Back in 1995 Joan Osborne released a song written by Eric Bazilian, entitled One of Us, that became a hit on the charts and a worldwide success. The song begins by asking,

“If God had a name, what would it be?

“And would you call it to his face?

“If you were faced with Him in all His glory,

“What would you ask if you had just one question?”

In the refrain that follows, the song affirms that God is great, and God is good, and then sets forth that “just one question,” namely:

“What if God was one of us?

“Just a slob like one of us?

“Just a stranger on the bus

“Tryin’ to make his way home?”

I’ve no idea about Mr. Bazilian’s personal life or background—Wikipedia doesn’t provide any—but I’m struck by the fact that 2000 years after the birth of Jesus Christ someone would still pose the question, “What if God was one of us?”[1] For each Christmas we tell the story, the true story, the historical story, about how the eternal God who made us and everything that exists, the Messiah, the Christ, chose to come to earth and take on human flesh, complete with a human name, Jesus, meaning Savior, who came to rescue us, to deliver us, from sin and evil and everything that can harm us.

God in Christ not only came to earth, but he came to earth by way of a miraculous conception in which God, the Holy Spirit, came upon and overshadowed the virgin Mary. And so it was that the Holy One, the eternal Son of God, began to experience life as a human being in the womb of his mother, Mary.[2] And so it was that the Holy One, the eternal Son of God became one of us. Luke tells us that Jesus’ relative, John the Baptist, while yet in the womb of Elizabeth, his mother, leapt for joy[3] in recognition that Jesus the Savior who was in Mary’s womb was not only one of us, but was also God. This is the awe-inspiring miracle and wonder of Christmas: that God in Christ came to earth through Mary, a virgin[4] pledged to be married to Joseph, “a descendant of David.”[5]

And so this evening I want to briefly reflect upon this miracle from Mary’s perspective by considering Mary’s Song—a version of which Denise and I just sang[6]—known as the “Magnificat”[7] after the Latin Vulgate translation “magnifies”—but translated in our passage as “glorifies.” You can find the Magnificat in the Gospel of Luke 1:46–56—it’s on page 724 in your pew Bibles if you’d like to follow along.[8]

Now Mary was probably but a teenager at this time. She was materially poor. As stated in verse 48 of Luke, she was of “humble state” and a servant of God. But she, young woman though she was, was old enough to recognize the magnitude of what was taking place within her for she, who was so young; she, who was so poor; she, who until that time had not been widely known, would now be known for all generations as the mother of Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Christ, Jesus, our Savior and Lord.

Notice that her response to this wondrous miracle is to praise as she begins her song by declaring, “My soul glorifies”—again, or magnifies, hence the Magnificat—“ My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Now did you catch that? Mary, the mother of Jesus, acknowledged that the One to be born of her was God her Savior. Though she was granted the inexpressible honor of having been chosen by God to give birth to the Messiah, the promised Christ, Mary knew that she herself was as much in need of his salvation as the rest of us are. And for the  honor of giving birth to the Savior of the world she notes, as recorded in verse 48, “all generations will call me blessed” even as Elizabeth, in verse 45 just before Mary’s song, had exclaimed, “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”[9]

Being God’s humble and chosen servant, I think that Mary would have been mortified to have any attention focused upon herself. In this song she herself didn’t focus upon herself but instead turns and focuses her gaze and ours to God. The Magnificat is, in fact, Mary’s testimony. Now the testimony of any believer is essentially a recounting of how that individual has seen God work in their lives. Testimonies ought to be not about the believer, the one making the testimony, but about the God to whom they bear witness. And indeed, at the end of the day, we end up learning so little about Mary here but so much about God. For by her words, Mary reminds us that:

Verses 49 and 50, God, the Mighty One whose name is holy, in every generation extends his mercy to those who fear him; to those who turn to him; to those who want to know him; to those who want to know his love and love him in return; to those who want to follow and serve him. Mary turns our eyes to God knowing that he always answers the prayer of those who seek him.

And Mary also reminds us that God, the Mighty One whose name is holy, especially works among those who are in need of him rather than in those who are self-sufficient. As stated in verse 51, he scatters those “who are proud in their inmost thoughts.”

And, verse 52, he brings down “rulers from their thrones.”

And, verse 53, he sends “the rich away empty.”

