Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Why Does Luke's Orderly Account Include Mary's Song?

Have you ever read the Christmas story and wondered why Luke included songs? At the beginning of his gospel, Luke says he aims to provide "an orderly account" so that Theophilus could "have certainty concerning the things you have been taught." When we're looking for the facts, just the facts, we don't usually expect to find poetry, do we? Let's consider a couple reasons why Luke's orderly account needs the Magnificat.

Firstly, I encourage you to read the poem. I'll encourage you to do so lastly, as well. But, for now, at least read through it to get the main idea and tone fresh in your mind.

It Means More

Let's begin our investigation at the obvious starting point—the ending! Don't worry, we'll come back to the opening line in a moment. The real anchor for the song's inclusion, however, is at its conclusion.

He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.

Much of Luke's non-poetic Christmas story tells us what happened. Mary closes her song with a confession that tells us why it happened. God became a flesh-and-blood person to make good on his promise to redeem his people. You might be thinking, That's fine and goodof course, we need to know why it happenedbut that doesn't explain why the why needs to be in a song. The why needs to be in Mary's song because it means more that way.

Sure, Luke could tell us that the Jews were waiting on God to make good on his promise. Mary, however, can give us the firsthand perspective. Mary sings to us, My people were waiting, and now God has done this great thing—he has helped his servant in remembrance of his mercy. This personal perspective connects to the other reason for the song that we'll consider from its opening.

It Means My Soul

Now, let's jump back up to the start. We see another reason for including Mary's song in its very first words.

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior

Luke's narrative needs Mary's song because her soul sings it. Luke needs us to know that not everything about this account is altogether orderly—because in some regard it is so intimate. Remember that folks in Mary's day didn't draw the hard distinctions between mind and body and soul that we sometimes do. When she says, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior," she means everything she's got—everything she is—points to the Lord and says, You are magnificent!

When we ask Mary what Christmas is all about, her answer begins with, My soul. That communicates to us the personal meaningfulness of God becoming a flesh-and-blood person in a way that we don't get from too orderly an account.

It Means Your Soul

Read through Mary's song again. Read it slowly. Read it two or three times. Let it influence the song of your maybe-sometimes-less-than-orderly account. Remember, God's becoming a flesh-and-blood person imparts meaningfulness into your being a flesh-and-blood person. Think about that personal connection when you read Mary's song. Let it lead your soul, too, to magnify the Lord.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

What Is The Tragedy Of God?

Last week the calendar popped up my favorite Oswald Chambers entry. It's titled, The Focal Point of Spiritual Power. Here's how it opens.

If you want to know the power of God (that is, the resurrection life of Jesus) in your human flesh, you must dwell on the tragedy of God. Break away from your personal concern over your own spiritual condition, and with a completely open spirit consider the tragedy of God.
These two sentences go against the bulk of contemporary Christian teaching in two fundamental ways.

Tragedy Over Triumph

Firstly, when was the last time someone told you to focus on the tragedy of God? We hear much more about the victory of Christ. To be sure, we need the good news that Jesus overcame the world and defeated the power of death. Let's not, however, neglect that Jesus defeated death by his own death, and that death was a tragedy because the One without sin was made to be sin.

When we neglect the tragedy of God to focus only on the victory, we also focus on claiming that victory as our own. I'm not arguing against that. I'm only saying we must remember its starting point. Failing to do so leads us to seeking our own overcoming of the world, and that brings us to the second distinction.

His Wholeness Over My Holiness

"Break away from your personal concern over your own spiritual condition . . ." What?! This instruction alone cuts through so much of the self-help rhetoric that masquerades as Christian teaching. It's not all about me and my goals and my self-esteem and my serving? Here's how Chambers answers that question.

The effect of the Cross is salvation, sanctification, healing, etc., but we are not to preach any of these. We are to preach “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). The proclaiming of Jesus will do its own work.

Do we believe the proclaiming of Jesus will do its own work? Is that biblical? Consider Isaiah 55:10–11.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

When we give people tips for better living, they have to go out and do the work of making those ideas real in their lives. When we proclaim Jesus Christ and him crucified, the Word of the Lord will do its own work.

Proclamation Over Proficiency

Let's take the Lord at his word that his Word—namely, the proclamation of his tragedy in the death of Jesus—will accomplish his purpose. Let's be careful that the teachers we allow to speak into our lives are preaching Christ crucifiednot primarily to help us be better spouses, fathers, mothers, children, employees, employers, or even better Christians, but to the glory of the One who made Jesus to be sin for our sake, and then raised him from the dead.