Brooks: Inadequacy Made Whole
The Songs of Zechariah and Mary
Justin Brooks (email)
Last weekend my friend and fellow songwriter David Gentiles and I sat down in his loft in downtown Huntsville, Texas to write new songs of worship. Searching for inspiration, we turned our attention to the upcoming Advent season and the various ‘songs’ sung by the the influential characters integral to the narrative of Christ coming to earth.
With the added bonus of an upcoming Uptown sermon series exploring these songs called Carols Of Christmas, we decided to examine the Song of Mary, also called Magnificat and the Song of Zechariah, also called the Benedictus.
Picking up our guitars, we began strumming chords and singing over them. The melodies poured out as we sang which I believe is a testament to the Holy Spirit dwelling in these songs and what they have to teach us about worship in and of itself. The song texts will be provided at the bottom of this post for reference, as given in the Book Of Common Prayer, Morning Prayer, Rite 2.
ZECHARIAH’S SONG – BENEDICTUS
The Gospel of Luke, chapter one, tells us that Zechariah was a priest, married to Elizabeth and both were righteous before God, but could not have children due to their old age. While in the temple burning an offering of incense, Gabriel appears to Zechariah and tells him, he and Elizabeth will have a son named John that will “turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God…and make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” (ESV) Zechariah asks how he can be sure about this because he is an old man and so is his wife. For his unbelief, he was rendered mute, unable to speak until John was born.
I often think about these months leading up to John’s birth. I think of how maddening it must have been for Zechariah, imprisoned by his silence, unable to verbally worship his God or lead the people he was entrusted to lead. When John is born, the passage tells us that when Zechariah writes on a tablet that the child’s name is to be John, his mouth is immediately opened and begins to praise God. A recurring theme of being free to worship without fear and the faithfulness of God runs through this prophecy. A man, once shackled by his inability to verbally praise his Lord, in some ways effectively unable to worship and lead, now is filled with the Holy Spirit, praising ceaselessly.
MARY’S SONG – MAGNIFICAT
Mary’s song comes to us also from the Gospel of Luke in the first chapter when she goes to stay with Zechariah and Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist upon learning from the angel Gabriel that she is to bear the Son of God. As Mary enters the house, Scripture tell us the baby leaps inside Elizabeth’s womb as she exclaims, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” (ESV)
Elizabeth’s position of humility with Mary is almost one of inadequacy. How astonishing that Mary’s response to this, through her song, is also one of lowliness. It is the same essence she brought to her questions of Gabriel; not being able to wrap her mind around the fact that God would choose her, a virgin living in a tiny village, to bear the Savior of the world. “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior; for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed;…he has mercy on those who fear him.” She goes on to sing of the ways God has kept his promises and has been faithful to his people.
David in Psalm 51:17 says “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (ESV) What we can learn from the songs of Zechariah, Mary, and the humility of Elizabeth, is this same broken spirit and contrite heart they took in coming to God. When we come to a similar place where we are fully aware that we are in need of a Savior, that any work of our own is inadequate next to the grace and goodness of God, then he can begin to mold us and shape us into the person he knows we can be. Sometimes, like Zechariah, our mouths, or the eyes of our heart are opened for the first time or maybe for the first time in a very long time to God’s goodness and faithfulness; to where our only response is to worship and praise him.
THE SONG OF MARY
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him *
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm, *
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers, *
to Abraham and his children for ever.
THE SONG OF ZECHARIAH
Benedictus Dominus Deus
Luke 1: 68-79
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; *
he has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty savior, *
born of the house of his servant David.
Through his holy prophets he promised of old,
that he would save us from our enemies, *
from the hands of all who hate us.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers *
and to remember his holy covenant.
This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham, *
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
Free to worship him without fear, *
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our life.