(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)
The Magnificat (Mary’s Song)
A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.
In the second week of Advent, we light the candle of peace. The Old Testament word for peace meant much more than just a temporary truce, a time when life was not marred by open conflict. The psalmist used an all-inclusive Hebrew word that referred to all the many dimensions of human well-being. As the New Bible Dictionary put it, “the Old Testament word for peace, shalōm, means ‘completeness,’ ‘soundness,’ ‘well-being.’”
God’s supreme act to speak peace to the earth was to be born as a baby named Jesus (the Greek form of the Hebrew Joshua, which meant “God saves”). Gabriel’s announcement at first puzzled Mary, young and unmarried in the tiny town of Nazareth. Heaven’s messenger made her a world-changing promise—Mary’s child, he said, would “be called the Son of the Most High.”
Mary asked, “How will this happen?” Unlike his response to Zechariah (see Luke 1:19-20), Gabriel explained, saying: “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…” Then he added that Mary’s relative, Elizabeth, “labeled ‘unable to conceive’ is now 6 months pregnant” and said “Nothing is impossible for God.” Mary’s trusting response? “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.”
Luke 1:39-40, Matthew 1:18-23
Mary’s pregnancy altered her fiancé Joseph’s life as well as her own. “Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, [Joseph] decided to call off their engagement quietly.” But in God’s great timing, “as he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream…,” explained Mary’s pregnancy and repeated that the baby’s name would be Jesus (“God saves”). The child would fulfill Isaiah 7:14’s words about a sign that meant Emmanuel—“God with us.”
We often call Luke 1:46-56 “The Magnificat” (magnificat is the first word of Mary’s song in the Latin Bible). Tradition said Mary sang these words, making them another early “Christmas carol.” The first part of Mary’s song was full of pure joy, excitement, anticipation, and hope. Mary would bear a son–God’s Son Jesus—and had found encouragement and confirmation from her relative Elizabeth. This was her praise-filled response.
Mary also rejoiced that her child would fulfill God’s promise to bring justice to an unjust world. Her song (which echoed, in many ways, the song Samuel’s mother sang in 1 Samuel 2:1-10) said that, in Jesus, God would care for the lowly, hungry and oppressed. The coming of the eternal king sent by God would turn upside-down many of the human values that had always tended to rule the world.
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
Almighty God, we pray that we might live by your will and values rather than our own. We pray that we, like Joseph, might never humiliate others, making them feel small so that we can feel big. Trusting that nothing is impossible for you, we open ourselves to your possibilities. Lord Jesus, we acknowledge you as God and, like Mary, we sing your praises. Amen.
Some people seem to love decorating their homes, inside and out, for the Christmas holiday season, while others simply don’t enjoy that. What do you think makes the difference? Why do you like or dislike Christmas decorating? Do you enjoy seeing the elaborate decorations of others?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
Read Psalm 85:8-13. This is a psalm of peace. What does “peace” mean to you? Besides a time when we are not at war, how else do we use the word “peace”? What kinds of places seem peaceful? How would you describe that kind of peace? The psalm also suggests that peace and righteousness are connected. How might those two states of being work together? Does Christmas seem to be a time of peace and righteousness in comparison to most of the rest of the year?
Read Luke 1:26-33. Before Gabriel appeared, was Mary already an important person? Was Nazareth an important town? Do these facts suggest anything to you? What factors do you think led God to choose Mary? What kind of woman do you think Mary probably was, spiritually? How would you imagine Mary received this news? Gabriel said that the child was to be called the “Son of the Most High.” What significance would this have had for Mary and for all Jews at that time?
Read Luke 1:34-38. What do you think Mary meant when she said, “I am the Lord’s servant”? Did Jesus come into the world in a completely unique way? Why would God have decided to have Jesus conceived and born in this way? Do you feel that you completely understand how Jesus was conceived? Can anyone fully understand this concept? Are you comfortable with the Christian belief that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine? What does this mean to you?
