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Learning to Meditate From Mary

Do you have a favorite Christmas song? Our entire culture relies on Christmas music to “get into the spirit” of the season. As believers, we enjoy Christmas music for the same reason, but for us, the “spirit of the season” is more than the warm fuzzies. We use Christmas music to prepare our hearts to overflow with praise to God – praise for His great plan of salvation and for His great humility in coming to live with us. The very first Christmas song was sung by Mary, a teenage girl in the first trimester of pregnancy more than 2000 years ago. Recorded for us in Luke 1:46-55, Mary’s song of praise to God for the baby growing in her womb teaches us how we can fill our hearts with gratitude and awe this season.

I’d encourage you to take a moment to read Mary’s song of praise. It’s sometimes called the Magnificat (the first word of the song in the Latin version of the New Testament). The first thing I notice is how rich it is in quotations and allusions to the Old Testament. In fact, it would fit right in in the book of Psalms! One scholar counted possible quotes and allusions for just the first 4 verses and came up with at least 8 Old Testament passages! Another source said it clocks in at 30 Old Testament quotations or allusions in its 10 verses.

And here is the first lesson we can learn from Mary’s song of praise: Our hearts should be full of God’s deeds and character as He has revealed them in His Word. Mary, a girl in her teens from a poor village 2000 years ago, without universal education, printing presses, or smartphones, had a heart so full of Scripture that it rolled off her tongue in praise to God. And Mary wasn’t just reciting words that she had learned by rote. She was able to take the truths she knew about God from other centuries and other situations, and apply them to this brand new, shocking, life-changing situation that she found herself in.

Interestingly, students of this passage agree that Mary’s song was especially influenced by the story and song of Hannah in I Samuel 1-2. Can you imagine a 13-year-old girl whose favorite Bible story was that of Hannah? Then she finds herself miraculously pregnant, like Hannah. And rescued by her baby - not from the humiliation of infertility like Hannah, but from everything that God had promised to rescue His people from! And because she has soaked her heart and mind in the story recorded in I Samuel, she sees the parallels and borrows some of Hannah’s words to praise God together with this godly woman who had gone long before her.

How do you measure up to this teenage girl from an agrarian culture? A song like Mary’s doesn’t happen overnight. It comes from months and years of allowing the stories and words of the Bible to take root in your heart, to shape your thoughts and the way you view your circumstances. It comes from praying to God using the words and ideas that He has preserved for us in Scripture. Mary is like the person described in Psalm 1:2-3: “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water…” May we also be!

The second way Mary’s song teaches us is just by being a song. My favorite seasons of meditation are when I have a Bible verse or passage “stuck in my head”, but that doesn’t happen as often as I’d like. However, I very often get song snippets stuck in my head without even trying! We know from experience (and studies have shown this as well!) that we remember things better when they are put to a tune. I bet you learned the order of the books of the Bible, or the state capitols, or the multiplication tables, or something like that, to a song!

Aren’t you glad the Holy Spirit used wise and gifted men and women to record poetry and songs for us in the Bible? Poetry and songs engage our hearts in a unique way. And at Christmas time, life is overflowing with songs. Mary’s song may be the first Christmas song, but it definitely was not the last! Other godly men and women have followed her example and written Christmas carols that are Scripture-saturated, like Mary’s song (although few of them match her two-quotes-per-couplet pace…). We can take advantage of these rich songs to send our hearts and minds back to God’s Word, to let God’s Word dwell richly in us.

So, here’s the challenge I’d like to give you.

  1. Pick a Christ-centered, Scripture-rich Christmas carol you enjoy, then find a line that refers to a passage of Scripture. Some of my favorites are “God and sinners reconciled” from Hark the Herald, “Now ye need not fear the grave” from Good Christian Men, Rejoice, and “Tears and smiles like us He knew” from Once in Royal David’s City.
  2. Use a concordance, Blue Letter Bible, a friend who is familiar with Scripture, or even the inscription above the hymn in a hymnal, to find a verse that teaches the truth in that carol. (For the examples above, some verses are II Cor. 5:17-21 or Eph. 2:13-19, Heb. 2:14 or I Cor. 15:54-57, and Heb. 4:14-16 or Heb. 5:7-8)
  3. Now read that verse once a day for the Advent season or write it on an index card and put it somewhere where you look at it often. Make a pretty graphic of it with hand lettering. Memorize it.
  4. Then, each time you find yourself humming that carol or hear it playing in the store, let your mind go to the Scripture you found. You can even purposefully get the carol stuck in your head by listening to it or playing it!

It’s my prayer that we will be godly women like Mary whose hearts and tongues are full of Scripture-soaked praise to God, and that this Christmas season, we use God’s gift of song to turn our minds and hearts to Him. Merry Christmas!