Why is Scripture filled with one thrilling reversal after the next? So that God would not share his glory with another. So that, through the cataracts of our own sin and the fog of a fallen world, we would see him and recognize him as the one who made us in his own image for his glory and run to him in faith, singing with Mary, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47).
In 1983, elite distance runners from around the world met in Australia to compete in a weeklong, 544-mile ultramarathon from Sydney to Melbourne. The racers were lean and mean professional athletes, decked from head to toe in the most expensive gear by Nike, Asics, & Puma; all except for Cliff Young, a 61-year-old shepherd in his overalls and work boots. He’d even removed his dentures for the race because he said, “they rattled.” When the gun sounded, the runners leapt from the line and quickly left Cliff far behind as he shuffled along. At the end of the first day, the pack was miles ahead when the runners stopped to get a few hours of sleep.
But nobody told Cliff he was supposed to stop and rest. So, while the other racers slept, Cliff ran through the night. You see, Cliff was a poor shepherd who couldn’t afford a horse or all-terrain vehicle. When storms rolled in on his 2,000-acre farm and his sheep needed to be gathered in, he would herd them on foot, running for days on end. Nobody knew that when the race began, but everyone knew it when the race ended, because, after five days of continuous running, Cliff shuffled across the finish line in 1st place, shattering the previous course record by two days. It was a stunning upset, a thrilling reversal, that made the world stop and stare and wonder.
Thrilling reversal is what Christmas is all about. God insists on showcasing his power through weakness and his wisdom through foolishness so that we would stop and stare, wonder and worship. Thrilling reversal is the theme of Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1:46-55, in which we see that God moves in mysterious ways so that we would give him all glory.
After learning from the angel Gabriel that she would conceive in her virgin womb by the power of the Holy Spirit and bear the Son of God, Mary flew to her cousin Elizabeth, who was also unexpectedly expecting. And as Mary drew near carrying the embryonic little Lord Jesus, John, the prenatal prophet, leaped in Elizabeth’s womb, and Elizabeth sang a song of joy, humility, and faith. So, Mary responded with a song of her own, stitching together patches of Old Testament passages, relishing in God’s reversals:
“He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” (Luke 1:51–55)
Just before Jacob blessed Joseph’s sons, he crossed his hands, bestowing (contrary to custom) the greater honor upon the younger instead of the older.