Song of Mary
46 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,
47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.
51 He hath showed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.
54 He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;
55 As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
Back in 2001 the news media was all abuzz about a new scientific breakthrough. Variously called “Ginger” or just plain “It,” entrepreneur and inventor Dean Kamen claimed that his invention, the Segway Human Transporter, would transform the world of transportation. Before its unveiling, Steve Jobs said it could be as significant as the personal computer, but no one really knew what it was. Rumor said it was a hovercraft, a helicopter backpack, or a teleportation pod like the Jetson’s used. Some said it would be hydrogen powered or be driven by the high-tech Stirling engine. Time Magazine said, “In a heartbeat, hundreds of stories full of fevered theorizing gushed forth in the press. Ginger was a hydrogen-powered hovercraft. Or a magnetic antigravity device. Or, closer to the mark, a souped-up scooter“ (Time Magazine "Reinventing the Wheel" December 2, 2001 http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,186660,00.html). But when it was actually unveiled for the first time on the Today Show, it was obvious that “Ginger” was little more than a motorized scooter with some gyroscopes. Its average speed is 8 mph, but it can go as high as 12 mph. It cost around $3000 and has a range of only 15 miles. The 65 pound transporter cost over $90 million to develop. When Diane Sawyer saw it, she literally said, “That’s ‘It’?” “It” failed to live up to all the media hype. Someone called it a pogo stick on wheels. Others called it a mini-chariot or a skateboard on steroids. “Ginger” is interesting, but obviously it has not and will not change the world, not even the transportation industry.
The Segway was just overhyped. I have often wondered if the shepherds felt that way on Christmas. This angelic choir appears to them with heavenly announcements, and they are exalted, and they go to see this miracle of God that the Angels were talking about, and they get down into Bethlehem and they find a baby.
The Scriptures had promised the coming of the Messiah, and rumors were rampant that he was coming at any time. He was going to turn the world around and deliver Israel from all her enemies. He would usher in the kingdom of God. That was the expectation until they got to that stable in Bethlehem and then they might have said, “That’s it? All that hype for this?” But in this case, the reality was greater than the expectation. No one could have guessed how this child would change the world. No one could have imagined the impact he would have on world history; the change he would make in people’s lives. So here we are 2000 years later and we are still baptizing in his name and living in his power.
Mary knew though. Of all the people in the gospel accounts of Jesus, Mary seems to have understood the most about what was going on. Let us talk about Mary. A Bible trivia question asks, “Who was the first person in the world to carry the Gospel?” the answer is, of course, Mary, and the answer is literally true. We do not know where she was born. Legend says that her parents were Joachim and Anna who were descendants of David. She grew up as part of the staunch Jewish community living in the Galilean hills surrounding Nazareth. Her daily responsibilities as part of a rural Galilean family would have included grinding wheat and barley into flour, preparing dishes of vegetables, nuts and mutton, baking bread, spinning wool, making clothes, fetching jars of water from the well for cooking and washing. Chickens and donkeys needed feeding. Crops had to be sown and harvested, crops like wheat, barley, olives, figs, grapes and pomegranates.
In that culture, ancient Palestinian culture, women married early, soon after puberty. So Mary was probably bethrothed to Joseph around age 13. Joseph, a carpenter from Nazareth, would not have been her choice. He was her parent's choice for her. Following the engagement ceremony, Mary probably returned to live at home with her parents for about a year after which she would go to live with her husband. So she may have been around 14 years old when all this happened—the visit by the angel Gabriel, the announcement that she had been specially chosen, hand picked by God to bear His Son Jesus, the Messiah who would establish a Kingdom that would never end. The power of the Holy Spirit would conceive the child within her womb.
Mary is understandably overwhelmed, troubled, confused and much in need of a caring, understanding, and wise person to talk to. Trying to explain a private angelic visit and a pregnancy even to her parents and Joseph or anyone in the small community of Nazareth would not have been a wise move. She knew that her cousin, or aunt, Elizabeth had conceived and was already six months pregnant. Elizabeth was an older woman, past the normal age of child-bearing. So, Mary instinctively went to see Elizabeth for help and counsel. Elizabeth rejoiced in the child that Mary was carrying, and Mary responded with a song. The song is verses 46-55. It has become known as “The Magnificat” from the opening words in Latin, “Magnificat anima mea Dominum,”—“My heart magnifies the Lord.”
Elizabeth referred to Mary as “the mother of my Lord” and pronounced a blessing on her for believing the word of the Lord spoken to her. That strong statement of faith reassured Mary. It soothed her anxiety her confusion, her doubts. Mary knew in her spirit that what had happened to her was real.
Praise erupted from her innermost being like an overflowing fountain. The moment that she and her people had waited for so long had finally arrived. God had heard the cries and the longings of His children and the work of salvation had begun. Her song is made up of images and references to Scriptures from Genesis, from Job, from the Psalms, from Isaiah. She may have been a teenager, but she had a good knowledge of scripture. She was probably illiterate. First century peasant girls did not generally learn to read, but she had heard the words of the prophets and the Torah in Synagogue and repeated the words and memorized the words. And those words stimulated her thinking and transformed her soul.
