November 9, 2011

Biblical Theologiannes: Mary

It was cold out today.  Very cold.  Chapped-fingers, running-nose, hurting-ears-cold.  Wind-blowing, leaves-swirling, raindrops-floating-cold.  The kind of cold you really don't want to feel without snow on the ground.  Maybe that's the real source of frustration... the painful cold without the delightful snow... the lingering of the temperature in the upper 30's, too chilly but not chilly enough to actually enjoy.  One thing is for sure: that Winter Season I proclaimed was just around the bend, well, she seems to be rounding it right now.  As I said before, though, along with her dark skies come some bright moments... One of which, if you'll pardon my jumping-the-gun, is the Christmas Story.  No, not that one!  (Forget I said "gun." And don't get one; you'll shoot your eye out!)  You know: THE Christmas Story.

Every year about this time, I reopen the gospel account of Luke and lose myself in the Christmas Story all over again.  And every year, it seems, the most striking part to me is this passage from Luke 1:

 46 And Mary said:
    “My soul exalts the Lord, 47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. 
48 For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave;
    For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. 
49 For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name.  
51 He has done mighty deeds with His arm;
   He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. 
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
    And has exalted those who were humble. 
    And sent away the rich empty-handed. 
54 He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy, 
55 As He spoke to our fathers,
    To Abraham and his descendants forever.”

I'd like to introduce you to Mary, Biblical Theologianne.  As is widely accepted, this (literally) iconic lady was only in her mid-teens when she found herself to be the incubator of the Savior of the world.  (You're going to have to pardon a lot of my choices of words/phrases tonight; I'm just in one of those moods.)  A teenager.  A teenager who was also, apparently, not only a poet (singer/songwriter?), but a dang good Old Testament scholar and theologian.  Of course, if one does much Bible reading at all, it's clear that Mary's word choice in her song -- called the Magnificat -- harkens back to psalter-like Old Testament poetry.  In fact, two of the phrases used in the song (those in all caps) are direct quotations from the psalms:

Ps. 103:17
But the lovingkindness of the LORD 
   is from everlasting to everlasting 
   on those who fear Him, 
And His righteousness to children’s children...

Ps. 107:9
For He has satisfied the thirsty soul,
And the hungry soul He has filled with what is goo

What may be a little less obvious is the resemblance and subject relativity to one psalm in particular: 113.  
Let's give the second half of that one a gander, shall we?

4 The LORD is high above all nations; 
  His glory is above the heavens.
5 Who is like the LORD our God, 
  Who is enthroned on high, 
6 Who humbles Himself to behold 
  The things that are in heaven and in the earth? 
7 He raises the poor from the dust 
  And lifts the needy from the ash heap, 
8 To make them sit with princes, 
  With the princes of His people. 
9 He makes the barren woman abide in the house 
  As a joyful mother of children.
  Praise the LORD!

Psalm 113 is what OT scholars label a "praise psalm," written with the purpose of inciting praise to God by His people, the reason for which is pretty obvious if you read the first three verses.  Now, I really could go on and on about Psalm 113; I could write 20 pages on it!  In fact, now that I think about it, I already have... So I guess there's another blog post in the making.  But for now, I'm satisfied to merely say that the most apparent similarity between Psalm 113 and the Magnificat is the idea of God exalting the humble.  But the fact that God lifts the lowly is not the most staggering part: it's the fact that he humbles, even humiliates Himself in order to do so.  In the psalm's case, He must stoop down into the ash heap in order to lift up His people.  In Mary's case, He must bring Himself down so far... to the point of a fertilized human egg, a growing fetus, a screaming baby... in order to "give help to Israel His servant, in remembrance of His mercy."  

Mary understood this.  She understood that God wasn't simply sending the Messiah in flashing lights and trumpet calls and galloping horses.  No, He was doing something much less self-exalting.  Instead of battlecries, He came in baby cries.  And He chose her to swaddle His own Son not because she was somehow "worthy," but because she was humble in heart, one of "the least of these" that her Son would cherish and guard and call others to become.  It's funny -- when the angel Gabriel told her she was "favored of the Lord," she was "perplexed at this statement."  When he told her that she would bear the world's Savior, she trustingly replied, "Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word."  In other words, it seems she was more ready to believe in the impossible birth than in the fact that God favored her.  I believe that's why God favored her.  And as her song shows, it is God's regard for "the humble state of His bondslave" that causes her to rejoice in such beautiful song!

In the past few years, I've given a lot of thought to "biblical womanhood."  A lot of times, it seems to be illustrated by some white-washed Martha-Stewart-esque pastor's wife who likes to sew and craft and cook and clean and do all her husband's bidding.  Now I love crafty things and I value cleanliness, but these are simply not the Bible's mandates for women.  Mary, mother of Jesus -- not yet a wife, mind -- was not noted for doing any of these things, and was certainly not chosen because of her faithfulness in them.  But we can see from her words that she is a fine example of -- and quite literally -- a "biblical woman."  And as such, she was also a theologian -- one who knew and loved God's word and was able to express her own experiences in light of it, teaching others to do the same.  And thankfully, she's not the only one.  Over the next couple of months, I'm going to be delving deeper into the lives of other "Biblical Theologiannes" like Hannah, Miriam and Elizabeth.  I'm not sure yet where this is going to take me (I never was good at sticking to a plan), but I hope you'll share the journey with me.


  1. Your phrase "instead of battlecries, He came in baby cries" just gave me the chills all up my arms. I'm looking forward to your series!
    And thanks be to God that he doesn't ask that we be little Martha Stewarts!

  2. Thanks, Jenna! Theology isn't as popular as cute pictures, but it's so exciting to me!!! I had more fun writing this post than I've had in a long time... probably since the Silenced Voices series. I'm glad I can count on one reader. :) Love you!

    Oh, and I reworded that last paragraph after you read it... Didn't want to come off as disdainful of crafts or Martha Stewart; just wanted to clarify biblical expectations. :)

  3. Carrie, it was a blessing to read this between church services today -- it added to an already blessed day. :) Thank you for your deep thoughts on the Psalms, Mary, God -- all of it! I loved reading it, felt inspired by it, and praised God for it!

    Smiled at your "re-write" (above, in your reply to Jenna) -- I understood what you meant. Nothing wrong with any of that; a lot of ladies bless others with those talents (just not me, lol!) God gives us all unique talents and joy in using them in His service and I thought you were very respectful of that! I'm looking forward to more of your Theologiannes series!!