tense. According to Mary, God has already visited His people to “help them.” So, even though the Savior of the world is yet to be born, Mary refers to God’s mercy as having been already appropriated in her life and the life of her people.

Mary’s Christmas heart demonstrated trust – knowing that the Son she would bear would be the fulfillment of God’s promises concerning Abraham’s Seed (Gen. 17:7) and fulfilling God’s promises to restore the entire world! (Is. 65:17).

So, what is a Christmas Heart? A Christmas Heart is a heart of faith that trusts in the promises of God as fulfilled in His Son, Jesus Christ. A true Christmas heart keeps Christ at the center of life – whether it is Christmas or not. Despite circumstances, difficulties, and holiday stress, we should strive to be like Mary of Nazareth. Her Son, Jesus Christ, tells us as much.

Consider His words in Luke 11:27-28: “And it happened, as He spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!”  But He said, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!

When we follow the example of Mary of Nazareth in Luke 1:48-55, we reflect the true hope of Christmas – trust in God’s Word and the promises it contains. I hope this Christmas season you choose to pick up Mary’s Song and meditate on what God has done for you and the world through His Son, Jesus. Choose to trust. Choose to keep His Word.

Don’t forget to join us tomorrow at Hive Resources for more of our series: “The Christ of Christmas.” Desiré Miller of When You Rise will have some tips on teaching your children about the Christmas story. Plus, we’ll have a wonderful giveaway you don’t want to miss!

 


[1] See Ps. 25:5 and Mich. 7:7.

[2] To verbalize her hope in the Scriptures, Mary borrows heavily from the miraculous birth account of another Jewish woman – Hannah. Consider the similarities between Mary’s Song in Luke 1:38 and Hannah’s Song in 1 Sam 2:1.  Both women claim hope and trust in God for salvation.

[3] Stein, R. H. 2001, c1992. Vol. 24Luke (electronic ed.) Logos Library System; The New American Commentary. Broadman & Holman Publishers: Nashville. Stein writes: “Compare Gen 30:13 for an example of synonymous parallelism in which Leah’s blessedness was due not to her own piety but to God’s goodness toward her in granting her a child.”

[4] Again, consider the similarities between Mary’s self-description and Hannah’s description of herself in 1 Sam. 1:11.

[5] See 1 Sam. 2:2 for more similarities between Mary and Hannah’s song.

[6] See Stein.

[7] Ps. 103:17

[8] Note also the similarities between Mary and Hannah’s calls for justice in Luke 1:52-51-53 and 1 Sam. 2:7-8.

[9] See Stein. Ultimately, Mary began to see God’s promise of a just kingdom in her own lifetime (i.e.: the feeding of the 5,000 in Luke 9, the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 6:19-31, and the Lord’s Supper in Luke 22:14–20; 24:13–35; Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7, 11). Hannah praised God for this very same implication of salvation in 1 Sam. 2:5.

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