The New Testament Part 1: A Mother's Gift

Zach Keele
Monday, December 30th 2013
Jan/Feb 2014

You're pregnant! It's a boy!" This is one of the sweetest reports a woman can receive in her life. The notice that she is going to be a mother, to have a child of her own, is a potent joy.

These tidings were like angels singing to Eve after Abel was stolen from her. It was a joy too good to be true for 90-year-old Sarah. After the positive pregnancy test, Rachel blessed the Lord: "God has taken away my reproach." And at the hearing of such wonderful news, it is common for the mother-to-be to begin fashioning a gift. She stitches in love a blanket. The woman weaves together a keepsake to adorn her child, a perpetual reminder that the child is hers and she is his mother.

Yet the pregnancy newsflash is not always joyous news for the ears. If the woman does not want to be pregnant, if she is not married, the news can read as an obituary. The woman's premarital improprieties will be found out. In the ancient world, a premarital pregnancy could be a shameful shackle the woman might never escape, and this yoke would have pressed hard on Mary. She was an engaged teenager who ended up pregnant. What would people think? Imagine that conversation between Mary and Joseph:

"Joseph, I'm pregnant."

"Who's the father?

"Uh, God."

With hand to forehead, Joseph would be thinking this is the worse lie ever. Gabriel had appeared to Mary before she conceived, but the angel did not tell Joseph what was taking place until after she was pregnant. Now, Joseph was a stand-up guy; he was kind to Mary, but he was still going to divorce her. Yet a quiet divorce stings loudly. And if upright Joseph was responding in this manner, it is reasonable that Mary's less noble relatives were fuming. Did Mary's dad chew her out for bringing shame on the family?

In any case, when traversing the minefield of premarital pregnancy, the woman is less preoccupied with making a gift for her baby. The baby is an unwelcome burden, not a reason to rejoice. But not so with Mary; as the golden words of Gabriel warred with the scornful scowls of people and society, she wove a gift for her son. She did not sew a blanket, but she stitched together a poem, a song. Like a lyrical Beethoven, Mary spun together the silken lines of what has come to be called the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).

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."

Hannah's Song

For this poetic gift, Mary took inspiration from her spiritual ancestor Hannah. She dusted off in the attic of her memory another baby blanket stitched with elegant verse. Like Mary, Hannah was a woman under scorn with the curse of barrenness. Peninnah's ridicule pelted her unceasingly. Elkanah's insensitivity left Hannah's wounds open and festering. In her tearful prayers, Hannah looked for the Lord's deliverance in a son. After the Lord granted her a son, Hannah dedicated Samuel to the Lord and left him with a poetic keepsake.

Hannah's heart exulted in the Lord; she rejoiced in his salvation: for the Lord is the God who breaks the bows of the mighty and binds the feeble with strength; he feeds the hungry, gives the barren mother seven children; he is the Rock who raises the poor from the dust and lifts them from the ash heap; the Lord brings low and he exalts. And yet the crescendo of Hannah's musical prayer hits the note of kingship, the exaltation of the Anointed One. Her prayer was clearly a thanksgiving for Samuel, Hannah's "horn" (1 Sam. 2:1), but this gratitude blossomed into hope in the Lord's anointed king. In faith, Hannah beheld her boy as the king-maker in Israel. From Samuel's horn, the head of David was anointed as the king after God's own heart.

In faith, Hannah beheld Christ from afar, and her poetic baby blanket became the hope of Israelite mothers that their sons would be linked to the Anointed One. With Hannah's poem handed down from mother to daughter, new mothers swaddled their sons in her faith, praying that their sons would see the Lord's deliverance from this dusty curse. It was for this family heirloom of faith that Mary reached. Society scorned her as a licentious woman. Her people lay under the affliction of exile waiting on the Lord's salvation. Those who ridiculed Mary told her to mourn, but Mary listened to the angel. Hannah gave her poem to the king-maker, and then Mary sewed one for the king.

Instead of wallowing in sorrow, Mary magnified the Lord: "My spirit rejoices in God my Savior." Like her ancestor, Mary praised the Lord as the one who reverses fortunes’the Lord brings down the mighty and exalts those of humble estate. Mary knew that the hope of all Israel had dawned on her: "From now on all generations will call me blessed." She was going to be the mother of the Messiah. She was going to give birth to the long-awaited son of David.

The finale of the Old Testament ends with waiting on the Lord, longing for the time of his remembrance. Again and again in the Old Testament, hope and expectation focused on a son being born. And as the New Testament opens, the waiting on the Lord is over’his promises are coming to fulfillment. Mary's son, conceived out of wedlock, was the best gift ever’the gift of her faith that her son was her Savior. Her boy was her Lord.

Just as Hannah passed her song on to Mary, so Mary passes hers to us. Its lyrical stitches give voice to our faith that all God's promises are "yes and amen" in Christ. With our spiritual grandmothers, we can magnify our Lord, who became low and humble even unto death to lift us out of the dust of death and to seat us with him in the heavenly places. With such a marvelous poem, let's not relegate it merely to one season, but glorify the Lord with it year round.

Monday, December 30th 2013

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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