Read Luke 1:39-40, Matthew 1:18-23. Imagine that you were Mary and had heard this fantastic story of how you were to conceive. Why would you immediately have wanted to hurry to see a close woman relative, especially one you knew was pregnant? Would you have needed the comfort that Elizabeth might offer? Do you imagine that Elizabeth was a “safe” person for Mary? How can you as a group nurture a safe environment for one another? What kind of man did Joseph have to be in order to choose not to humiliate Mary? How does the message Matthew drew from Isaiah in verse 23 point us beyond shopping and profit margins to the real meaning of the Christmas season?
Read Luke 1:46-50. These verses are called “Mary’s Song” or “The Magnificat”. Tradition says Mary sang these verses as a demonstration of her joy and faith. Have things happened in your life that have brought you similar joy and strengthened your faith? How have you, like Mary, ever felt truly blessed by God? How is Christmas, the day we honor as the birth of Christ, different than other holidays in which we celebrate people (e.g. Presidents’ Day, birthdays, etc.)?
Read Luke 1:51-55. This is the second part of Mary’s song. Does it surprise you to hear deep and poetic thoughts coming from a peasant girl? What might have inspired her, perhaps even beyond her humble abilities? Could you be inspired beyond the bounds of what you see as your background and abilities? Does this give you hope for your future walk with God? Do you think of yourself as humble? What defines us as humble or proud?
From last week: Did you make it a week for planning? As we approach Christmas, did you look for ideas on how to bring hope into the lives of those who have little or no hope? Did you make a list of opportunities you discovered? Did you prioritize that list, based on the gifts God has given to you? Did you plan for how you could begin to make your little dent in the prison of despair? What did you decide to do?
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon of December 9, 2012:
Mary’s song is actually based upon the Psalm of Hannah, the mother of Samuel the great Old Testament prophet, when she dedicated her son to God. It is found in I Samuel 2:1-10. It is likely that this song was as familiar to Mary as the words to “Amazing Grace” are to most of you. When she cried out her song of praise she made the images and words of Hannah’s Psalm her own….
The Magnificat is often seen as just a beautiful song of praise. But its words can be quite disturbing. The repressive government of Guatemala in the early 1980’s actually banned public reading of it, afraid it might lead people to support their opposition….
This is the theme of the Magnificat: that God sees the world differently than the world sees the world. God, as we learned last week, has a heart that is concerned for those the world considers insignificant or worth-less. The Greek word translated “lowliness” meant, in those times, the socially low, poor, powerless and unimportant. Yet God has looked upon lowly, unimportant, insignificant Mary, and has, in Mary’s words, “Done great things for me.” The word for “great things” is a variant of “magnify.” Mary says, in essence, “My soul magnifies God because he has magnified me!”
This quality of looking with compassion and concern upon the lowly is captured by the Greek word ELEOS. Eleos was the name of the Greek god of pity or compassion and is most often translated by the English word MERCY. This entire hymn of Mary’s is about the mercy of God. Twice the word Eleos appears in the Magnificat but the theme appears throughout.
By the way, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, but when it was translated into Greek the word Eleos was used to translate the Hebrew word HESED or CHESED. This word appears over 240 times in the Old Testament and is, like Eleos, a word that means compassion, pity, loving kindness or mercy. Both are closely linked to grace. The words usually connote a concern for those who for whatever reason are “the least of these”….
Mary sings that God “Scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.” What does this mean? I couldn’t help but think of Jim Collins book How the Mighty Fall. The book came out a few years ago. Collins was with Stanford’s Graduate School of Business before launching his own management laboratory. He’s written some of the best selling and most influential books in the business world–I’m guessing most of you business types have read Good to Great or Built to Last.
In How the Mighty Fall he describes his research into companies that once were great, but had fallen, some of which were no longer around at all. We can think of many of these titans of industry that have now collapsed. He describes five stages of decline, the first of which is HUBRIS BORN OF SUCCESS. And the second is THE UNDISCIPLINED PURSUIT OF MORE.