But God, the Mighty One whose name is holy, lifts up “the humble,” verse 52;

And he fills “the hungry with good things,” verse 53;

And he has kept his promises to Israel, the nation he made for himself, a nation that was so often overpowered by larger and stronger nations, as he remembered “to be merciful55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”

And so in these but ten verses, Mary has told us so very much about the God whom she knows, loves, and serves and so little about herself. For the God who made all of creation, who is God over heaven and earth,

is Mighty—and holy—and merciful to all who call upon him;

he acts on behalf of the needy;

in his justice he brings down those who are proud;

in his mercy he lifts up those who are humble;

in his kindness and compassion he fills those who are hungry, both spiritually[10] and physically,[11] with good things;

and in his faithfulness he keeps his promises.

So we don’t need to ask, “What if God was one of us?” for this eternal God became one of us, he was one of us, so that we who are made of flesh and blood and bone and spirit might know what God, who is Spirit,[12] is like. For that God was one of us is the story of Christmas. Again, the story of Christmas is that he, the eternal God who along with the Father and Holy Spirit created the world, left his home in heaven:

in order that we might know what he is like;

and how much he loves us;

and how much he would like us to know his love;

and how he desires to deliver us from everything that hurts and harms us—our sin, our disobedience and indifference towards him, our poor treatment of each other, our neglect of this good world he has created;

in order that we might see what human life was intended to be—loving and caring for the poor and needy; loving and caring for each other; loving and caring for this world in which he’s placed us. And doing all of this while intentionally praying to him, talking with him, as we seek to live as Jesus did. For as one who was fully human he experienced everything we humans experience from the point of conception to the time of his death.

This past Sunday, December 22nd, we experienced as we do every year around this time, the winter solstice or “the moment in time when the Earth’s tilt away from the Sun is at its maximum and the Sun’s maximum elevation in the sky is at its lowest.”[13] Or, as we usually refer to it, the day in which we experience

the shortest amount of daylight of the year. And it is during this time of literal and deep darkness that Christ, the light of the world,[14] came to earth.

He became one of us, with a human face and a human body;

He became one of us with a human name, Jesus, indicating that he had come as Savior;

And as John tells us in his Gospel, in Jesus we are faced with all his glory, “the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth;”[15]

The story of Christmas, in deed and in truth, powerfully tells us the Gospel News that God is good. And God is great.

And my hope and prayer this evening is that if you have just one question for him, it might be, “Will you draw near to me?” For as James promises, “Come near to God and he will come near to [us].”[16] Dear ones, may we tonight and always celebrate the fact that God in Christ loves us so much that he became one of us that we might know him and his love not only now but for all eternity. Amen.

 

[1] Bazilian does refer to Jesus later in the song, but not in a way that seems to acknowledge him as God: “If God had a face what would it look like? And would you want to see if seeing meant that you would have to believe in things like heaven and in Jesus and the saints, and all the prophets? And yeah, yeah, God is great. Yeah, yeah, God is good. And yeah, yeah, yeah-yeah-yeah. What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us? Just a stranger on the bus tryin’ to make his way home? Just tryin’ to make his way home. Like back up to heaven all alone. Nobody callin’ on the phone. ‘Cept for the Pope maybe in Rome.”

[2] Luke 1:30–35: 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” 34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.

[3] Luke 1:44: As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.

[4] Luke 1:26­–27, 34: 26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary…. 34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

[5] Luke 1:26–27a: 26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David.

[6] Magnificat (Holy is His Name) by John Michael Talbot Arr. Steve Bell.

[7] See similarities with Hannah’s Song in 1 Samuel 2:1–10: 1 Then Hannah prayed and said: “My heart rejoices in the Lord; in the Lord my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance.

“There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. “Do not keep talking so proudly or let your mouth speak such arrogance, for the Lord is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed. “The bows of the warriors are broken, but those who stumbled are armed with strength. Those who were full hire themselves out for food, but those who were hungry are hungry no more. She who was barren has borne seven children, but she who has had many sons pines away. “The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up. The Lord sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor. “For the foundations of the earth are the Lord’s; on them he has set the world. He will guard the feet of his faithful servants, but the wicked will be silenced in the place of darkness. “It is not by strength that one prevails; 10 those who oppose the Lord will be broken. The Most High will thunder from heaven; the Lord will judge the ends of the earth. “He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.”

[8] Luke 1:46–56: 46 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies [magnifies] the Lord 47 and 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.” 56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home

[9] See also Luke 11:27–28: 27 As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” 28 He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

[10] Matthew 5:3, 6: He said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.; John 6:35, 51: 35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty…. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

[11] Luke 6:20–21: Looking at his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.

[12] John 4:24: God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.

[13] According to http://www.calendarpedia.com/when-is/winter-solstice.html.

[14] John 8:12: Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

[15] John 1:14.

[16] James 4:8a.