By Annette Griffin, Crosswalk.com
Many Christians reserve the nativity story for Christmastime reflection. But tucked within the narrative of our Lord's sacred birth is the key to a joyful Thanksgiving celebration. Mary's song of praise embodies the essence of gratitude and points us to the source of every hope.
The Biblical Backdrop of Mary's Song of Praise
Have you ever concealed a secret so important, miraculous, and worthy of celebration that you were forced to clamp a figurative hand over your mouth to keep your heart from exploding? Mary finds herself in this position after she is visited by the angel Gabriel, as described in the first chapter of Luke.
When Gabriel declares Mary "highly favored" and informs the young virgin, barely a teenager, that she will soon give birth to a son that she is to name Jesus, Mary is perplexed and undoubtedly frightened. But the angel assures her she has nothing to fear because the conception will be a supernatural work of God's power through the Holy Spirit. And her son will be the Son of the Most High—the promised Messiah.
In humble obedience, Mary accepts her sacred responsibility and honor without asking the angel what she should do next or even requesting a sign to confirm the shocking revelation. But our gracious God provides Mary with her next steps and additional assurance by pointing her to her cousin, Elizabeth.
"Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail" (Luke 1:36).
The Setting for Mary's Song of Praise
Because women in that day never traveled alone, Mary likely made the journey to her cousin Elizabeth's house as part of a group. This wouldn't have been difficult considering four times a year, all observant Jews made pilgrimages to Jerusalem.
Most scholars believe Mary's trip to Judea took 8-10 days. So, Mary held on to her secret for over a week (probably longer, depending on how long it took her to begin the journey). This was not an unusual practice for Mary. We learn from scripture that she often held on to, pondered, and treasured the Lord's revelations to her (Luke 1:29, 2:19, 2:51).
Wise beyond her years, Mary knew she must conceal and savor the long-awaited news about the coming Messiah and allow God to reveal His plan in His perfect timing. But oh, what a heavy secret to hold. For 700 years, her people had longed for the promised King. Mary grew up hearing all the Messianic prophecies, including Isaiah's proclamation that a virgin would conceive and bring their savior into the world (Isaiah 7:14).
What Is Mary's Song of Praise?
When Mary entered Zechariah and Elizabeth's home and greeted her cousin, the baby within Elizabeth "leaped," and she exclaimed, "Blessed are you [Mary] among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? . . . Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!" (Luke 1:42-45)
Mary could no longer contain the hope growing inside her at Elizabeth's Spirit-filled affirmation. The treasure she'd pondered since Gabriel's visit erupted into a song of praise centuries in the making. And Mary said:
"My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors."
What Does Mary's Song of Praise Teach Us about Joy?
Mary's joy-filled song of praise, also known as the Magnificat, reveals an incredible truth about the young woman's mindset. She was not focused in any way on the trouble and ridicule she would inevitably face because of her "unplanned" pregnancy. Instead, she trusted God wholeheartedly and considered herself blessed to be a part of God's redemptive plan for humanity. When, by faith, Mary surrendered her life as a vessel for God's plan, he placed Jesus inside her body—and her joy was made complete.
Today, Jesus lives inside all who, by faith, put their trust in Him (2 Corinthians 13:5, Romans 8:10, Galatians 2:20). But unlike Mary, we carry the resurrected Christ. We hold this treasure in our mortal bodies, these clay jars, so that the world can see His power come alive through the "humble state" of his servants. In other words, as we abide in Him, He abides in us to make His glory known and our joy complete (John 15:11).
What Does Mary's Song of Praise Teach Us about Gratitude?
Mary's song reveals her awe and gratitude for God's mighty power. For centuries, her people had waited to see God's glory revealed. Like many before her and many since, Mary could have become cynical about God's ability to keep His promises. But when Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced God's plan, Mary knew without reservation that He could and would accomplish what He set out to do through her. She believed this because she recognized His plan as a fulfillment of prophecy and believed that her God was powerful enough to do the impossible. She was brought to her knees in humble gratitude as she watched His plan unfold before her eyes and through her body.
True gratitude erupts from our souls when we, like Mary, see God for who He is and recognize how utterly unworthy we are to receive His favor and blessings.
How Can We Emulate Mary's Joy and Gratitude at Thanksgiving?
This year, instead of putting the Magnificat in a box marked "Don't open till Christmas," along with the wreaths, lights, and handmade ornaments, we can use Mary's joy-filled song of praise as a model for our gratitude. While we thank God for family, friends, food, and a variety of other temporal blessings bestowed by His gracious hand, let's remember the Almighty for who He is, all He has done in the past, all He is doing now, and His promises for the future.
A Thanksgiving Prayer of Joy
Dear Heavenly Father, from our innermost being, we thank and praise You for who You are. We rejoice in You, our God and our Savior. Thank you that while we were sinners, you sent Jesus to redeem and deliver us from our sins. Holy is Your name. Your mercy from generation to generation is unfathomable. Thank you for the millions of things you do daily to protect and provide for us. Thank you that you are faithful and true and keep Your promises. Thank you for working through us, Your humble servants, to reveal Your love and power to the lost world. And thank you, dear Lord, for the joy of your indwelling presence. In Jesus's name, Amen.
Photo Credit: Flickr/Lawrence OP
Annette Marie Griffin is an award-winning author and speaker who has managed and directed children’s and youth programs for more than 20 years. Her debut children’s book, What Is A Family? released through Familius Publishing in 2020. Annette has also written curriculum for character growth and development of elementary-age children and has developed parent training seminars to benefit the community. Her passion is to help wanderers find home. She and her husband have five children—three who have already flown the coop and two adopted teens still roosting at home—plus two adorable grands who add immeasurable joy and laughter to the whole flock.
This article is part of our larger Thanksgiving Resource Library. Learn about the first Thanksgiving, what Thanksgiving means in the Bible, how to get along with your family, and ways you can make this celebration more meaningful.
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