Reading: Luke 1:39–55 The Song of Mary
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
These words begin the poetic speech by Mary traditionally called “The Magnificat,” from the first word of the Latin version. In English it is often called “The Song of Mary.”
Skeptical scholars will point out the unlikelihood that Mary would spontaneously burst into polished poetry on the occasion of her meeting with her relative Elizabeth. Believers would say it was the Holy Spirit inspiring her and speaking through her.
For us today, does it really matter exactly what happened two thousand years ago in an unknown house in a small town in the Judean hill country? What matters is not an obscure bit of history, but what the spirit says to each one of us through these inspired words.
A song about us
Traditionally, the Song of Mary is interpreted as a paean of praise to God for lifting up people who are poor and humble, and casting down those who are rich, powerful, and proud. And God does do that, in the fullness of time.
And yet, the greatest power of God’s Word is when it speaks directly to our own heart and our own mind. It’s easy enough to point out the wrongs of the overlords and fat cats of the world, and call down God’s righteous justice and judgment upon them. It’s much harder to recognize the pride, arrogance, and materialism that fester in our own soul.
Why do we pay so much attention to the wealthy, the powerful, and the famous? Why do we envy them and want them to be brought low? Isn’t it because we ourselves have a secret desire to be in their place, and to be the ones who are rich, powerful, and famous?
Perhaps our motives are better than that. Perhaps we truly desire justice in this world, and the downfall of those who oppress others. It is good to work for justice and compassion.
Yet in these words of Mary there is also a personal message for each one of us. If we are willing to look within our own soul, and see what the spirit of Mary’s words is telling us, we will find that the spirit of the Lord is speaking directly to us, about us.
My soul magnifies the Lord
Notice that Mary says, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
Right about this time of year it’s hard for anything but our soul and our spirit to magnify the Lord. The rest of us is just too darn busy dealing with the rush of the Christmas season. And so we sing the common lament of the commercialization of Christmas and the crazy busyness that eclipses the real meaning of our biggest festival of the year.
And yet, isn’t that how it has been from the beginning? In the mad rush of people traveling to their home town to get enrolled in the census decreed by Caesar—and, of course, pay their census tax—the birth of Jesus Christ was shunted aside to a stable. When has there ever been room for God to be born in the mad rush of the world’s business?
And so we find Mary retreating beforehand to a quiet place in the hill country of Judea, to contemplate the blessed event that was about to take place.
Do we have a place within our spirit where we can retreat, even as our body and our earthly mind are absorbed in the hustle of this world? Can we find a place of peace deep within our soul even while our head is racing and our hands are flying to check off the items on our endless to-do lists?
There is place of sanctuary within the busyness, the commercialization, and the secularization of Christmas where the spirit of the Lord speaks to us. The cares of this world will always be with us, as long as we are living on this earth. But we can commune with our soul, and consult with our spirit, in the midst of it all. That is where Jesus Christ will be born in us—right in the middle of all of those cares and chores and to-do lists.
If we do open our soul to the Lord’s birth within us, how will it change us? Let’s look more deeply at the Song of Mary.
For he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
When we commune with our spirit, we recognize just how low we are in matters of the spirit. Our main focus is on the outward, external things of life. We are not very spiritual at all. And yet, God our Savior comes to us in our low state, and does great things for us. God shows us that we are loved and valued, and that our life has a deep and eternal meaning.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
In the proud thoughts of our hearts, we sometimes think of ourselves as great—as better than that crowd of people out there. And yet, as we contemplate the power of a God who can create this vast, incredible universe and who has the deep love and compassion to leave the place of peace and bliss at the center of the universe and come into our dark and troubled world to save us and lift us up, our own sense of pride is reduced to dust and scattered. In the presence of the Almighty, the only real response is to recognize our own insignificance.
And yet, as insignificant as we are, God loves us with an infinite love!
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
What powerful desires and beliefs and fears sit on the thrones within our own mind? Are we driven by worries about money? By a desire to be right? By a wish just to be comfortable and untroubled? What are the false kings that we bow down to in our life? These are the powerful drives and fears that the coming of Jesus Christ throws down from their thrones within us.
