And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” —Luke 1:46-47
For nine or ten days Mary had carried in her heart the most astounding secret: She was pregnant, and the child was to be the long-awaited messianic king, Israel’s deliverer. Yet she had been afraid to share the news, for if the wrong person heard, Herod could have had her killed; or, if her loved ones didn’t believe her, the religious leaders might have condemned her and had her put to death. Perhaps she herself was afraid to trust that it was true.
But when Elizabeth prophesied over Mary and announced that she was blessed, Mary finally was able to trust that God really was at work. She believed that, despite the inherent danger in carrying the Messiah, despite the reality that her hopes and dreams had been turned upside down, and despite the fact that she didn’t fully understand, God would work through her and her child. In her acceptance of this amazing truth, Mary finally shouted out her song of joy. Can you hear the tone of her song in its opening words? “My soul magnifies the Lord! My spirit rejoices in God my Savior!”
Joy, unlike happiness, can come to us independent of our circumstances. It comes not from changing our circumstances but from viewing them through the eyes of faith. The apostles, after being beaten by the Council, rejoiced because they were counted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus. Paul penned his well-known “epistle of joy”—the Letter to the Philippians—even as he sat in a Roman prison awaiting news as to whether he would be executed for his faith. In the letter he wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always!” Paul wrote to the Christians at Thessalonica, who themselves had been persecuted for their faith, “Rejoice always,” and then told them how this was possible when he continued, “Pray without ceasing” and “give thanks in all circumstances.”
A couple of years ago, I was in Malawi, Africa, visiting rural villages to explore partnerships with local congregations to build wells, schools, and churches. In one of the villages, the people, who earn about fifty-five cents per person per day, took us to the stream of green, brackish water that they used for drinking, cooking, and cleaning. They asked us to consider helping them build a well so their children might not get sick from the water anymore.
After we had toured their village, they invited us to their church. We stepped inside the mud-brick building. It was just a large room with open holes where windows might go, and daylight shining through gaps in the thatched roof. And then they began to worship. They sang songs of utter joy, despite their circumstances. They sang songs of joy because they trusted God, and they believed that God had brought us to Malawi to help them have safe drinking water (something we ourselves believed). Would that Christians in the United States sang with such exuberance and joy!
Mary, despite dangers, fears, risks, and upended dreams, “magnified the Lord and rejoiced in God.” She did this with the help of Elizabeth and with her own willingness to trust that God was working in and through her to accomplish his purposes.
Joy is a choice we make when we look at our present circumstances through the eyes of faith, trusting that God is at work and that he will never leave us nor abandon us. And it is often found with the help of another who reassures us that God is with us.
Lord, I thank you, even now, for your blessings in my life. Help me to see past my circumstances, to what you will do with and through them. Help me to trust you. Use my adversity for your glory. Amen.