Welcome to Thursday’s podcast. My name is Ruth and I’m part of the staff team at STC Sheffield. Part of my job is to publish these podcasts but this is the first one that I’ve actually written! This week we are making our way through the Christmas story. Mick, Jack and Luke have already shared and tomorrow you will hear from Abby; and our theme this Christmas is “Hope this Christmas.”
I don’t know about you but I absolutely love singing Christmas Carols. And as I happen to play the piano, I also have the privilege of being invited to play for Christmas events –whether it’s a few people in a front room or a packed church doesn’t matter; it’s an absolute joy.
Today’s reading is taken from Luke 1:46-56. In your Bible you may find this has a title – Mary’s Song or ‘the Magnificat’ – because some translations use the word ‘magnify’ in the first phrase. It’s an amazing song of praise that Mary sings when she goes to see her cousin Mary. Or, you could think of it as one of the first ever Christmas Carols! But this is no carefully crafted, rhyming carol with a stylised Victorian idea of the past and a soaring descant on the final verse! No, it’s a totally different kind of praise song in which Mary references her connection with God, her thankfulness for his work in her life, and for his work throughout history.
Mary starts off by saying – or singing – “My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour”. This really resonates with me. Whether it’s Christmas carols or the songs and hymns we sing the rest of the year, glorifying the Lord and rejoicing in God our Saviour is part of who we are and what we do as Christians, through our praise and thanksgiving. When we worship God, is it just our voices involved? Is it our minds too as we think about the words we’re singing? Is it our bodies as well – when we clap, raise our hands, or join in with kids song actions? Or is it our souls finding a connection with the Lord? Sometimes to be honest it takes me some time to ‘warm up’ – but Mary’s straight in there. “My soul glorifies the Lord”. She jumps straight into that place of intimacy with God with this incredible statement of her intent and purpose to glorify and rejoice in God.
Anyway, if you look through the rest of this song, Mary mentions her own circumstances, but then she goes on to spend more time going back over what God has done over the course of history – not in specific detail but listing other characteristics of God – his mercy and might, the way he changes people’s station in life and turns circumstances upside down; and his help and mercy once again.
Similarly, we can thank God for the good things in our lives, but we can also thank him for his actions and characteristics both with us and throughout history. Sometimes this is easier than others, but even in tough times thanksgiving can help us to see things from God’s perspective and bring some much needed rejoicing into our hearts when circumstances are trying to bring us down. Think about it – Mary is a pregnant, unmarried teenager, who’s been sent off to stay with a fairly elderly relative, maybe to avoid the shame, ridicule, gossip and bullying she probably faced in her home town. Her response? “My soul glorifies the Lord.” Sometimes it’s in the hardest of times that we feel most grateful for the things God has done for us.
Now I’m sure that as a Creator, God loves our individual creativity in worship as well as the fantastic noise we make when we all sing together. But when we’re asked to pray out loud our prayers of thanksgiving in church on Sundays, it can feel really awkward. Suddenly we all become mumblers, don’t we? So what do I say? Yes, it feels a bit childish saying “thank you God for my breakfast” etc… but actually it’s a simple way to get our mouths open, start speaking, and direct our souls towards truly glorifying the Lord. Once you’ve said one thankyou, hopefully your mind will flit to another good thing in your life that you can thank God for, and another, and another… and then we can end up speaking out a spontaneous song of praise, just like Mary did.
Or, here’s another idea – next time we speak out thanksgivings in church, why not start by quoting either Mary or another piece of Scripture? If your praise song started “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour…” where might that take your thoughts and your thanksgivings? Might it increase your faith? Might it bring you hope?
Scripture holds lots more great starting points – far too many to list – but to give you just a couple of other options, you could quote King David in Psalm 145:1 “I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever.” Or there’s St Paul in Ephesians 1: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”
So here’s my challenge to you today – find a verse from the Bible that resonates with you; that makes you feel glad; that reminds you of who God is or what he has done in your life. Learn it off by heart! And come prepared with it to church so that the next time we’re speaking out praise and thanksgiving to God, you can use it with confidence as a starting point and see what praise song ends up coming out of your mouth. Together, let’s glorify the Lord. Together, let’s rejoice in God our Saviour.
Lord Jesus, thank you for Mary’s example of praise. Please help us to pray and praise you. We ask this day that we will connect with you through worship, prayer and in all aspects of our lives, so that our souls truly will glorify you, and our spirits truly will rejoice in you, our wonderful Saviour, so that faith and hope will rise in our hearts. Amen.
BIBLE READING: Luke 1:46-56
And Mary said:
‘My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me –
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants for ever,
just as he promised our ancestors.’
Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.