Buddy the Elf has a principle for spreading Christmas cheer. If you’ve seen the movie ELF, you may recall it: “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is to sing loud for all to hear.”
I couldn’t agree more with his assessment of spreading Christmas cheer. I love Christmas songs. In fact, I’m one of those weird ones that start listening to Christmas songs even before Thanksgiving. One of my favorite Christmas songs of all time is, “Mary Did You Know?”
I’m sure that when Mary received the news regarding her miraculous baby she didn’t know the extent to what her baby would eventually do.
However, Mary, after having received the news and visiting Elizabeth and Zechariah, she recites one of the greatest Christmas songs of all time. It is in her Magnificat that Mary reverberates a Christmas cheer that has been handed down throughout the millennia and has been heard by millions throughout history.
And it is her song of praise, celebration, and worship (her Christmas cheer) that reveals to us what she did know. So, what did Mary know?
She knew God was great and was greatly to be praised.
The coming of Jesus, the birth order of Jesus, completely rocked Mary and Joseph’s world. In fact, he turned their lives upside down. They would not live a normal life—a life that they had been planning before Jesus’ arrival.
Yet, even after having their normal lives turned upside down, she sings, “My soul praises the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
She even goes on to assume that “all generations will call me blessed.” While this certainly would be true, it would take some time. Yet she believed that God was doing a great thing and that she was humbled and bless to be part of His plan.
Just as Moses, Mary received a glimpse of God’s glory and greatness. In fact, she was pregnant with the very presence of God. Having caught his glory, she now is able to sing (and live) for his glory.
She knew God is merciful to those who place their faith in him.
Mary moves from dwelling on God’s glory and greatness, and how he had personally and magnificently invaded her life, to noting the offer of his mercy to all those who “fear” him.
Fear can be translated, “honor, reverence, or faith.” In other words, God is merciful to those who honor, revere, and place their faith in him. This invitation to fear God is one for all generations, nationalities, ethnicities, tongues, tribes, and people. There are no bounds to God’s mercy. There are no stipulations on who can fear God and who can’t.
Mary knows that God is merciful, gracious, and loving, and that the coming of this baby is ultimate proof that God so loves the world. As a result, her Christmas cheer invites all generations into the love of this merciful God.
She knew that God is in the process of turning the world right-side up.
Mary, in verses 51–54, refers to what God “has” done in the past. In many cases, like the one Mary describes, God’s work in the past is reflective of His continued work in the present (and the future). And the work of God that Mary sings about brings about a great reversal in the world.
Throughout redemptive history—for history is really HIS-STORY of redeeming the world—God has humbled the proud and exalted the humble. This is the upside-down aspect of God’s kingdom. God tears down the prideful, arrogant, narcissistic, conceited, and those who take pride in their own power and religiosity.
This speaks of individuals like Pharaoh, Goliath, King Saul, Nabal, and Nebuchadnezzar. This also speaks of nations like the Egyptians, Canaanites Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes, Persians, Romans, and even Israel.
However, on the other hand, he elevates the humble, lowly, weak, and meek.
In addition, Mary goes on to exclaim, “He has satisfied the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
We don’t exactly know what Scripture references she has in mind. Maybe she is recounting some of the Psalms she grew up singing. Psalms like, “Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of men! For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things” (Ps. 107:8–9) Or, “The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing” (Ps. 145:14–16).
Regardless, Mary knows that in God’s economy the weak are made strong, the poor become rich, and the humble are exalted. But, those who reject God’s glory, lordship, and Kingdom—although they are rich, they become poor; although they are strong, they become weak; although they have power, they become powerless; and although they are proud, they are humbled.
Mary’s song of Christmas cheer is one of joy and hope and she reminds the audience that God is in the process of turning an upside-down world back right side up.
She knew God was keeping his promise to create a people for himself.
Mary concludes her song by stating, “He has helped his servant Israel in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
Her song of praise and Christmas cheer flows from her understanding of redemptive history. She connects what’s going on with the promises made to Abraham and his offspring forever.
Now what exactly did God promise Abraham? In the context of the creation and dissemination of the nations in Genesis 10, God comes to Abraham and promises to make him a great name and nation, and that through his offspring he will bring blessing to all families of the earth.
In other words, God promises to create one people—from all peoples—through his people.
I don’t have time to chart it, but if you look carefully throughout the OT, you will see the heart and hands of God working through his people to display his glory and kingdom and drawing people outside of Israel to himself.
In fact, Paul in Galatians 3:7–8 says that what God told Abraham in Genesis 12 was in all actuality the gospel. He writes it this way, “And the Scripture foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’”
Mary composed a song based upon what she knew. Interestingly, for a young teenage girl her song is theologically robust, which should communicate to us that you don’t have to be well-advanced in years to have a well-advanced faith.
While some scholars believe Mary’s song echoes the song of Hannah in the Old Testament, it nevertheless describes the essence of the Christmas cheer that needs to be spread loudly for all to hear. And that Christmas cheer consists of:
- God’s glory and greatness involved personally in our lives,
- God’s invitation for all to experience His love, grace, and mercy,
- God’s kingdom activity of turning an upside-down world, right-side up,
- God’s global redemptive mission of creating one people from all peoples.
The reality is, once you catch the true meaning of Christmas, you can’t help but share it with the world. Remember, you can’t spread what you haven’t caught!
So, my hope and prayer for all those who believe in Christ is that we would sing and spread (with our lips and our lives) this Christmas cheer throughout all the year!
Merry Christmas and Gloria in excelsis Deo!
Josh Laxton currently serves as the Assistant Director of the Billy Graham Center, Lausanne North American Coordinator at Wheaton College, and a co-host of the new podcast, Living in the Land of Oz. He has a Ph.D. in North American Missiology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.