The First Song of Advent: When do you praise God?

46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” – Luke 1:46-55

Caught in the Sun | Cypress Creek Park, Texas | November 2021

I remember like it was yesterday. Our youngest son had been born 7 weeks premature. And though he was given an “8” (out of 10) on the APGAR scale, there was a grave potential problem. He presented symptoms associated more than 99% of the time with cystic fibrosis. This is a grave disease with many implications. But the symptoms don’t determine the presence of the disease. A sweat chloride test does. On the day of the test, we went to Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Diane was quite calm. I was deeply worried. Then the results came back: Negative. I was elated. Relieved. Thankful. I praised God. 

Other times come to mind: when our house sold after 6 months of a very dead real estate market. When Diane said, “Yes.” When our family was all together for our grandson’s baptism. All times of great gladness and praise to God.

There are other times I should have been thankful to God. These might not be as obvious occasions. They were times of challenge and cross-bearing. When I graduated from seminary and was given my first call – far from home and in a situation I knew little about. During some of the difficult years in a church I served that had a history of bad pastor/people relationships. When I first began serving a large church with little staff and more challenges than I realized at the time. These too, are times to praise God. For they force us to relinquish any illusion of control we might have. They force us to rely on God.

This is what Mary does here. She has been told she would bear the Savior of the world. She has visited her cousin Elizabeth. She has heard the exclamation of joy as Elizabeth’s baby leapt in her womb at the sound of Mary’s voice. But she knows that which is before her is beyond her strength, wisdom, power, or ability to navigate. She praises God because she believes that the Mighty One has done great things in her. And she believes he will continue to bless and keep her in his loving care. 

When we teach at PLI or in my work with congregations in the planning stage, I like to talk about moving a congregation from a cozy status (lots of invitation and little challenge) to a breakthrough/kingdom-seeking mode of ministry (lots of both invitation and challenge). When you make that move, you go through the “valley of the shadow of death.” That’s the difficult place of discouragement and battle. You want to give up. You see that the challenge is greater than the resources you have. 

And that’s actually a good place to be if you look to God in those times. We praise the One who sees us through those times, charts a course for our blessing. Provides for our needs, and give us joy in seeing his kingdom come among and through us. This is what Mary does here. She knows her limitations. But she knows and believes more deeply in God’s favor and power to bring her through. 

Maybe you’re in a difficult place these days. Challenges may be from your family, or within your own sinful flesh. The hills may be steeper and taller than you think you can climb. But if you know God has called you to climb those hills, you can rejoice as you lay aside any presence of your own abilities, powers, wisdom, and strength, and lean on God’s promises, faithfulness, power, grace, and goodness to see you through. 

Is it time to praise God? Certainly when all is well. But also when we are struggling through the dark valleys that come into our lives. Praise God with me today!

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