In Luke 1, Mary’s angel-visit is followed with a road trip. She sets out to see her relative Elizabeth, who she has learned has received a miracle of her own, becoming pregnant long after any believed possible.
In my years as an ESL teacher, I heard countless students begin sentences with these three words: “How you say…?” Poor grammar aside, the query was clear enough. What words does one use to express a given thought or name a given object? Mary’s trip likely spanned 100 miles, spread over three or four days. Surely she wondered, “How you say… I am pregnant with the Son of God?!”
My approach would have been to slope down easily into such a conversation. I would have begun talking about Elizabeth. Upon seeing her bulging belly, I could have asked questions for days about her pregnancy and her experiences and her emotions. After a comfortable stretch, I would then gently transition conversation toward my own set of experiences. (I confess that Mary’s particular story has no possible ramp for a smooth transition, but I likely would have tried this anyway!)
But God is not having it.
Upon hearing Mary’s “hello”, a womb wiggles, a junior jumps, and a priest’s wife turns prophetic. Immediately attention centers upon Jesus Christ. Not the game plan we created on the road trip!
It’s easy for me to imagine Mary conversationally meandering for a while before centering the visit upon Jesus. Embarrassingly, this is likely due to my own tendencies to meander in the affections of my heart and the devotions of my life. However, the Holy Spirit uses Elizabeth’s voice to prompt us:
- Do not relegate Jesus to the fringe.
- Do not minimize him.
- Do not buckle him in the backseat.
Instead, be very clear that Jesus is not merely one ingredient in your life recipe. He is front and first and foremost. Paul would argue that he is at the center of the entire cosmos (Colossians 1:16-17).
So set your eyes upon Jesus:
- Set them squarely.
- Set them solidly.
- Let them not wander.
- Let them not want.
For everything that God has for you – more than you could ask or imagine – resides in Jesus Christ. Like a meditative refrain of his name, we would be wise to sit and soak in the wonder of who he is.
In response to Elizabeth’s declaration, Mary is inspired to make her own. These words have become timeless, taking on the name “Magnificat”. Luke 1:46-56 breaks into noticeable halves. The first (46-50) is relatively personal; Mary is alluding to Yahweh’s unique work in her life. The second (51-56) zooms out to show a plan encompassing whole systems and societies, A mighty reversal for high and low, rich and poor, filled and empty. Many perceive these as “kingdom moves” – the renovations necessary as the Creator calibrates his world to his liking. The picture is wondrous if we imagine ourselves “moving on up” within the upheaval. However, I would argue most of us should sit with the more trouble implication that some of what we love will be tossed about by the Christ.
Few have been as helpful in clarifying the concept of the kingdom as Dallas Willard. He makes it easy to understand:
“Every last one of us has a ‘kingdom’ – or a ‘queedom’, or a ‘government’ – a realm that is uniquely our own, where our choice determines what happens. We are made to ‘have dominion’ within an appropriate realm of reality.”
And God’s kingdom is not that different:
“God’s own ‘kingdom’ or ‘rule’ is the range of his effective will, where what he wants done is done.”
This imagery brings alive the challenge of conversion. What happens when the “ways of the land” in God’s kingdom rub against the borders of my kingdom, governed by very different ways? Now we negotiate. Or debate. Or declare war.
This is why my eye lingers on Luke 1:51: “God’s arm has accomplished mighty deeds.” I imagine a child bragging of his father’s strength. A second child one-ups the first with bolder claims about his daddy’s muscles. The competition grows until some child silences the others with an unmatchable claim. Verse 51 strikes me as Mary preemptively ending all conversation. No one is so mighty as her Father, and his strength is most vividly seen in the very next phrase: “The proud in mind and heart, God has sent away in disarray.”
In a sense, God’s wondrous strength is seen most clearly in how he deals with the proud – those who know so much, those who have so much, those who are so much. Toward any form of pride – be it rebellious or religious – God’s response is completely predictable. He will scatter, he will break, he will undo. This has been true since Babel.
Perhaps surprisingly, this is actually God’s move of grace toward us. When personal kingdoms barricade us from entering is kingdom, he will knock something over. When the priority of self shelters us from the power of salvation, his most loving move may involve a wrecking ball. When we determine that our sense of self-guided direction will deliver us into abundant life, God will lovingly disorient us.
Along with Elizabeth, he will prompt us to center upon Jesus as directly and hastily as we can. And along with Mary, he will nudge us to praise him at how willing he is to exert his power toward battling our pride.