Magnificat

Visitation

As I continue to intentionally set my heart to thank God for all He is and all He gives, I am taking time to consider how thankfulness is expressed in the Bible. One of the most famous songs of thanksgiving is Mary’s Song when she greeted Elizabeth, the Magnificat:

And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

(Luke 1:46-55 ESV)

Mary praises God for His works towards her, an insignificant, humble person who has been mightily blessed through His merciful grace.

Not only has Mary been blessed, but all of Israel and all of the world. God is working His justice: defending the weak, humble and hungry by opposing the proud, powerful and rich. Mary exalts in seeing God’s hand at work in social, religious, economic and political spheres – He is intimately concerned about each individual person and also the social and cultural realms in which we live.

Mary knows her place in history, from now on all generations will call her blessed, yet speaks of all God’s works as if they had already happened. But she is only 3 months pregnant – the baby who will become the man who will become our savior has not even been born yet, in an era when many women and babies perished during birth!

She is keeping her eyes fixed on God, whose works she praises. He is so sure to make it happen that she speaks of all His works as having already happened.

Faith.

Trust.

There has already been brokenness and heartache, sickness, death, wars and famines. And there will be more. Yet God has exalted those of humble estate; He has filled the hungry with good things. For some of us the brokenness, sickness and hunger is current reality. So too is salvation from these.

[This] is our same world, already perfected in Christ, but not yet in us. It is our same world, redeemed and restored, in which Christ “fills all things with Himself.” And since God has created the world as food for us and has given us food as means of communion with Him, of life in Him, the new food of the new life which we receive from God in His Kingdom is Christ Himself.

(Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World)


Gifts I have noticed recently:

  • A new puppy {1024}
  • Pen on paper {1026}
  • Night-time vista of harbour lights on my way to work {1030}
  • Making some progress building the back fence {1033}
  • Seeing my brother before he goes on ice for a year {1035}
  • Enjoying my children {1038}
  • Missing Rata {1039}
  • Spring! {1040}

Image: iStock

The Son of God and black holes

GRO J1655-40, a black hole of about the same mass as a star. The companion star is being slowly devoured by the black hole

At the risk of sounding blasphemous, Colossians 1:19-20 makes me think of Jesus as being a bit like a black hole.

In astronomy, the idea of a black hole is that an extraordinarily large amount of matter (such as a giant star) collapses into an almost infinitely small space, generating a massive gravitational field that nothing can escape from. Similarly, when an infinite God wraps Himself in all His fullness into a single man, we have a very similar idea. (So we don’t need to be afraid of modern physics and very clever scientists – God has already “been there, done that“!)

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
(Colossians 1:19-20 ESV)

Having already enfolded Himself, the infinite, eternal One, into a couple of cells in Mary’s womb, He grew as a child into a man and every action of Jesus was an action of God. So when Jesus submitted to the nails on that cross, it was God’s blood which flowed! In that act all things were reconciled in Christ to God.

Notice also that God was pleased to do this – God did not grudgingly redeem your soul

Lensing by a black hole. Animated simulation of gravitational lensing caused by a Schwarzschild black hole going past a background galaxy.

Image of black hole and companion star: Hubble space telescope
Image of black hole lensing: Wikimedia Commons

The anticipated one

We are familiar with Hollywood’s hype and the careful cultivation of anticipation by Apple for their latest gadget. Some of us even remember the eager anticipation and excitement surrounding the wedding of Charles and Diana. The magnificence and pomp and ceremony of the royal wedding had much of the world riveted to their TV screens on July 29, 1981. There had been a massive build up to the wedding, the media reported every detail they could discover about the preparations and plans, whether fact or rumour.

A similar sense of anticipation existed in Palestine around A.D. 30. The Jewish Scriptures were replete with prophecies anticipating the messiah (Christ) and the nation was desperate for a leader who would overthrow the Roman tyranny and lead them into the glorious promised inheritance.

So, when the camel-hair-clad, locust-and-honey-eating, wild prophet John burst onto the scene and was confronted with the question, “who are you?” He knew they were expecting the messiah (John 1:19-27). John told the people bluntly that he was just the herald, then when he did meet Jesus he told everyone who would listen who Jesus really was (John 1:29-36).

Our witness to the identity of Jesus is a bit more difficult due to the fact we don’t have a physical, walking, talking man to point to when we say, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” What we do have is actually superior — the risen and glorified Lamb of God. It requires faith to behold Him, but we still need to tell people who it is they are confronted with.