What happens to these once great leaders is that their success goes to their head, and they lose their focus. Their thinking becomes clouded. They forget they exist to serve their customers. Or they stop listening to others, thinking they have all the answers. They begin to believe that their success is owed them. They forget that they are meant to practice kindness and care for people. When hubris fills your head, and the desire for more fills your heart, you become scattered in the thoughts of your heart!
Mary goes on to say “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones.” This was dangerous to say in her day, when King Herod was willing to kill his own wife and children in order to protect his throne and his grip on power. But when the powerful forget who granted them power, when they forget that kings rule as servants of God and of their people, their doom is sure.
The bullies, the cruel, the merciless will eventually meet the strong arm of God. Sometimes they meet it through the downfall that naturally comes to those who persistently do wrong. The mighty ultimately fall. Or sometimes their fall waits until they cower in fear before the judgment seat of God—but he will bring them down.
The last negative statement in the Magnificat is when Mary says that God “Sent the rich away empty.” She’s describing in these statements how God has acted in history. To be honest, it is this last statement that makes us squirm when we read Mary’s words. Even modest-income Americans are wealthy in a world where 1.5 billion people earn less than $650 per year. In America itself the gap between rich and poor has grown significantly over the last 35 years. Bloomberg recently reported that the income gap between rich and poor in America has grown to its largest since 1967.
As Americans we have strong disagreements about what this means, and what, if anything should be done about it. But here’s one thing we cannot do: we cannot say that those of us who have, bear no responsibility towards those that struggle. Whether you believe that responsibility is best fulfilled by private citizens and charitable organizations, or by the government, what we cannot say is that we don’t care about extreme poverty in other nations, or poverty in our own. For a nation that stops caring is a nation that will know the strong arm of the Lord working against it. We ignore Mary’s Magnificat to our own peril. But a nation that is merciful towards others, its own people and those of the world, will see the blessings of the Lord–he will lift them up.
Listen once more to the words of Mary as she describes God’s strong arm working on behalf of the poor and oppressed, “Lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things.” But how does God lift up the lowly? How does he fill the hungry with good things?
He uses us. We become his instruments in this. This usually requires selflessness and sacrifice. It often requires conviction and great courage.
Christian Christmas Songs
These beautiful songs weave a tale about the birth of Jesus and the visit of Mother Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. Several Christian Christmas songs make us relive the moment when Jesus Christ was born. Here we have a list of some memorable Christian Christmas songs that have been sung over the years by kids and adults alike, to celebrate Christmas.
Joy to the World Away in a Manger God Rest You Merry Gentlemen
O Come, All Ye Faithful Come, O Come, Emmanuel O Little Town of Bethlehem
We Three Kings What Child is This? Hark! the Herald Angels Sing
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear Silent Night, Holy Night The First Noel
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks Oh! Little child of Bethlehem I Heard the bells on Christmas Day
Most Popular Secular Christmas Songs
According to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, these are the Top 15 most-performed “Holiday” songs for the first five years of the 21st Century:
The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) – Mel Tormé, Robert Wells
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town – Fred Coots, Haven Gillespie
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Ralph Blane, Hugh Martin
Winter Wonderland – Felix Bernard, Richard B. Smith
White Christmas – Irving Berlin
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! – Sammy Cahn, Jule Styne
Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer – Johnny Marks
Jingle Bell Rock – Joseph Carleton Beal, James Ross Boothe
I’ll Be Home For Christmas – Walter Kent, Kim Gannon, Buck Ram
Little Drummer Boy – Katherine K. Davis, Henry V. Onorati, Harry Simeone
Sleigh Ride – Leroy Anderson, Mitchell Parish
It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year – Edward Pola, George Wyle
Silver Bells – Jay Livingston, Ray Evans
Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree – Johnny Marks
Feliz Navidad – José Feliciano
This will be a week for inspirational music. As we approach Christmas, listen to a Christian music radio station (like 88.5 or 97.3 in Kansas City) for music that will soften your heart and strengthen your faith. Many Christians have never tried this, preferring to stick to their favorite secular music. For at least this one week, listen often along with other Christians to see if your life, attitudes and emotions might be better served. Next week, share with the group whatever you experienced