Bible Study

Mary (Luke 1:46–55)

“Jesus is God’s mercy to mankind.” by Major Valerie Carr

Christmas carols are a beloved tradition of the holiday season. Many people have a favorite carol that makes the season feel complete. Some prefer the upbeat Christmas songs, like “Jingle Bells” and “Let It Snow.” Others enjoy grand Christmas traditional hymns such as “Joy to the World” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” There’s also a group of people who long to sing somber melodies of the minor key carols such as “What Child is This?” and “Carol of the Bells.” 

One such carol is “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” written by Charles Wesley. The lyrics remind the singer of the promises Jesus’ birth brought to completion. Wesley writes that Jesus brought to fruition the strength, consolation, hope, desires and joys of the people of God waiting on His redemption plan. The words of this carol echo the prayer for this month’s Bible study as we continue examining prayers in Scripture. 

In Luke’s Gospel we find “Mary’s Song,” which can be interpreted as Mary’s prayer response to God’s decision to use her in His great Christmas rescue plan. Earlier in the first chapter, Mary has encountered the angel that explains she will bear the “Son of the Most High” (Luke 1: 28–38). She is obviously perplexed at this proclamation given her status in life, but is a willing servant of the Lord and agrees to accept whatever way He wishes to use her life for His purposes. Upon visiting her cousin Elizabeth, and receiving an unexpected blessing and confirmation of God’s work from her family member, Mary responds with a prayer for both her situation and what her part in God’s plan means for God’s people. 

Mary opens her prayer with praise: “My soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46–47). As we have seen in other prayers through the study, prayer often begins with worship and adoration. It is the act of setting our heart and spirit in the right space. Prayers that begin with worship establish the foundation of Who is listening. From her very first words, Mary sets the example in reminding us of Who we are talking to in prayer. She takes her first moments to acknowledge the goodness and grandness of God. 

Mary’s prayer also seeks for the righteousness of God to be evident in the world around her. The promise of the Savior is a promise of justice for those whom the world has forgotten or trampled on. Mary knows that the promise of redemption and salvation are for the individual as well as the whole of creation. Her prayer testifies that she knows righteousness and justice are not for a point in time, but a defining characteristic of the Kingdom of God. She prays three primary points: mercy to the generations, the lifting up of the humble, and the filling of the hungry.  

She sees that the coming of the Messiah “shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him” (v 50). Jesus’ birth is the heralding of what God’s mercy will look like in the flesh. Jesus is God’s mercy to mankind. He is the mercy of God expressed as saving grace for sinners (Ephesians 2:4–5). The lived-out example of Jesus’ life will show generations of humanity what mercy is meant to be. The people of God will be both changed by the mercy of God in their own lives and are called to change the lives of others through acts of mercy that mirror their Savior in the world. 

Mary goes on to pray that the coming of the promised Messiah will “[scatter] the proud and haughty ones … [bring] down princes from their thrones, and [exalt] the humble” (v 51–52). Jesus’ birth means that those who have been overlooked, abused and forgotten by the systems and powers of the world will find honor in the Kingdom of God. The people who have received all the honor this side of heaven will make room for those God will exalt. The Greek-English Bible dictionary clarifies that “exalt” in verse 52 means “to cause enhancement in honor.” Jesus’ birth, as Mary’s prayer testifies, means that the honor and dignity of all people is a Kingdom value come to fruition.

In verse 53, Mary says that God “has filled the hungry with good things.” The coming of Jesus offers satisfaction to the physical and spiritual hunger of people. Jesus’ earthly ministry would be filled with moments of physically feeding the hungry. He would teach and remind His followers that “people do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Mary’s prayer is that God’s redemption plan would not just feed the hungry, but also fill them with an experience of the abundance and goodness of God in their lives. God’s redemption plan made real in Jesus seeks to save the whole person.

What does Mary’s prayer in the Gospel of Luke have to say to us this Christmas? It is a challenge to see the impactful nature of the coming of God to earth in the form of a baby. The baby to be born, Mary’s son, would change everything. Mary’s prayer attests to the fact that the Savior would redeem both the individual and the system. Jesus offers mercy to every generation of believer, a place in the Kingdom of God for those pushed aside by the world, and an answer to the hunger we experience. Our generation’s part is to be examples of what Mary’s prayer for righteousness and justice look like in the lives of the people around us. 

We have the opportunity to be the answer to Mary’s prayer as the people of God. We are called to experience the mercy of God in our own lives, and then share His mercy with others. We can intentionally seek out those the world overlooks and degrades by sharing love and friendship with the same people Jesus befriended. We can participate in ways to literally feed those without food, but also work to share the “Bread of Heaven” with those whose souls are hungry. This is our commitment to acts of justice and compassion for our neighbor and an expression of solidarity with Mary’s prayer.

The birth of Jesus changed Mary’s life in many ways. As a young girl she was being asked to participate in God’s plan to save the world. She would go on to suffer agonies that are difficult to comprehend. Her response was a prayer that asked God to make good on His promise of the full salvation the Savior would bring. She was committed to God’s justice and righteousness over her own wants and desires, and this is evident in her prayer. This Christmas we can both echo her prayer by praying for righteousness and justice in the world, as well as being an answer to her prayer, effecting a reality of the promises brought to fruition by Jesus’ birth. 

Questions to ponder

  • What methods am I using to keep prayer requests of others as part of my daily prayer habits?
  • Who is the Lord prompting me to pray for? What is He prompting me to pray for them? 

This article was published in the December 2023 issue of The War Cry.

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