And Mary said: "My soul exalts the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name. AND HIS MERCY IS UPON GENERATION AFTER GENERATION TOWARD THOSE WHO FEAR HIM.
"He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble. HE HAS FILLED THE HUNGRY WITH GOOD THINGS; AND SENT AWAY THE RICH EMPTY-HANDED. He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy, As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his offspring forever."
The Songs of Advent
The Magnificat: The Song of Mary
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Tonight we come face to face with our second 'Song of Advent', the Magnificat. The name means, "It magnifies", as in "My soul magnifies the Lord". This is the "song" that Mary was inspired to speak when Elizabeth greeted her after he baby leapt in her womb at hearing the voice of the mother of his Savior. In her words, Mary talks about what this event means to her, and how it is so consistent with the working of the Lord among men. She describes her blessings both in a personal way, and as part of the over-arching plan of God from eternity.
First, Mary rejoices. She speaks of her soul, that is her innermost being, as magnifying or exalting the Lord. That is an old-fashioned way of saying that she thinks what God is doing is wonderful and she praises Him to the highest extent of which she is capable for what He is doing. Here she is, a believer, and apparently one of those who looked eagerly forward to the coming of the Messiah, rejoicing that she is going to see it happen, and even being more thrilled that she will participate in her own way in the story of salvation.
In her days, the expectation of the soon-coming of the Messiah was rising. Some say it was at a fever pitch, and others simply note it had become a strong under-current in the religion of those days. The Gospels, particularly Luke, introduce us to a number of people who were eagerly and expectantly waiting for the coming of the salvation from on high. They might have been unique individuals, but I suspect they were more your typical examples of a growing expectation, fired by the Lord and stirred by discontent with the fortunes of Israel in the world.
Mary has heard the promise of God from the angel Gabriel, and she has believed it. Now, of course, she is pregnant. She can sing not just from faith but from the beginnings of her experience of the great things that God has done for her. She is to be the mother of the Messiah, the very Son of God! She has felt Him within her.
Mary is marveling that she is chosen. She is of no significance in her community. But God has paid special attention to her in her humility. That is what she means when she says that "He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave." The point of those words wasn't that she was of no account, but that being of no account did not stand in the way of God. He chose, according to what we now call 'grace'. She was chosen, and she realizes the utter gravity of the situation: "For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed."
And indeed they have. They have tried to imagine how she was especially holy or worthy or how, after her selection as the one to bear the Christ-child, she became the queen of heaven. None of that is true, of course. She was chosen by grace, without deserving, just as you and I have been. We can simply rejoice with her in God, our Savior. Of course, we count Mary particularly blessed. She was there. She got to bear the Savior, and raise Him. Then came the pain and the sorrow, but what a privilege! Who would need more than that - to be involved in the story of mankind's salvation, and to know it, and to know your part!
For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name. He surely did great things for her, but He did great things for all of us - and His name is Holy! That is why we should be careful in our use of it - use it to pray. Use it to give thanks. But not to use it for cursing or cussing or such things. The world around us does, and for the same reason that we do not - because that name is holy! His name is reserved for only pure uses among those that believe. His Name is holy because He has done such great things for us!
He created us. He chose to become one of us to die in our place. He rescued us from sin. He forgives us and has promised to raise us from our graves to live eternally with Him. He has given us the glory of calling us His own children an making us members of His household. These are great things, and He did them for us - not just for Mary, but for us, and every generation of them that believe. AND HIS MERCY IS UPON GENERATION AFTER GENERATION TOWARD THOSE WHO FEAR HIM. That is how Mary put it in her song. She knew that as wonderful as what God had given to her, this honor and glory was not simply hers, but share God's wonderful mercy with all of us throughout the ages.
And once Mary had completed her praise of God for what He had done specifically for her, she was moved to speak in praise of God for His grace. "He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble. HE HAS FILLED THE HUNGRY WITH GOOD THINGS; AND SENT AWAY THE RICH EMPTY-HANDED. He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy, As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his offspring forever."
Here, in these words, Mary speaks about how life in this world is really in His hands. What happens is always open to His control. Philosophers wrestle with that, wondering if God has much control, and if He does, why do the things that happen among us happen? The simplest answer is to say that He is God and that we are not. Mary doesn't seem to take a lot of time to worry about it. She knows that God lifts up the humble and humbles the mightiest of men. No human condition or quality places us outside of His power.
Those who are proud in the imaginations of their hearts - those who think that they are something - often find themselves failing at what they were confident they could do, or losing control at critical moments in their work, or being such big-shots today and being nothing of note tomorrow. She says that God has scattered them, and indeed, He has. Where are the greats of the recent decades? The athletes have grown old, and often faced humiliation for doping or some other weakness. The great O.J. Simpson is in jail for trying to retrieve his own possessions, not for the murders he is generally believed to have committed but for trying to get back what was rightfully his own. His glory as a running back is all but forgotten, and he lives in shame. But he is only one example. Television greats fade away. The politicians who shook the world become inconsequential. The technology that seemed so vital and new a few years ago is gathering dust on some shelf somewhere. Fortunes that were built over decades came tumbling down in just a couple of weeks, this year. The greatest, wealthiest and most powerful nation of the face of the planet is slouching toward a recession, or worse, and unable to stop an invasion by its poorer neighbors. Unable to even find the political will to survive.
God is in charge. What He is doing, we cannot always decipher. We don't always enjoy what God works among us in this world of sin and pain. But we can join Mary in ascribing to God the control, and the wisdom to do what is right, and rejoice that we are among those who He favors. He brings down rulers from His throne and raises up the humble. Who would have figured that a nobody would rise up to be elected President? He changes fortunes so that the hungry are fed while the rich suddenly cannot afford the necessities of life. God is, as Mary sings in her song, unpredictable, and yet He is in control.
And that is a good thing! That is something we can celebrate. God is in control, and He loves us! That is the final thing that Mary sings about: "He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy, As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his offspring forever." That, of course, speaks of Jesus. The help God has given is forgiveness, life, and salvation. He has accomplished everything that we needed done for our salvation. He kept the Law, and He paid the price of sin for us all. He has given help to His servant, Israel.
Remember, we are the new Israel. Israel is that people that walk in the faith of Abraham, trusting in God, no matter what. He gave us the help we need - not a moment of great fame, or enormous wealth, but life without end, to be lived in the favor of God. And it is a free gift - in remembrance of His mercy! We do not need to earn it. It is not given on the basis of deserving - thank God - for we were born unable rise to the standard required to deserve. So God poured it out as a gift because of His Son. Mary is not the only one God has done great things for!
And all of this is according to the explicit promises of God. When the angel Gabriel came to Mary, and told her what God was gong to do, and how she would participate, she understood, and she believed. According to the various accounts of Scripture, Mary seems to have spent a lot of time treasuring things in her mind and pondering them in her heart. But when Elizabeth greeted her with the spirit driven recognition of the work of God and the closeness of the salvation so long promised, Mary sang out for joy at what God was doing in her and through her, and how consistent it was for God in His dealing with men. She praised him, and boasted of God's power and wisdom and goodness. And we get to do exactly the same thing, in pretty much the same words Mary used, each time we get to sing our song of Advent for this evening, the Magnificat!
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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