So from the depths of her being she gives expression to her amazement, her adoration, that God has singled out a nobody from Nazareth, or as she calls herself, a person of “low estate,” to accomplish His mighty purposes. This is the way God seems to work. God chose Israel because they were not a mighty and powerful nation. God chose Moses, a murderer, an exile, to deliver His people. God chose Gideon who was the least member of the smallest clan of the smallest tribe in Israel. God chose David, the youngest and least likely in his family. And God chose a poor teenager from Galilee to be the mother of the Messiah. And God chooses us to do his work in this world in our time.
Mary’s song is a song of faith. Faith grows out of true worship and adoration of God. Worship takes the attention off us and focuses it on God, on God's mercy and God's love and God's power. True faith is trust in God not in our surrounding or circumstances. According to Hebrews 11:1, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is basically hope and trust in a God-promised future–even if the tangible and visible evidence of that future is not now apparent to us.
So Mary proclaims that God has already scattered the proud; pulled down the mighty from their thrones and exalted the poor; satisfied the hungry with good nourishment, and sent the wealthy away empty-handed, but as she speaks those words her visible circumstances were not like that. She is a young peasant girl from Nazareth. The Romans and their Jewish lackeys rule Palestine with an iron fist, taxing the people for the Emperor. The rich still had their goods and the poor still had their poverty.
But Mary could sing and praise because she already saw a vision of the changed society God was bringing into being, where wrongs will be righted, where injustice will be corrected, where the oppressed and downtrodden will be lifted up, where the high and the mighty will be cast down.
The mighty deeds that God was doing would overcome the world and turn the world right-side-up. Mary said that the lord brings down rulers from their thrones and lifts up the poor. Those who used their wealth to oppress the poor would live in hunger, while those who were the poor would be filled with all the good things of God. Jesus said something similar. In Luke 6, he said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh” (Luke 6:20-21).
I heard a story about a patient who was waiting nervously in the examination room of a famous specialist. "So who did you see before coming to me?" asked the proud doctor. The patient answered, "My local General Practitioner." "Your GP?" scoffed the doctor. "What a waste of time! Tell me, what sort of useless advice did that quack give you?" To which the patient replied, "He told me to come and see you."
There are those who believe that they are just better than other people. They have got it made and they are just fine with that. But Mary sees that God turns human orders of society upside down. The powerful, the prideful, are dispersed, dethroned, and deprived, and the needs of the poor, whether physical or spiritual, are met by God.
What this means is that Jesus came for everyone — regardless of their status in the world. The humble are valued by God, and even the arrogant can humble themselves and become right with God. The oppressed find mercy and help. The oppressors can stop their oppression, and find grace. Those who are weak can be strong in the lord. The strong can admit their weakness apart from God, and find true strength. But we have to come to God on his terms rather than ours. We humble ourselves. We admit our weakness. We turn from our sin. And we turn to God for his strength, his wealth, and his wholeness.
Mary also sang of something else. God “has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever" (Luke 1:54-55). What she was referring to was God’s covenant with Israel. A covenant is a contract or bargain. God made a deal with Israel, and God has kept that deal. God keeps promises. God does not forget. God does not get sidetracked. Even when it looks like nothing is happening, God is at work behind the scenes. Being in covenant with God means that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. We are bound to God with bonds of love. God has a commitment with us. Jeremiah 31:33 says, “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” God is on our side. God is for us, not against us. God's love has committed God to us in ways which we cannot now fully comprehend. This is the assurance we have as believers. Life’s unpredictable circumstances, sometimes favorable and sometimes chaotic, may come and go, but God’s promises will be fulfilled. Jesus said, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away" (Matthew 24:35).
Mary’s song is a song of hope because in a unique way God had singled her out to carry the eternal Word in her womb and through her the Word became flesh, became a human being, became Emmanuel--God with us, God among us, God one of us. That is astonishing, that is amazing. And Mary's response is to believe and rejoice and worship. That should be our response.
“Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour” (46-47). This is an outburst of praise. Instead of being filled with doubt and anxiety, she praises the greatness of God. This word “magnify” is interesting. Mary seems to be saying that the Lord is getting bigger and bigger in her understanding. It is like a musical crescendo, the more she thinks about it, the larger God gets.
She is “overjoyed.” Her emotion is so intense that she cannot find words to express her thoughts. She is astonished that God cares about poor peasant girls. No one else did. She has this vision of God’s tender love, flowing down from the throne of grace, assuring her that God is faithful. God keeps his covenant promise, and that is worth singing about.
Jesus came as God’s love song to you. Christmas is God saying, “You matter to me.” And our response is Mary's response. We rejoice. Rejoice in the God who answers. God is the on-time, in-time, right-time God, the God that works for your good. Rejoice in the God who surprises . That first Christmas was certainly a surprise. What God can do in your life will probably come as a surprise also. When God intervenes, it is always astonishing, but it is also always worth singing about.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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