The various prophetic declarations regarding the birth of Jesus that Luke records in his gospel are often considered minor parts of his telling of the nativity story. But it is within these words that Luke communicates the gospel most clearly. Each song or exultation is actually a Holy Spirit inspired prophecy. Each character who prophesies is also filled with joy; they’ve suddenly realised what God is up to and cannot help but celebrate and sing about it. Over the next few weeks we will consider each of these joyful, prophetic outbursts in turn and the example it sets for us as believers today.
And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”
The prophetic song that Luke attributes to Mary is nothing short of remarkable! It contains so much about the nature of God and His heart for mankind. It celebrates the salvation plan that has been unfolding for centuries. And it points towards the kind of Messiah Jesus will be. The thought of a young, uneducated, first century peasant girl possessing such rich and markable insight would be culturally curious if not laughable, but Luke is careful to highlight Mary’s significance by crediting her with such Spirit-filled wisdom. This outpouring of understanding is triggered by the affirmation, encouragement and support shown to Mary by Elizabeth which we looked at last week. And, as with Elizabeth’s prophetic words to Mary, we can learn much from Mary’s joy-filled response to Elizabeth.
The main body of the Magnificat is given over to celebrating God’s character. But what’s interesting is that Mary specifically highlights again and again God’s preferential treatment for the poor, the humble, the lowly, the hungry. This song is a forerunner to the Beatitudes in Luke 6:20-26. Mary has recognised before Jesus has even been born what many will spend the rest of Luke’s gospel trying to grasp about him - that God shows his power and might not through the traditional channels of intellectual superiority (v51), status (v52), and wealth (v53) but instead through his love of those who the world tends to overlook.
What’s beautiful is that Mary, someone who isn’t coming from a place of intellectually superiority, rulership or wealth, is therefore able to approach God on a personal level. God is her saviour (v47), who has done great things for her (v49). Mary gives us a clue as to why she gets to receive such blessing in v48 - its because of her humble position and posture. Which begs the question…
What is your position and posture before God?
I’m not saying that we should all therefore attempt to become first century Palestinian women so as to receive favour from God. That is both impossible and misses the point entirely!! What I am saying is that the Magnificat and the person singing it, both point towards the nature of God's Kingdom. It reminds us that when we get too caught up in the pursuit of knowledge, status, or wealth, we actually set ourselves against God’s character, plans and working habits. As Mary affirms, first and foremost God is looking for people to be servants (v48, 54), those who will say yes to joining in his plans as she does in Luke 1:38. All of us no matter who we are get an invite into that work. We don’t have to earn it or get a particular mark in a particular degree for it - God invites us all regardless of our intelligence, personality, gifts, status, and bank balance. And to those people who are prepared to say yes to serving him - and, crucially, others - in the world, God is enduringly faithful and merciful, and a saviour who we get to approach personally and with confidence.
Take some time to reflect on this last term. What have your priorities been? How caught up are you in pursuing or worrying about grades, status, or money? These things aren't wrong, but they can become our primary focus. Where you need to prayerfully realign yourself with God and his plans, do! Then spend some time asking God what situations you can be a servant in next term.
Painting: 'Le Magnificat' by James Tissot