If 2020 has taught us anything, it is surely that things are not always as they seem. We are generally more fragile than we like to admit. And with a sudden realisation of fragility there often comes frustration, anger, a claustrophobic feeling perhaps – and definitely a lack of tolerance. The truth is, despite what advertising would tell you, this holiday period isn’t always happy and magical. Actually, the concoction of Covid-19, financial instability, and a constant changing of the goalposts when it comes to government restrictions for the safety of the general community has for many resulted in hurt, pain and a breakdown in relationships.
Of course, the bigger problem is that 2020 hasn’t just exposed a breakdown in our horizontal relationships, but also in our more important vertical relationship with our Creator God. There is obvious tension between us and God. As a society, we are clearly moving in a direction that loudly and proudly declares our autonomy. We are a law unto ourselves, and we claim to be happy ignoring God and his authority. But of course, that will not stand. Should we pursue this path, there is nothing but judgment to come. Should we continue to tell God to get lost, only hell awaits. And when Jesus returns, it will be clearly revealed who was on the right side of history.
And so, I propose a New Year’s resolution of humility. It struck me as I was preparing to preach on the Magnificat, the words of Mary from Luke 1:46-56. Her words highlight for us that a key ingredient in our joy as Christians is our humility. As we recognise our place as rebels in front of our Almighty God, we then realise the underserving love he has so generously poured out on us in his Son, our Saviour. In this way, humility is a radical shift in perspective, forcing us to look at our lives in terms of a relationship with our Creator. And considering how much 2020 has exposed of the truth of our frailty, what better resolution to set for 2021?
My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. (Luke 1:46-49)
Mary begins by recognising God as omnipotent (cf. v37), holy, and the author of her salvation. And as a result, her soul glorifies, or magnifies, the Lord. She gives God the praise he deserves because of who he is and what he has done for her. She is singing praises from the inner recesses of her being. This is something worth pondering, in a society where God is neither given the respect nor praise he deserves, nor even acknowledged as a reality. However, Mary is doing more than just giving God praise. She is also mindful of her humble state in the presence of this omnipotent God. She is completely dependent on him, realising that she can do nothing without him. What is it that God found attractive about her, particularly? In fact, what does God find attractive about any of us that he would be mindful of us? Nothing. And knowing that she has no ability to do anything without God, she marvels that the God of the universe, who spoke the world into existence, would send his one and only Son into the world through her – to save his people from their sins! (cf. Matt 1:21).
But Mary goes on:
His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors. (Luke 1:50-55)
Moving from personal to more general, Mary identifies that there are only two categories of people: the proud and the humble. Those who are proud, who believe that their achievements are their own and refuse to acknowledge God from whom all blessings flow – they are scattered, brought down and sent away empty. However, those who are humble, who see themselves as nothing in front of God who is everything – they will be lifted up, filled and will be shown mercy. And to be perfectly clear, ‘humble’ does not mean low self-esteem or self-deprecation. Humility is an understanding of the dependence we have in front of God. Acknowledging our dependence allows us the freedom to turn back to God and ask for forgiveness, and a restoration in our broken relationship. And this is so beautiful, and God is so worthy of praise, because when we repent, God always forgives us.
He does this because of Jesus. This is what Mary knew. She was told by the angel Gabriel that she would give birth to a Son (cf. Luke 1:31-33) who was the Son of the Most High and the forever King. And with that information, knowing that the baby in her womb was the Amen to all of God’s promises, she proclaims the words of the Magnificat. Words so true and good that liturgies throughout the ages have used them as an appropriate expression of dependence on God and praise for God. But notice how her praise is rooted in her humility? She is not seeking to achieve great things. She is not seeking to be humbler than the next person. She is acknowledging the reality of her dependence, turning to God, resting in him and praising him for his loving kindness.
So, why not choose humility for your New Year’s resolution?