We’re looking ahead to Christmas, but for some people, the biggest day is already over. Last Thursday, over 9 million people visited one church. Know what I’m talking about? December 12th is the most important day of the year in Mexico—the day of the Virgin of Guadalupe. It’s said that on December 12, 1531, the Virgin Mary appeared to a shepherd named Juan Diego in Mexico. To prove it, she left her image on Juan Diego’s cloak. That image is called the “Virgin of Guadalupe.” Every year on December 12th, millions of people visit the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City to worship and pray to Mary. Can you imagine 9 million people at church?
I’ve been there. I’ve been to the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe five different times. People walk around on their knees to show their adoration. At the entrance to the church, there are books for people to write their prayers to Mary. “Thank you for saving me and my family.” “You are my everything.” “My whole life depends on you.” All around are shops selling statues and pictures of Mary. In fact, every Mexican home I’ve ever visited here in the U.S. has had the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe displayed prominently in the house. She’s a big deal! What do you think? Sometimes I’ve wondered to myself, “What would Mary herself think about all this?”
We don’t have to wonder. Mary tells us exactly what she thinks. Soon after she found out she was going to be Jesus’ mother, Mary sang a song—the Song of Mary. Sometimes it’s called the Magnificat, because that’s the first word of the song in Latin. You don’t know Latin, but the word “magnificat” isn’t hard to figure out. “Magnificat” means “magnifies.” Like a magnifying glass. Mary wanted to “magnify” something—to make something look really big. Kind of like Mary is magnified on the day of the Virgin of Guadalupe. I’m going to say the words of Mary’s song. As you listen, ask yourself: What does Mary want to magnify? Here’s her song:
“My soul glorifies the Lord 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name. 50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors” (Luke 1:47-55).
So what—or whom—does Mary want to magnify? It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? “My soul glorifies the Lord.” “The Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.” Whom does Mary magnify? God! Mary doesn’t say, “Look at me, I’m pretty great!” She doesn’t say, “Look at all the great things I’m doing.” No way! She doesn’t want to magnify herself at all. She wants to magnify God. “My God is great.” “My God has done great things!” Like a magnifying glass makes things look big, Mary wanted to magnify the Lord. “My soul glorifies the Lord.” Got it?
We get it all wrong when we take that magnifying glass and point it at ourselves or other people. The way some people talk about Mary is an example of a lie that we constantly believe. We think that our lives depend on the great things that we do. We think that we have to do something special in order to be special. So people try to make Mary into “super Mary” who does all these great things. People say that she’s sinless. That she answers prayers. That she ascended into heaven without dying. People magnify Mary. Except those things aren’t true. Mary would be appalled at what people do to try to glorify her. Mary knew it’s not about her. It’s about Jesus!
Maybe we’re not tempted to glorify Mary. But whom do you magnify? If it’s not the Virgin of Guadalupe, who’s hanging on the wall at your house? Or—more importantly—whose picture is hanging on the wall of your heart? Aaron Rodgers? We know his stats. He made another Pro Bowl. Isn’t he great! Or some politician. Look at what he’s done. Isn’t he great! We magnify people, don’t we? All the time. Here’s whom I magnify the most: Me! Remember the lie? We have to do special things in order to be special. How often don’t we think, “Why don’t people realize how special I am? Why don’t people pay attention to me? Look at me! Magnify me!” This is what our sinful natures do: Magnify us. “Great people do great things. Like me!”
It’s just that here’s what happens when we really magnify ourselves: What we see isn’t good. We can look fine from a distance, but if we really magnify every nook and cranny of our hearts and lives, what do we see? All our sins and wickedness up close. Just think about famous people. The more their lives get magnified, the more people realize how imperfect they are. That’s what really happens when you magnify yourself. All your sins come into the spotlight. If great people do great things, the magnifying glass shows the truth: I don’t. I’m not. There’s nothing more dark and depressing than magnifying yourself. Is that why we feel so much despair?
Mary got this. You’re not special because of what you do. You’re special because of what God has done for you. In the middle of her sins, in her humble state, God in grace choose Mary out of the blue. There was nothing special about her, but there were a ton of things special about her God. The news of Jesus’ birth was sinking in for Mary: “I’m going to be the mother of God. I’m going to be the mother of my Savior. Why me?” Joy and thanksgiving welled up like a volcano inside of her: “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Mary could sense that people would praise her. Instead, she wanted to magnify God. “The Mighty One has done great things for me!”
But not just for her. This grace of God extends way beyond Mary. She wanted people to see that. She held up a magnifying glass so that people could see God’s grace everywhere. “50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” Just look around. Just look at your life. God is great, isn’t he? He’s merciful. He’s powerful. He humbles the proud. He lifts up the humble…
And Mary saved the greatest thing for the end: “54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.” What made Mary most excited was God’s promise to Abraham. So what was the promise to Abraham? The promise of a Savior. God would save his people from their sins. Mary needed a Savior, and she knew who her Savior was—her baby, Jesus! That’s why her heart was overflowing with joy: “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” How many teenage girls walk around quoting God’s promises? Magnifying God like Mary? We need more teenagers like that!
Because God has done great things for you and me too. You don’t have to make yourself special by what you do. You’re special because of what God has done for you. Jesus came to save you from your sins. He wasn’t just born. Jesus lived everyday with you on his mind. He died for you on the cross. He rose for you. He’s in heaven waiting for you. Of all the people in the world, God allows us to believe in Jesus. Of all the people in the world, God lets us find peace and joy in Jesus. It’s overwhelming, isn’t it? Why us? What can we say? “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.… The Mighty One has done great things for me!”
When you use a magnifying glass, you have to close your other eye. You have to forget about everything else. You have look at that one thing so closely that everything else fades away. May that be you and me at Christmas: Magnify Jesus. Not presents… Not Santa Claus… Not food… Not relatives… Close that other eye, and magnify Jesus. Just like Mary. “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior….For the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.” You tell them Mary! Let’s magnify the Lord. Amen.