Mary's Joy, For a Song
In the world of idioms, for a song has had a rather diminished connotation. It has meant nothing or next to nothing. In days of old, and even still on urban street corners today, minstrels and performers have tried to eke out a living from coins tossed their way for the songs they offer passers-by. Songs for a pittance. Sometimes when something of value is acquired for next to nothing, you hear; no one else wanted it so I picked it up for a song. The commercial come-ons to get you into the stores starting on Black Friday advertise that you can get some valuable merchandise for the Christmas holidays for almost nothing; or as the expression goes, for a song.
For the people of God, many of the mighty acts of God have been remembered and extolled by songs. In other words, you can learn about them and be blessed by them for a song. Following the great deliverance of the children of Israel by God from the Egyptian Army at the Red Sea, the lowly Hebrew woman, Miriam, took up a tambourine and extolled this great redemption by a song.
Sing to the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider He has tossed into the sea. – Exodus 15:21
On the negative side, the children of Israel receive a dismal picture of future life under the terms of the Law in a song they are given to sing as they sloshed across the Jordan River into the Promised Land (Deut 32:1-43). And of course, God has presented the full spectrum of His mighty acts and what it means to live in their promises with an entire book devoted to song. The Psalms! You can get what it means to have and live with the God of creation and redemption for a song—indeed, for 150 songs.
When it comes to the Advent Season and preparing for the Nativity of our Lord, it has been popular throughout the history of the Church to include reflection on its significance by singing the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), the words of the Virgin Mary’s joy put to song. The melody and chanting have varied through the ages, but the lyrics reported by Luke have served well to connect the people of God with a mother’s joy.
Her Qualifying Words
For a song we, too, can get caught up in the angel’s annunciation to her of how the Word would become flesh (Luke 1:31). Anticipating this Son conceived by the Holy Spirit, her soul is given voice that magnifies the Lord (Luke 1:46); for she understood greatly how He who is mighty has done marvelous things for her (Luke 1:49)—and through her. It is the combination of the anticipation of God’s great work being accomplished in her and from her, coupled with a strong sense of her unworthiness, that elicited the eloquent praise and thanksgiving she offered. Her humility and trust about these things gave her such great joy over what the first Christmas that would soon bring to her.
And for us, we, too, can get all caught up in this for a song—a song to help us own up to our own lowly estate (Luke 1:48) and the great thing in her child that God will do for us. With her qualifying words that His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation (Luke 1:50), the song invites us to take stock in our own estate. Will we miss what is coming to us in the song? Some will. In the words of Mary, this God scatters the proud in their hearts (Luke 1:51); He brings down the mighty (Luke 1:52); and the rich he has sent empty away (Luke 1:53). Such as these get nothing for a song. And yet, he exalts those of humble estate (Luke 1:52), fills the hungry with good things (Luke 1:53); and He extends His mercy to all children of the promise He delivered first to Father Abraham (Luke 1:53).
The confidence of receiving all these gifts this Christmastide requires counting yourself among the humble, the lowly, the hungry—in short, the losers in every age. The hungry get a lifetime supply of the Bread of Life, the humble get exalted before the throne of grace, and the lowly are lifted up in the sufficiency and freedom of Immanuel’s holiness and righteousness. This is the peace of God coming to earth for you to receive anew this Christmastide.
The true meaning of this season is not what you can get from Black Friday for almost nothing—for a song. Rather, the true meaning of this season is in what you can receive from one particular very Good Friday. For now, in the Season of Advent, we can have the delicious anticipation and joy brought to us by Mary for a song. And, with Mary’s song, we make melody about what this child will provide for our salvation, not for almost nothing, but for flat nothing. What comes to us at Christmas is not a great seasonal bargain to enhance our happy holidays. It is the priceless gift of God’s Son Who brings life and victory over all the forces of evil. And it is the joyful anticipation of this—ours for a song—that the whole Church is invited to sing again and again as it has been sung through the ages. And during this Advent season, let Mary’s joy be your joy; and receive again, for the first time, the promise of all these great things for a song.
Dr. Steven A. Hein currently serves as Director of The Concordia Institute for Christian Studies, an organization that offers auxiliary educational services to pastors and church gatherings across the country and in West Africa. He also serves as an affiliate professor at The Institute of Lutheran Theology and Colorado Christian University.
This book offers a radically different perspective from that of many best-selling authors concerning how the Christian should measure and evaluate travel along God’s path of righteousness.