The spirit of Christmas is upon us! It’s a common sentiment given the time of the year. You see it on Christmas cards and hear it on television. What is the spirit or mood of Christmas? What do people mean when they say that? The answer varies from person to person. According to Scrooge, the spirit of Christmas is a ghost. To the liquor industry, the spirit of Christmas comes in a bottle. But the most common opinion is that the spirit of Christmas is a “spirit of giving.” The idea of giving is something that consumes us this season. What is the spirit of Christmas, if these things are not the true answers? The spirit of Christmas can be summarised by Mary’s song as an expression of worship.
The first verse of the so-called “Magnificat,” Mary’s hymn of praise to God, says “And Mary said: My soul glorifies the Lord” (1:46). In response to the Angel’s announcement about her miraculous conception, Mary left her home (vv. 36-37). Luke tells us that as soon as the angel Gabriel left Mary, she hurried down to the home of her older relative, Elizabeth, to share the good news. The meeting demonstrates Mary’s obedience, since it reflects her response to the sign given by the angel.
This meeting was not a casual event, where you pop in your relative’s house. It was a three-day journey covering 160 km. Mary believed that the elder Elizabeth would also, by God’s grace, give birth to a special son. As New Testament scholar, R. T. France poignantly says, “One is old and has no children; the other is young and has no husband. But both are pregnant.” And both are ready to announce the good news to the world. The moment Mary enters Elizabeth’s home, the formerly barren wife bursts into a blessing for Mary (vv. 41-45). The text never tells us how Elizabeth knew Mary was expecting this child. But it is clear that she felt honoured just to be in the presence of the child. Alongside Elizabeth’s amazement is the lesson of Mary’s blessing (v. 45). The great theme is that God does what he says. Blessed are those who share in and believe in that truth.
What was Mary thinking of when she encountered the angel? What did she and Elizabeth talk about during those three months in the hill country? The answers are in the song. Mary’s hymn—a thanksgiving psalm—comes in two parts. The first part is personal praise (vv. 46-49). Mary rejoices over what Gabriel has told her and what Elizabeth has confirmed that her son is the Son of David, the coming Messiah and future king. She is happy that God has remembered the humble state of his servant, for she will be remembered as “blessed” for generations to come. The second part of the song focuses on God’s work (vv. 50-55). Mary exults that God is about to establish justice by bringing in the kingdom that Israel has been hoping for.