The Magnificat of Mary

Our problem is we are so beholden to the status quo.  We think the powers of this world hold sway.  Filipinos are intoxicated with politics.  And here we are again in a political season – everybody is looking for a messiah!  They all are arms of flesh who will, at some points, fail.  We are not to put our hope in princes.  The true Messiah has come!

Our problem is we are so beholden to the status quo.  We think the powers of this world hold sway.  Filipinos are intoxicated with politics.  And here we are again in a political season – everybody is looking for a messiah!  They all are arms of flesh who will, at some points, fail.  We are not to put our hope in princes.  The true Messiah has come!

My soul magnifies the Lord; and my spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour!  (Luke 1:46, 47).  Thus, Mary exclaims in her song of response to Elizabeth’s words.  This song is well-known as the Magnificat.  It comes from the first words of Latin as translated in Jerome’s Vulgate: Magnificat anima mea Dominum.

The song itself is full of references and allusions to the Hebrew Scriptures that Christians call the Old Testament.  Of most notable parallel is with the song of Hannah (mother of Samuel), recorded in 1 Samuel 2:1ff.  It demonstrates Mary’s profound knowledge of the Word of God.  That becomes the substance of her Magnificat – her magnifying of her Lord.  It is indeed a blessed privilege to be chosen as the vessel to bear the Messiah in human conception.  This is a blessedness that Mary herself owns, Behold, from now on all generations will call me Blessed.  Mary is profoundly overwhelmed and humbled by the thought of such blessedness. 

Unfortunately, what is a gracious state that calls forth Mary’s Magnificat, the mainstream Church of history has transformed into a Church title – to be made into an object of reverence by the pious.  In the process, the focus of the Magnificat is lost.  And Mary, as a marvelous model of humility, has undergone an apotheosis into a counterpart mediator.

Humility as God’s gracious instrument

Humility is the character that stands out in Mary’s Magnificat.  Even earlier, her humility emerges in her response to the angelic annunciation that she will conceive in her womb the One who will be the Messiah.  And humility is the grace that befits one who is called to a vocation of instrumentality in God’s plan.  We must frame the blessedness that Mary owns by her words, He has looked on the humble estate of His servant.  This is a woman who is not exalting herself; much less, accepting the exalted status endowed by men, or by the Church.  This is a woman who understands her status as servant – and is duly overwhelmed!

I have admiration for Mary because of her humble attitude.  She understands that it is God’s mercy that has intervened in her life – it is an act of saving grace on her.  We know this from Mary’s own exultation my spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour!  After this, there is only one other place for the title Saviour in the Gospel of Luke.  It is in the angelic announcement to the lowly shepherds: Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord! (2:11).  Exactly the same two titles in Mary’s Magnificat are attributed to Jesus Christ.  No immaculate conception here of a sinless woman.  She needed a Saviour.  What a glorious privilege that she should bear in her womb the incarnate form of the Saviour, Jesus Christ!  She is not putting her blessedness on top of the rest of humanity.  She expresses wonder why she is counted among the blessed ones!  This is the spirit of one who knows herself to be a sinner, on whom God graciously intervenes.

Reversal through Kingdom invasion

The substance of the angelic announcement to Mary is couched in the language of the Davidic covenant.  In summary, God pledged that One from the progeny of David will be born to claim His throne and reign in a kingdom that will never be destroyed.  That time for fulfillment has come in Jesus.  Mary’s Magnificat is anticipating the reversal of status.  This is because the coming of the Son of God is no less than a kingdom invasion that will reverse the ruling powers of this world.  Mary puts it in a series of contrasts: He brought down the mighty from their thrones… He exalted those of humble estate… He filled the hungry with good things… the rich He has sent away empty; etc.

It calls on us to understand that with the coming of the Son of God, a new age has been inaugurated.  At His resurrection, the Lord Jesus has come to rule.  Certainly, not everyone has yet acknowledged that rule.  There is still very much human power ruling in this world.  But make no mistake, the Christian expectation is: every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord (Phil 2:10, 11). 

Our problem is we are so beholden to the status quo.  We think the powers of this world hold sway.  Filipinos are intoxicated with politics.  And here we are again in a political season – everybody is looking for a messiah!  They all are arms of flesh who will, at some points, fail.  We are not to put our hope in princes.  The true Messiah has come! 

But perhaps, your life is one characterized by a quest for power in other forms – wealth; positions in career.  We cannot be against vocational excellence.  But it does not define what became the last word of the Magnificat – forever!  What defines forever is the One from eternity born in time.

In this season when there is every claim of remembering the birth of Christ, be focused on the One born – Jesus; not the one giving birth – Mary.  But let her Magnificat inspire us to magnify the Lord, and rejoice in God our Saviour!

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