Like clockwork, each week, my heart would start beating faster, and my hands would grow cold. I knew Sunday school class was about to end, and the teacher, Mike Gibson, was going to call on someone to close the class in prayer. Given the fact that there were only about a dozen of us in the room, my odds of being chosen were reasonably high. When called upon, the implied task was to concisely and eloquently tie together the points of the class in prayer. To complicate matters further, I was a brand-new Christian. But this didn’t dissuade Mike. I think he enjoyed hearing me make my way across the ice rink of prayer like a toddler on skates.
When I look back at those days, I still cringe a bit. But I smile too. While they weren’t as precise as they should’ve been, they surely weren’t as bad as they could’ve been either.
Over the years, I’ve felt some sympathy for others thrust into similar circumstances. But I’ve also come to appreciate watching people who, when put on the spot, have to respond.
Mary’s Convicting Clarity
This is one aspect of the Advent story that gets me every time. If there was ever a person whom you’d be tempted to be nervous about when she’s passed the mic, it’s Mary. Think about it. She is a young teenage girl, likely illiterate, who has just been told life-altering information from an angel! Gabriel just showed up out of nowhere and shared a bit of information that would forever change her life physically, socially, and spiritually. Then she takes a three- to five-day walk to visit her aged relative who is to serve as some degree of affirmation of the announcement that she has received. What was she doing on this walk? It’s not like she could pull up a sermon by Sinclair Ferguson on the incarnation or read Calvin on Luke 1. She is living this out. She is integrating the truth she has heart from the angel and pressing it through the colander of biblical truth she has learned.
And what comes out? When Mary is called upon, what does she say?
Mary’s magnificat, or her song of praise to God, ties together key biblical themes in a beautifully worded, theologically precise, and personally moving display of devotion. She praises God because of what he’s done for her (Luke 1:47–49), who he is (Luke 1:49b-50), and because his kingdom is advancing (Luke 1:51–55). She wades through the framework passages of Genesis 3:15-16, 12:1-3; and 2 Samuel 7:12–17. While also zooming in to see the truths contained in Isaiah 41:8–9; Psalm 98:3; and Micah 7:20.
When I slowly read through Mary’s song of praise, I’m thoroughly encouraged. I’m blessed to consider the faithfulness of God throughout all generations. I’m surprised again by his special grace. I refreshed by the similar patterns of devotion and delight that he works in his children throughout the ages.
But I’m also convicted. I wonder what my song might look like. What if I was passed the mic and given the opportunity to freestyle about the work of God throughout history and in my life personally. How would I express eschatological joy? What key passages from the Old Testament do I have memorized or on the front burner of my heart that I could easily insert into my song? How well acquainted am I with God’s mysterious dealings? It’s convicting to think about.
What about you? I wonder what your song would be like?
Our Compelling Opportunity
As I think back to the Sunday-school class, I remember that the prospect of being called upon drove me to listen better and to—if I’m honest—pray more clearly and biblically. I think this had a healthy, sanctifying effect on me.
While none of us will ever have the chance to replicate Mary’s experiences personally, we can use it for the same sanctifying end. We can take the opportunity to try it on for size. We can assess our familiarity with God’s work of redemption through the promised Messiah. We can test our affections for how this truth stirs our souls to delight. And we can test our understanding of it by responding to God’s promises with a song of praise. Perhaps you could do this in personal prayer, in a journal, or through a song. We certainly will be better served by doing so. And it will aid us to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For to him be glory both now and the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18)