Jonathan Goldthwaite is a Christian and a Fellowship staff member.
Christians like me are very familiar with the Christmas nativity story.
It starts when God sends the angel Gabriel to Mary, a young Jewish girl betrothed to a man named Joseph. The angel reveals that Mary will give birth to Jesus. In her joy, Mary offers one of the most heartfelt and beautiful prayers in all of Scripture, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), which is recited by Christians all over the world every Christmas.
Mary’s prayer is well known and commonplace in the Church today. However, the ending phrases are rarely mentioned or commented on:
“He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.” (Luke 1:54-55)
Mary’s prayer thanking God for choosing her to give birth to Jesus ends by focusing on Israel. Why?
This young, Jewish woman is referring back to God’s first promise to the Jewish people, the very promise that informs God’s actions towards Israel throughout the entire arc of Scripture:
“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2-3)
The incarnation of Jesus is the foundation of the Christian faith (Hebrews 12:2). Mary’s poem contains a stunning revelation: Jesus’ miraculous birth is the result of God’s promises to Israel!
For Christians, God’s gift of Jesus is the final culmination of His promise to Abraham and his descendants. Without a long history of promises to Israel, there would be nothing for gentiles like me to be grafted into and share (Romans 11: 11-24).
This gives Christmas an even deeper meaning. As Christians gather together this year to celebrate the birth of Jesus, we are also giving thanks to the God of Israel who, because of the deep love He has for His people, sent His son to adopt us into the family of God, and bring His light into the world.