There are two kinds of people who cannot sing the Magnificat rightly. First are those who will not praise Him unless He does well to them. They seem to praise God greatly. But they are unwilling to suffer oppression and be in the depths, and if so stop their singing.
Second are those who go too far in the other direction. They magnify themselves by way of the good gifts of God. When they receive great gifts, they think of themselves as better than others who lack such things. They have proud and self-complacent hearts.
In contrast is Mary, who finds herself the Mother of God, exalted above all mortals, and yet still remains so humble that she does not think of any maiden as beneath her. She considers herself no more than a cheerful guest chamber and willing hostess to the greatest Guest.
She would undoubtedly have been just as glad if another young woman had been chosen for the same honor. Her only thought would surely be that God was bringing His Son into the world to fulfill His promises.
So Mary says that God has regarded the lowly estate of His handmaiden. “Lowly” does not mean that she was full of a virtue called humility. She was humble, but she was not saying this here. Anyone who speaks of their humility is not really humble. Indeed, the truly humble do not realize that they are humble.
Instead, the lowliness of which Mary speaks is that she was a poor, despised, and lowly maiden. She was not rich or powerful or regarded daughter of important people. She was a nobody. God chose her, not the mighty or rich or glorious.
Christians are likewise frequently called poor, afflicted, and despised. They are disregarded by the world. But God’s gracious eyes are upon His lowly Church.
In the same way Saint Paul says in First Corinthians, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are nothing, to bring to nothing things that are something.” So God, in His Son, has exalted us Christians, who are the nothings of this world. So He also lifted up lowly Mary to the immense honor of being Theotokos, the Bearer of God.
The emphasis in this passage is therefore not on the word “lowly”. Instead it is on the word “regarded”. God’s gracious regard for Mary is what she thinks is amazing. She magnifies and praises Him because He chose her even though she was nothing. Mary confesses of herself, and we do, too, that she was unworthy of what God did for her. Grace is always undeserved. So not her qualities, but God’s grace should be praised.
We learn from Mary to put our hope and trust in God, who graciously regards us poor, despised, lowly mortals. By thinking this way, we are strengthened in faith and love and hope. This is what Mary would want for us, not that we come to her in worship and prayer, but that we are brought closer to God by seeing His mercy and grace.
Yet we, with all generations, call Mary blessed. We rightly call her, “Mother of God”. Our dear Lord Christ entered our world in the fleshly temple of Mary’s body, which is a mighty miracle of miracles. She did nothing to earn that honor but be chosen of God. To be qualified for the honor, she had to be a woman, a virgin, of the tribe of Judah, and had to believe the Angel Gabriel’s message. But all these are gifts of God to her. The Lord chose her whom He made for this purpose. So we do not exalt her in herself, but because of the great and marvelous thing that the Lord did.
Mary then turns away from speaking specifically about herself and addresses blessings to mankind in general.
She begins with mercy. She says, “His mercy is on those who fear Him.” His mercy does not rest upon all, but only those who fear Him. A man who fears God is not proud, nor does he insist upon his own opinion, right, wisdom, nor any particular physical or spiritual blessings. To truly fear God is to be poor in spirit and to count oneself not worthy of anything.
To such men God shows mercy, which is His noblest work. His mercy withholds from us the punishment that we deserve. Death and hell and eternal misery are turned away from us to the Virgin’s Son who suffered.
Second, God shows strength with His arm, that is, He scatters those who are proud in the imagination of their hearts.
Now, no man can completely resist some pride in the heart. Our old Adam makes us look too fondly upon ourselves and our attributes.
But Mary is speaking of something more here. Those who are proud in their thoughts are laid low by the mighty arm of the Lord, that is, by Christ Jesus. But He comes in the form of weakness. He does not look like the mighty Son of God. So it goes with all who contemplate the Man from Nazareth. They see Him as an affront to their dignity. What a weak, pathetic Man He seems to many people! He lived without great achievement as men regard achievement, and died in great shame. In His teaching Christ tells them that they are sinners who must be lowly and repentant. The pride of men cannot stand this. But those who will not be humble before Him will be eternally laid low. So Christ is the stumbling block that makes many fall.
Thirdly, God has put down the mighty from their seats. This is much the same as the one that went before it. Of course men are not really mighty compared to God. But those who seem to be strong, who relish in what authority God has given them, these He will put down. They will fall, as all kings and kingdoms topple eventually in this world.
But some men hold authority from God in such a way that they do not act as if they are mighty. They recognize that they have some power from God, and use it as best they can, in wisdom and to benefit others. They are ready to let go of power at any time, since they see that it was not really their power in the first place. These men are not the “mighty” whom God causes to fall. Rather, they are lowly in spite of what power they have.
So they are classed with the fourth work of God, that He exalts those of low degree. These people are seen as despicable and loathsome. They are people who are nothing to the world. It is not the actual state or quality of the person. But they are willing to be nothing, and do not strive to be great. These people earn no respect or praise from the sinful world. Yet God lifts them up to the highest place through Christ. During this earthly life, we must believe this, since we cannot see it with our earthly eyes. But we know that God is faithful to keep His promise.
Fifthly and sixthly, God fills the hungry with good things, and sends the rich away empty. Here the hungry does not mean so much anyone who is hungry, as if that is a virtue in itself, any more than being rich is a sin. But the hungry are those who gladly suffer want, especially if they are forced by others to do so for the sake of God or the truth. The rich are those who set their hearts on their riches and seek their own advantage with them.
He who clings to his riches will find himself empty and wretched. All his goods were actually nothing, all along. Yet this happens in a secret way. The rich man is not aware of it now. So the hungry and thirsty are filled with good things, but they do not know it yet. Faith trusts, but does not see.
All this is because the Lord has fulfilled His promises to Israel. Here Mary is speaking of the coming of Christ, who had already taken flesh in her womb. This is the reason that the mighty will be laid low. This is the reason that those who think themselves wise will find that there is only one wisdom, and that is Christ Jesus and Him crucified.
How lowly the Virgin’s Son became, to put the most humble man to shame! Here in our text Christ was a tiny baby riding about in His mother. Although this was the Incarnate Word, yet He did not speak. Although He was all-powerful, yet He made Himself weak, unable to move.
Here we do not have a proud messiah who came to earth to demand that men lick the dust before him. No, this is the Son of Mary. As she was lowly, a nothing, so the Son of God became a nobody. He took the place of an ordinary man; more than that, He took the place of us sinners. He took the place of the worst criminal, which is the Cross.
So we follow this path of lowliness. We carry our crosses. We appear to no eyes to be the sons of God, full of the glory of Christ. Yet so we are through Baptism. We do not appear to be seated at the right hand of glory with Christ. Instead, we seem to be nobodies, nothing, of no consequence, easily dismissed by the world as contemptible.
Yet we are the righteousness of God in Christ, and shall be lifted up by His own gracious hand. As Mary was exalted by her great honor by God, so we shall be honored for all eternity, before all His angels and saints, forever and ever. Amen.
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