A Song that Challenges our Values
The Christmas stories we tell are nice, lovely stories about angels singing to shepherds in the fields at night, and cattle lowing Jesus to sleep, and Magi bringing gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh, and a drummer boy playing a song for Jesus. But the Biblical account is not entirely so nice and lovely, for the Biblical account includes a song sung by Mary (Luke 1:46-55) which E. Stanley Jones described as “the most revolutionary document in the world.”
Bruce Larson points out, “William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury (from 1942 to 1944), warned his missionaries to India never to read the Magnificat in public. Christians were already suspect in that country and they were cautioned against reading verses so inflammatory. Jesus, the ultimate revolutionary, completely reverses all human values. What Mary was prophesying about her unborn son is terrifying to the establishment, whoever and wherever they are. They cannot hear these words gladly. We may attempt instead to spiritualize these verses, but deep down we all know that Jesus has come to instigate the kind of revolution we need.” (The Communicator’s Commentary, p. 39-40)
Mary’s song challenges us in three critical ways:
It challenges our moral values.
In verse 51, Mary sings that “He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.”
The wonderful storyteller O. Henry tells the tale (“The Assessor of Success”) of an arrogant man who makes his living through treachery, enjoying the thrill of cheating others. Morley swindles money from a young boy who was sent to the druggist for medicine for his mother. Morley swindles an old man who is searching desperately for a long lost son. But when Morley happens to see a young woman with whom he had enjoyed a friendship in the days of his innocent youth, he recognizes the vileness of his present life. Before she can spot him, he darts into a dark alley, leans his head against a cold lamppost and groans, “God, I wish I could die.”
When Christ enters our world, He does the same to us. He scatters “those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.” He challenges our moral values.
Mary’s song challenges our social values.
In verse 52, Mary sings, “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.”
This world values people on the basis of their social standing. God, on the other hand, honors the worth of every human soul. Commenting on this verse, William Barclay relates a disgusting account: “Muretus was a wandering scholar of the middle ages. He was poor. In an Italian town he took ill and was taken to a hospital for waifs and strays. The doctors were discussing his case in Latin, never dreaming he could understand. They suggested that since he was such a worthless wanderer they might use him for medical experiments. He looked up and answered them in their own learned tongue, ‘Call no man worthless for whom Christ died.’”
When Christ enters our world, social grades are thrown away. He brings down rulers from their thrones and lifts up the humble. He challenges our social values.
And Mary’s song challenges our economic values.
In verse 53, Mary sings, “He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.”
Sadly, our world values money more highly than ethics. Thirty years ago I clipped an article about ethics from Time magazine, which seems even more timely today. After bags of cash spilled from an armored car in Columbus, Ohio, dozens of motorists scooped up an estimated $2 million; only about $100,000 of which was returned. Concerned about the evidence of ethical decline, Columbus Mayor Dana Rinehart formed a commission on ethics, chaired by former Watergate convict Jeb Stuart Magruder. Explaining his interest in this commission, Magruder stated, “I had been involved in one of the great scandals of this country…. Not only do people seem to be willing to take money off the streets, but our leaders seem to be doing the same thing. If you have leaders who have that kind of ethical standard, there’s no reason to expect the rest of the people to do better.”
When Christ enters our world, He confronts our greed. He fills the hungry with good things while sending the rich away empty. He challenges our economic values.