“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (Luke 1:47)
The Magnificat is an amazing song. It serves the church not only to highlight Mary and her importance in the story of Jesus; it also highlights (for Luke) who this Jesus is, what he came to do, as well as point all who follow him towards the activity of God’s mission is in the world.
An amazing thing about the Magnificat is its revolutionary content. Mary declares God’s sovereignty and love (Luke 1:47-50); the reversal of the mighty and lowly (Luke 1:51-53); and fulfilling the promises made to the people long ago (Luke 1:54-55). This declaration should unsettle all those who occupy wealth, privilege or power. Mary is neither intimidated nor timid. She proclaims a divine justice and mercy where God restores what is broken and will make right that which is unjust. In the center of that message is her own sense of agency. Mary was called by the angel to participate in the divine embodiment of our humanity (Luke 1:26-38). That God would use such an unlikely candidate to bring about salvation history is astounding.
Another amazing thing about the Magnificat is Mary’s fluency in scripture. Her song echoes Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. It is highly probable that Mary would have had no formal education. In all likelihood she learned those stories and songs from her elders at home. It is pure speculation, but one could imagine her mother and the other women in young Mary’s life singing these songs of faith and telling those stories as they did their work and cared for the household. Humans are hardwired somehow to observe and learn the values and perspectives of our families of origin. That Mary knows Hannah’s song so well is a great testament to the people in her life and a reminder to all of us the importance of passing on of the faith within our homes through our most important relationships.
Yet Another amazing thing about the Magnificat is Mary’s humble origins. She is young, female, a peasant and in the most uninteresting part of the least interesting part of the Empire. One would expect a well-educated, experienced, connected, wealthy, powerful, male, person in the capital (or at least a major city) to be the conduit for a message of the divine to have the right platform to gain the widest audience in the ancient world. Mary embodies the very lyrics she sings – the lowly is lifted up.
These are amazing things to sing. Yet Mary’s song has another amazing feature…
It is amazing that Mary and her Magnificat holds such a prominent place in the church’s life, faith and ministry. One would not expect such esteem with so many centuries of male-dominant, financially-secured, power-influenced religiosity running through the church’s institutions.
The Magnificat both keeps and expands Mary’s witness in the church’s liturgy and hymnody alike. Both she and her song are treasured. Her proclamation is sung on the people’s lips and placed in many people’s hearts as if Mary’s voice sings through them. Mary occupies a special place among the saints and in Christian imagination. Our Roman Catholic siblings recite “Hail Mary full of grace…” (Luke 1:28), “blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb…” (Luke 1:42) as one of the central prayers of faith. Protestants and other Christians could learn much from those prayers. She is regarded as God-Bearer, Mother of God and Queen of Heaven, and yet she perpetually remains the young peasant girl from Nazareth with a servant’s heart.
In a world full of destruction, despair, discord, division, disparity, derision and dehumanizing behaviors, our response is a call to devotion.
The Magnificat inspires the faithful of every walk of life and background to consider their calling and agency to bear Christ in the world.
With Mary and all who should be voiceless, we boldly sing God’s praises, long for God’s mercy, and proclaim that one day God’s justice will reign.
What will you sing about until then?