Paul’s reputation for mission and evangelism is certainly well deserved and, in a sense, quite formidable. But I want to suggest that the first missionary journey of the New Testament was, in fact, undertaken by Mary When she said her ‘yes’ to God, what was the first thing that she did? It’s there in verses 39 and 40 of Luke 1 – At that time Mary got readyt and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. Why did Mary make that trip? Was it joyful exuberance? Was it that she was bewildered at what was happening – and wanted to think it through with someone older and wiser? Was it that she needed comfort and help? Well, it could have been any, or all, of these – or something else. We are not told. But surely her main reason was simply that she wanted to share with someone the good news of what was happening to her. As Stephen Cottrell comments: “Mary gives from the overflow of what she has received. – This is a good way of thinking about evangelism.”
It’s a touching scene. Sharon Ringe comments: “According to Luke, Elizabeth’s body teaches her theological truths. At Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth feels a stirring in her womb that evokes her recognition of who it is to whom Mary will give birth. And, in turn, Mary’s response is the Magnificat, a powerful expression of the transformation God brings. Sharon Ringe again: “(This song) would never be confused with a calming lullaby being rehearsed by two pregnant women.” In other words, at this point, we might expect these two to be practising ‘Rock a bye baby’ or something like that – but they are not. Rather they are talking about the proud and their schemes being routed, the lowly being raised on high, the hungry being filled with good things.
And if we just give from the overflow of what we have received, if we just tell the story of what’s happened to us, the good things that God has done for us, we will find ourselves similarly moved and, probably, without realising it, we’ll find ourselves doing evangelism.
Mary’s song is a challenge to see things differently. In a sense, despite all our history and all our theology, we still have that underlying assumption that, if we’re like God, that ought to mean that we can get our own way. It ought to mean that we can get what we want. It ought to mean that we are in control. That’s what we think – but that’s not how it is. Jesus becoming human, and the way that happened, tells us that being like God is fundamentally about giving yourself away, pouring yourself out – that’s the message of the incarnation. What Jesus did is precisely so remarkable because it is exactly what God would do. Indeed this is what God has done. God’s view of power is very different from what we might expect.
We have tended to define God by what he is not. He is immortal – not mortal. He is invisible – not visible. He is infinite – not finite. But where’s the positive take? What is God like? When the first disciples asked Jesus precisely that question, how did he answer? ‘Lord, show us the Father,’ they said. And do you remember how he replied – ‘If you have seen me you have seen the Father.’ Paul, in his majestic sermon to the Colossians, took a more-or-less identical line – ‘Christ is the image of the invisible God ... For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.’
What is God like? God is Christ-like. What is Jesus like? Jesus is God-like. And God wants to get involved with us. And God does get involved with us.