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When Paul pleaded three times that the Lord would take away a thorn in his flesh, the Lord responded with a word of tender power:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)

Indeed, God works his most extraordinary powerful miracles through his weakest vessels, and nowhere is that truth more apparent than in the Christmas story.

At Christmas, the power of God broke into the world as a helpless newborn infant. At Christmas, women take center stage of the story, even though women had no status in the society of the day. And, at Christmas, God comes near to his powerless, conquered people Israel in order to accomplish salvation for the world.

The Gospel for the Powerless: The Infant John the Baptist

In Luke’s Gospel, we read that Mary went to be with her relative Elizabeth after learning that she would conceive and give birth to a son named Jesus:

[39] In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, [40] and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. [41] And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, [42] and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! [43] And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? [44] For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. [45] And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

(Luke 1:39-45 ESV)

John the Baptist–who here is not yet born–is perhaps the person in this story who grasps most fully who Jesus would be. As soon as Mary enters the room, carrying Jesus in her womb, John leaps in the womb of Elizabeth.

We are told here that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, but Elizabeth interprets Mary’s significance by what the baby had done: “For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”

But perhaps baby John’s insight into the Christ child should not surprise us. Later on in Luke’s Gospel in chapter 18, we read this story:

[15] Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. [16] But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. [17] Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”(Luke 18:15-17 ESV)

Jesus says that the kingdom of God belongs even to “infants” (ta brephe). This is the same Greek word used to describe John here in 1:44: “the baby (to brephos) in my womb leaped for joy.”

Despite the fact that an infant cannot come to any sort of reasoned, intellectual understanding of the gospel, Jesus nevertheless insists that the kingdom of God belongs to such infants. The Holy Spirit can–and indeed does in John’s case–work in the lives of infants in ways that we cannot explain, producing the kind of faith that can inherit the Kingdom.

God not only saved the world through the infant Jesus, but he used the infant John to underscore that faith in Jesus is a work of grace.

And whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.

The Gospel for the Powerless: The Virgin Mary

As Mary begins to sing, the contrasts her own powerlessness with the mighty, saving power of 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. (Luke 1:46-49 ESV)

Mary instinctively understands that her involvement in this story comes entirely of grace. When God looked upon Mary, his servant, Mary sings that God saw her “humble estate.” He did not see her merit, nor her power, nor her greatness–he saw her powerlessness.

The story of Christmas not only involves God’s triumphal entry into the world through a powerless infant, but the story of Christmas revolves around a powerless, teenage girl. Though she had neither wealth nor societal influence, God chose her to be the mother of his Son.

By grace, Mary is indeed “blessed among women.”

Mary, then, rightly points us to rejoice not in her own power, but in the power of God: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”

The Gospel for the Powerless: Abraham and His Offspring Forever

What we should have realized all along, though, is that God’s sending Jesus into the world is simply the ultimate example of what God had done all along: exalting Israel, the fewest of all peoples (Deut. 7:7), in order to underscore his power and his covenant love for them.

Mary continues her song:

    [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.”
[56] And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.
(Luke 1:50-56 ESV)

This is a magnificent summary of the Gospel for the Powerless. God consistently scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, brings down the mighty from their thrones, and sends the rich away empty. YHWH alone is God, and he brooks no rivals.

And yet his mercy is for all those who fear him, from generation to generation. He consistently exalts those of humble estate, and he fills the hungry with good things. Indeed, he has consistently demonstrated his mercy to his servant Israel, to Abraham and his offspring forever. Precisely in the midst of a Roman occupation, God works through and for his conquered people Israel to bring salvation to the world.

The Gospel is for the powerless, but make no mistake–the Gospel is the Power of God unto salvation. The strong, the proud, and the rich cannot claim it, but it belongs to the humblest, lowliest, poorest person who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation–whether infants, women, the nation of Israel, or even me.

Why? Because God’s power is made perfect in weakness. Because God could not have entered this world more vulnerably than as an infant, and because God could not have accomplished salvation through more weakness than by the cross.

And because this same Gospel is still extended to the powerless today:

[26] For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. [27] But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; [28] God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, [29] so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. [30] And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, [31] so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31 ESV)

Let our souls magnify the Lord, who has looked upon our humble estate and sent his only, beloved Son! Let our boast be in the Lord, now and forevermore!

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