A few of the prophecies anticipating the messiah:
  • Genesis 12:2, see Matthew 1:1 and Galatians 3:16
  • Genesis 49:10, see Matthew 1:2
  • 2 Samuel 7:12-16, see Matthew 1:1
  • Isaiah 7:14, see Matthew 1:23
  • Micah 5:2, see Matthew 2:6
  • Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1, see Matthew 3:3
  • Numbers 24:17 and Psalm 2:6, see Matthew 21:5
  • Deuteronomy 18:15-18, see Acts 3:22-23
  • Psalm 110:4, see Hebrews 5:6-10
  • Psalm 22:1, see Matthew 27:46
  • Psalm 22:7-8, see Matthew 27:39; 43
  • Psalm 22:16, see John 20:25
  • Psalm 22:17, see John 19:33-36
  • Psalm 22:18, see John 19:24
  • Psalm 22:24, see Matthew 26:39 and Hebrews 5:7
  • Isaiah 52:14, see John 19:1
  • Isaiah 53:5, see John 19:1; 18
  • Psalm 16:10 and Psalm 22:22, see Matthew 28:6 and Acts 2:27-28
  • Psalm 68:18, see Luke 24:50-53 and Acts 1:9-11

Where do you look for God’s glory?

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

The phrase ‘dwelt among us’ carries the idea of pitching a tent as a dwelling, in fact some translations express it as he ‘tabernacled’ among us (e.g., AmplifiedYoung’s). In choosing this wording John is giving us a connection, or comparison, with the tabernacle of God’s presence amongst Israel in the wilderness and Jesus dwelling in our midst. With the backdrop of this tent in the wilderness in mind, John writes of having seen the glory of the Son.

One manifestation of this glory was the overwhelming glory when the tabernacle was first set up (Exodus 40:34-35) which is seen in Jesus at the transfiguration (Luke 9:28-35). There are other instances of the glory of God being seen in Jesus, such as when he was baptized, when he calmed the storm, and when he raised Lazarus from the dead.

But John is not as concerned with the spectacular as we might be (note John 4:48 and John 6:26-29), he devotes large parts of his gospel to accounts of Jesus bringing light and life to those he meets (see John 4:5-42 and John 10:1-18). Most significantly, John devotes the last nine chapters (13–21) to the final day of Jesus’ life, the hour of Jesus’ departure (John 13:1) occupies over a third of John’s gospel.

Jesus loved his own to the end, and in this the glory of the only Son of God is revealed.

The Word became flesh

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. (1 John 4:2)

If you find your mind filling with protestations, rationalizations and evidences against the belief that Jesus Christ was God incarnate, then be aware that these do not come from God and are attempting to deceive you. Even the very academic apostle Paul considered the incarnation of Christ to be a mystery, something true, but beyond our ability to understand (1 Timothy 3:16).

It is a common experience for us to ‘suspend disbelief‘ in order to enjoy a story, novel or a movie without constantly nitpicking over minor inconsistencies with reality as we know it. I invite you to do this regarding the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This is not faith, it is simply approaching the gospel with a willingness to at least hear the whole story before deciding whether to believe it or not.

While our minds may seek an explanation of how God could become a baby, born of a virgin, the New Testament writers simply state that he did and emphasize instead their amazement at what this means. Perhaps the best example of this is Philippians 2:5-11 in which Paul walks us through the significance of what Jesus did in his incarnation, with no explanation of the mechanics of how exactly it all worked. And so we come to John’s blunt statement:

The Word became flesh and dwelt amoung us (John 1:14)

It happened. Give John the consideration you would give your favourite author and read what he has to say. Maybe God will speak. Also remember that those disbelieving thoughts might be lies!

The hidden light

Pondering the curious situation in which Jesus, who is the “light of the world”, needs John the Baptist to go ahead of Him as a witness to the light.

Is it not strange that the one who is the light of the world, who dwells in unapproachable light, would need a witness to confirm who he is? Surely the light of men would shine so brightly as to be unmistakable?

John 1:5-12 begins by proclaiming the triumph of Jesus over darkness. But don’t jump to victory too quickly — where does the light shine? That’s right, the light shines in the darkness. When it is dark people don’t see very well and so God sent a witness to alert folks that the light was coming. He (the light) came to his own, but his own did not receive him. They either didn’t recognize who he was, or didn’t want him even if they did recognize him.

Here is tragedy, those who do not receive Jesus forfeit an astonishing gift — to become children of God. What is required is so simple:

to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.
(John 1:12)

To all who believe in Jesus, he gives the right to become children of God. What is given is astonishing, and who it is given to is astonishing.

This blessing from God is given to those who are in darkness yet believe because a witness was sent from God to testify about the light. If the witness had not been sent (by God) then none would have believed and been given the right to inherit God’s kingdom. This is grace.


Photo of solar eclipse: Luc Viatour