At the centre of Christmas celebrations is a heart of worship as we stand in awe and thankfulness because of the amazing reality of the incarnation: that at the first Christmas the eternal and sovereign God became flesh and dwelt among us [John 1:14] so that he could save us from the just penalty of our sins [Hebrews 2:9-18].

This heart of worship is first reported in Mary's song in Luke 1:46-55.

In Christmas messages we are often told that the virgin Mary was just a young teenage girl, and most likely she was. But this emphasis on her youth has probably distracted us from another truth about Mary: that she was a young woman of strong and true faith in God that was generated by a sound knowledge and understanding of God.

From Mary's song we learn:

Mary knew God as 'the Lord' [46], 'the Mighty One' [49], in sovereign control over the earth [51-52]. Mary knew that God 'has performed mighty deeds with his arm', 'has brought down rulers from their thrones'. Was she thinking of the exodus from Egypt, or of the Israelites' victories in Canaan, or, perhaps of God's mighty acts of judgment against the idolatrous Israelites, or, of the Persian overthrow of Babylon? Whatever Mary had in mind she knew God as the Mighty Sovereign Lord beside whom human powers were as nothing.

Mary also knew that this Sovereign Lord, this Mighty One, demonstrated his power not only in a physical sense, but also in terms of over-riding and shattering human perspectives and priorities: his sovereign knowledge penetrates the human heart and mind: he knows who are 'those who fear him' [50], he knows who are 'proud in their inmost thoughts' and who are the humble [51-52]. He is unmoved by human perceptions of who is great or important or deserving, completely over-turning fundamentally irrelevent human distinctions [51-53].

Mary also knew this sovereign God as 'Savior [47], and that the salvation he gives is undeserved and unmerited, given only because God is a God of sovereign mercy [50,54]. Mary also knows that God's salvation is directly connected with the eternal covenant promises he gave to Abraham and his descendents [54-55].

Mary also knew that God is holy [49]. Totally perfect. Totally other. Totally awesome. Totally different from all human concepts of 'god'. So holy that only by his mercy can a human survive in his presence.

In all of this Mary's knowledge of God is personal - this God whom she knows from his actions in the history of Israel is not just the God of history, who has made himself known in the history of her people. He is the Mighty One who 'has done great things for me' [49]. He is God my Savior' [47], who 'has been mindful' of her personally [48].

And, amazingly, she understands that her present condition, this humanly incomprehensible pregnancy, is this omnipotent, omniscient, merciful, covenant God bringing to pass, bringing to fulfilment his covenant promises of salvation [54-55] in a way that totally disregards all human perceptions of what is right and appropriate. God chose her, not from among the 'proud', or the 'rulers', or the 'rich', but from among 'those who fear him', the 'humble' and the 'hungry'.

Also amazingly, she understands that the role and responsibility her sovereign Lord has given to her is something that will impact 'all generations' from that time onwards [49]. She knows where she fits in the big picture of God's eternal plan of salvation through Christ.

Out from this knowledge of God proceeds true worship:

'My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior' [46,47].

This is the heart of worship generated by Christmas: glory to God and human joy in the presence of God our Saviour. Because of the Christmas Child we now see and know God, and can therefore glorify him; because of the Christmas Child our sin is forgiven, our guilt is borne away, so that now we, sinners though we are, have the freedom to rejoice, instead of being afraid, in the presence of God [Luke 2:10].

© Rosemary Bardsley 2007, 2019