Reformed Quarterly Volume 7, Issue 4
The lack of joyful response to the will of God as it is revealed for our lives is a common Christian experience. Whether God’s will is made known through circumstances, by the constraint of the Holy Spirit, or by the dictates of Scripture, it frequently runs counter to our own desires.
When Mary finds out in Luke 1:26-38 that she is to be the Virgin who is to conceive the child who will be the Son of God, she is not thrilled. In fact, her immediate response is that of rejection. “How will this be,” she asks, “since I am a virgin?” The thought of facing public humiliation and misunderstanding seems intolerable for her. Yet, when the angel explains that the Spirit of God will overshadow her and that she will conceive, there is a resignation in her life. At the point where Mary comes face to face with the angel of the Lord, whose message devastates her composure, we find her beginning the process of accepting the will of God. She acknowledges that, even though it will not be her will, nonetheless God’s will must be done.
On returning from a visit with her cousin, Elizabeth, Mary reflects the realization that response to the will of God can be more than weak surrender (Luke 1:46-47). When joyfully embraced, the will of God calls forth a song of praise, for it is a perfect will to be perfectly enjoyed.
This is the spiritual progress of a soul, moving from a rejection of God’s will in life to the joy of accepting that will. There are times when we argue with God and do not desire His perfect will, yet we recognize that He cannot be overcome. Like Job, we must say, “So be it unto me,” even though we do not enjoy what He gives. Mary can sing, and we can echo “My soul praises God, my Lord; my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47).
A whole series of events leads to this, including the counsel of a wise and godly woman, and the speech by an angel of the Lord. But something else occurs –an encounter with the living God Himself. For God draws Mary to that spiritual place where she is able to enjoy His will. And this is part of our own experience. There are times when God raises up faithful counselors, men and women who have shown us dimensions of our lives that we have never seen, dimensions of God’s blessings that we have never imagined. We begin to say, “Thank God for wise people,” and we do not ignore them. Again, we find them to be messengers sent from the Lord, appointed to us.
After visiting Elizabeth, her cousin, Mary recognizes that the living God has spoken directly to her. This realization causes her to cry out in praise, “My soul praises God, my Lord; my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47). The depth of feeling that this reflects is indicated, first of all, by her choice of words. The word “soul” here signifies her use of the rational process. It encompasses the recognition that she is able to identify the hand of God in her history and in her circumstances. Frequently, the word “soul” is used in Scripture to reflect our ability to think, see, analyze, and decide. Thus we see that Mary is acknowledging that she is able to praise God because she is able to relate with her mind and see all that He has done and all that He has brought about in her life. At the same time she says, “My spirit rejoices in God, my Savior.” And here in the word “spirit” is a reference to a perception that is higher than the rational. When Mary turns round and says, “My spirit rejoices,” she is acknowledging more than intellectual awareness of God’s action in her life; there is also a spiritual perception, an intuition, that God is at work.
As we begin to recognize that each of us must make the journey of submission to God’s will in our lives and come to the point where we are able to join Mary in exhorting the presence of God, we must understand something about the Lordship and majesty of God that is displayed here. Mary makes it clear that her response to God is to magnify Him. He is the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords. We ask the question, “How can you make God greater?” Of course at one level, it is impossible to magnify God. You cannot increase Him in any way.
This passage undoubtedly means that through our witness, others will see how great God is. When God touches our souls, our spirits, and our minds, thus conforming us to Himself, it is then our desire for those who view our lives to see God in a greater degree than at any other time. There is a sense in which God grows greater for them. This challenges our half-hearted commitment. There are times when we cross our fingers and say “Yes” to God. We need to uncross them, recognizing that our submission to Him is a joyful experience.
Not only do we see this woman’s depth of feeling as God moved in her, but we also see an expression of her understanding of her Lord that causes her to rejoice in what He is doing to her. Certain things she sees about Him cause this. First, she sees God in His greatness and His glory. “My soul doth magnify the Lord” indicates that she recognizes Him for what He is, the One who controls the destiny and affairs of men and of nations; the One who is the rescuer from sin and hopelessness, despair and the past. When nobody else is around, when there is nothing else –there is God, our Savior. She sees the Lord, not simply as the destroyer or the avenger, but as the Savior and renewer of life.
While she sees God as the powerful Lord, able to do all that He purposes and desires, Mary recognizes her own weakness. In that weakness and need she turns in humility to seek His strength and presence. She recognizes that the world is under the grip of the devil; she knows the enormity of the power of evil distorting all of reality, recognizing herself to be a part of it; and she knows God as the rescuer, the Savior. She sees His power is sufficient to deal with the need of her world and her own heart. As a consequence, she magnifies Him.
Again, she sees the holiness of God, for she cries, “And holy is His name.” We might ask, “Why is there salvation?” It is summed up simply in that statement –“holy is His name.” Salvation has occurred because God is holy. He made the world, and it was good; the power of evil entered in with its distortion and its power of separateness and brokenness, and God vindicated His creation by saving His people.
You and I are saved because God was not prepared to see the world and all that He had purposed for it and within it destroyed. The reality of sin’s entry, its desecrating capacity, and its destructive impact are not to be denied. However, evil is not to be the victor in the world that God has made or in the lives of His people. Mary sees this and worships Him. She glimpses God, and her heart magnifies Him.
At Christmas time we are faced anew with the dramatic announcement of the incarnation. As God works out His purpose of salvation, we are driven to a heightened sense of worship and a more profound obedience. At the same time, the incarnation proffers to us the promise of the transformation from the base metal of weary resignation to the pure gold of confident rejoicing. We learn, with Mary, how in the face of human problems we may yet call God “blessed” and His will “perfect” whatever it may bring our way.