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The Handmaid of the Lord

Martin Pylvainen | The Voice of Zion March 2022 --

Praise ye the Lord. Praise, O ye servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord. Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time forth and for evermore. From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same the Lord’s name is to be praised. The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens. Who is like unto the Lord our God, who dwelleth on high, who humbleth himself to behold the things that are in heaven, and in the earth! He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill; that he may set him with princes, even with the princes of his people. — Psalms 113:1–8

Psalm 113 is a song of praise and was used as the Hallelujah or Halleh song to begin the three Jewish pilgrim festivals: Passover, Pentecost and the Festival of Booths. Today we also open services with hymns of praise, such as song 202 “Praise God, O Zion! Offer Him Thanksgiving,” and we close special services by singing song 353 “To Our Blest Creator Thankful Praises Flow.” But we might ask why this psalm appears on the church calendar on a day called Mary’s day. And why does the church calendar pause to speak of Christmas on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, nearing Easter?

A Message from Angel Gabriel

Let’s consider the second question first. On Mary’s day, we remember the announcement from the angel Gabriel to Mary, telling her she would give birth to a son who would be named Jesus. Gabriel’s message was the first of many pronouncements Mary would hear about Jesus throughout her life. Gabriel came to tell of God’s plans and to Mary he said: “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever and of his kingdom thee shall be no end” (Luke 1:32,33).

Gabriel went on to tell Mary how the Holy Ghost would come upon her and she would give birth to one called the Son of God and her cousin Elizabeth, though childless and elderly was then six months into pregnancy. Mary’s response was one of simple faith.: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). The church calendar gets its theme “the handmaid of the Lord” from Mary’s response and then places Mary’s Day around nine months prior to Christmas to mark the conception of Jesus.

Soon after Gabriel’s appearance announcing the upcoming birth of Jesus, Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth. She heard a second pronouncement then about Jesus from Elizabeth. Luke tells us Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost when she heard Mary’s voice. God gave Elizabeth these words: “Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” Mary’s response to Elizabeth recorded in Luke 1:46–55 was one of praise to God. This poem of praise contains allusions to many parts of the Old Testament, including our text, Psalm 113.

A Song of Praise

Psalm 113 begins with three exhortations to praise the Lord and to praise Him now and forever more. The Psalmist instructs us that praises be made from the rising of the sun until it sets. By this example, he wishes to illustrate for us our need to praise God at all times. When life is peaceful and in times of prosperity we may find it easy to offer praises to God. But the Psalmist reminds us to praise “from this time forth” without any regard for what is happening in our lives. For we always have reason to praise God for the gift of faith and hope of everlasting life in heaven.

Faith is the greatest blessing we have from God. David tells us, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Ps. 32:1). In the very opening of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (verse 3). Often, we forget to praise God for these heavenly blessings. The psalmist in Psalm 107 repeats four times the admonition: “Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!” And not only praise Him, but Psalm 113 also reminds that we will continue this praise “for evermore” – when we reach heaven.

He Raises Up the Poor

Our heavenly Father regards the humble things of this world. In verse 8, the psalmist tells us what kind of God we have who can make everything out of nothing. “He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill,” or ash heap. The prophet Samuel’s mother Hannah spoke these words of verse 8 when offering thanks for Samuel’s birth as an answer to her prayers. Jesus spoke in the sermon on the mount that “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3).

God does not lift up those who feel themselves in high standing before Him. Rather it is those who feel themselves poor and needy who receive His grace gift of the forgiveness of their sins.

That He May Set Him with Princes

Our text concludes with the reason God raises up the poor and needy. One does not receive grace for themselves only, but also for their service to others. Redeemed believers can share their gift of faith with seeking or lost ones and provide physical and spiritual help to their brothers and sisters in faith. Paul writes, “The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal” (1 Cor. 12:7).

We do this work, this “manifestation of the Spirit,” not with our own strength. It is through the power of the gospel that we are given a mind to serve. Believing our sins forgiven in Jesus’ name and blood, let us remember to offer our praises to the heavenly Father that He remembers and lifts up weak ones, gives His good and perfect gifts, so we may one day reach heaven.

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