I read the Magnificat today, Mary’s hymn of praise about how God blessed her. I’ve honestly not focused very much on the words, but I took a look today.
Before I talk about the contents, let’s talk about this scenario. Mary goes to visit her much older relative Elizabeth, having been told by the angel Gabriel that Elizabeth, too, is miraculously pregnant. Mary’s a virgin. Elizabeth is post menopausal.
So, as soon as Elizabeth greets her, Mary launches into this praise poem. Really? Imagine this in REAL life. Who talks like this? Who recites “the Magnificat” when she walks into her relative’s house?
Well, these ARE real people and my best guess is Mary spent a lot of time writing this hymn, thinking about its contents. The journey from Nazareth (where Mary lived) to Jerusalem (where Elizabeth lived) takes about 30 hours by foot, so it took Mary a few days to get there.
Needless to say, Mary had a lot of time to think! And to create her hymn. She was a young woman and was likely really excited to share what God had shown her with Elizabeth, so she didn’t waste any time reciting these words of praise.
Here she is, a simple teenaged girl, looking forward to marriage, when Gabriel calls her “O favored one,” and says “the LORD is with you.” (Luke 1: 28). Then she learns she will give birth to the “Son of the Most High” who will have David’s throne and reign “forever.”
Really? This simple girl is favored by God and she will have THIS baby, the “Son of God?” (vs. 35)
Mary doesn’t see herself as anything special. She’s the “servant of the Lord,” after all. vs. 38.
But the minute Elizabeth sees Mary, both she and the baby in her womb know something is up! When John leaped in her womb, she “was filled with the Holy Spirit, and … exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?'” (vs. 41-43)
This older woman is in shock that she’s “granted” a visit from this much younger relative, who she calls “blessed.” (vs. 45).
I never really spent time thinking about this, but here is this young woman Mary, this servant of the Lord, who all of a sudden has God’s favor, is carrying God’s Son, and is the object of awe in the eyes of her much, much older relative Elizabeth.
So Mary’s poem of praise, her hymn, starts:
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name. Luke 1: 46-49
Mary contrasts her “humble estate” with the fact that she will be called “blessed.” And this is because God “has done great things” for her.
Her soul therefore “magnifies the Lord.”
As I read the rest of the hymn, I realized that, in it, Mary reveals case after case of God’s “the way up is down and the way down is up” paradox: exalting the humble and humbling the exalted (vs. 50-53):
- He has mercy on those who fear him
- He scatters the proud
- He brings down the mighty from their thrones
- He exalts those of humble estate
- He fills the hungry with good things
- He sends the rich away empty
And God exalted a servant girl by making her the mother of His Son.
God will help his “servant” Israel by remembering his promise of mercy to Abraham – the promise of an everlasting relationship (Genesis 17:7) between God and His people, a relationship that will ultimately bless all the nations of the earth (Genesis 12: 3).
Dear Lord: Thank you that you took the humble Mary and exalted her. She didn’t become proud, but rather magnified you, rejoiced in you, and called you holy. Help me likewise to serve you and praise you when you do anything through me for your kingdom. Amen.