Do we consider ourselves more enlightened, more educated, and richer in spiritual knowledge and understanding than the common herd? All of that self-proclaimed mental wealth counts for nothing. It only ends in emptiness of the soul. Instead, God looks for the humble and lowly parts within us where we recognize how far we are from real love for God and for our fellow human beings. God looks for the places of hunger and emptiness within us that are ready to be filled with new love, new wisdom, new dedication to serving our fellow human beings with joy. When God finds those lowly places within us, God feeds us, lifts us up, and sends us out into the world to do the humble, powerful work of Jesus Christ.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.
This is God’s eternal promise. From ancient times, God has loved us and had mercy on us. From ancient times, God’s promise has been to lift us up to new life and new joy. From ancient times, God has been ready and willing to be born within each one of us.
And when we are ready for Jesus Christ to be born into our heart, into our mind, into our life, then we can say with Mary, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”
All well and good, but Mary was what, fourteen? Hardly old enough to consent to pregnancy, don’t you think?
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. We don’t know how old Mary was when Jesus was conceived and born. Still, it’s best not to read today’s Western social practices and expectations into Middle Eastern cultures of two thousand years ago. Do I think we’ve advanced socially and culturally since then? You betcha. But let’s not hold people to standards that didn’t exist in their day. Two thousand more years into the future, skeptics will be talking about those barbarians in the 21st century and their inhumane social practices.
I guess I get what you mean, but shouldn’t God be held to higher standards than human beings?
Sure. But God has to deal with human beings as we are, not with some idealized version of humanity that doesn’t exist on this earth. See:
How God Speaks in the Bible to Us Boneheads
I will say your beliefs seem a lot more reasonable and well thought out than most religious people. I guess I just wonder why God couldn’t have chosen an adult even if that was the way things were back then, and if Mary would have felt threatened by such a powerful being asking her to become pregnant.
Once again, we don’t actually know how old Mary was when Jesus was conceived and born. Nor do we know how old Joseph was. Catholic tradition holds that Mary was very young, and Joseph was quite old. However, the Bible doesn’t give ages for either one of them. So right off the bat, it’s speculative to say that Mary was a teenager when Jesus was conceived. We just don’t know for sure.
However, even if she was a teenager at the time, this was not problematic in that culture. It was very common for teenage girls to get married and have children. This was not seen as wrong, but as normal. Today we’ve made a sharp distinction between teenagers and adults, and have decided that sex and marriage before the age of 18 is problematic, if not forbidden. It is especially forbidden for girls up to the age of 18 to have sexual relationships with adult men. Today we call that statutory rape. But this wasn’t the case in the societies that existed thousands of years ago. Once a girl had gone through puberty and could bear children, she was commonly considered to be a young woman ripe for marriage. As we know now, that is not ideal. It takes a few years after puberty before a young woman is fully mature physically and can most safely bear children. But those cultures did not have the medical knowledge that we have today.
About Mary feeling threatened, she certainly was frightened by the sudden appearance of the angel, as were Joseph and the shepherds when angels appeared to them. (See: “The Birth Announcement of Jesus Christ: Do Not Be Afraid.”) However, being frightened and feeling threatened are not the same thing. Once Mary got over her initial fright, she had a very reasonable and pragmatic, if brief, conversation with the angel, which ended with Mary saying to the angel, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:26). In other words, she willingly accepted what the angel told her the Lord was doing through her. There isn’t any sense of coercion about it.
Presumably if Mary had said, “No way!” the angel would have moved on to someone else. But if God is a God who knows the hearts of human beings as the Bible says (see, for example, 1 Samuel 16:7; Psalm 44:21; Luke 16:15), then God would not have called upon an unwilling person in the first place.
I don’t have anything to object to in your argument. I’ve always been firmly in the atheist camp, and I don’t think that’ll ever change, but maybe I was a bit quick to try to find fault with your beliefs. To each their own, I guess.
What you want to believe or not believe about God is your business, not mine. I don’t think atheists are doomed to hell just for being atheists. (See: “Do Atheists Go to Heaven?”)
I have a lot of sympathy for your common garden-variety atheist. If I thought that the Bible actually taught the crap that has been flung around for many centuries by institutional Christianity, and especially the complete garbage that Evangelicals have been shouting in the streets for the last century or two as “what the Bible says,” I’d probably be an atheist too. See:
“Christian Beliefs” that the Bible Doesn’t Teach