My soul doth magnify the Lord

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How do you feel about musicals?  Many people dislike them because ‘in real life, ordinary folk don’t burst into song.’  Well, hopefully Luke chapter 1 will win over the doubters because here we read, not one, but two examples of spontaneous lyricism!

At the end of the chapter (Luke 1:68-80), Zechariah – the father of John the Baptist – waxes lyrical over the coming of Messiah.  But first it’s Mary who overflows with praise.

Commonly her words from v46-55 are called ‘Mary’s song’ or ‘The Magnificat’, since that is the first word of its Latin translation.  In many churches it’s said or sung on a weekly basis.  (In Anglican churches it’s most likely to be used at Evening Prayer / Evensong).

In the “song”, notice two themes – Fulfilment of promise and Reversal of fortunes:

My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.  And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.  He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.  He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.  He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;  As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.  (Luke 1:46-55)

Fulfilment of Promise

Mary’s song is very much like Hannah’s song (1 Samuel 2:1-10) in which she too was given a miraculous child, she sang of great reversals from the LORD and ended by hoping in Messiah.   But Mary’s song is not simply a recapitulation of Hannah’s – it’s the fulfilment of all Old Testament promise. The birth of Christ is “in remembrance of God’s mercy.”  It is what He “spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed forever.”  What is the sum and substance of Yahweh’s mercy?  It is the sending of Christ.  What is the essence of the LORD’s covenant love to Abraham and the Patriarchs?  It is the LORD’s enfleshment, born of a virgin.

The Magnificat sounds like it could have been lifted straight from the Psalms.  And, in a deep sense, it could have.  Both Mary and David were singing of the same mercy, the same covenant love, the same Messiah.  The Old Testament is Christian, through and through.  And Mary is a Hebrew, through and through.  The events of the New Testament are not a departure from the Old Testament narrative – they are its intended destination.

Secondly, let’s consider…

Reversal of Fortunes

This song is the battle hymn of a gospel revolution.  All our expectations are upended.

Those who are high are brought low:

The proud are scattered

The mighty are put down

The rich are sent away empty

Meanwhile the meek are lifted up:

The lowly are exalted

The hungry are filled

This is not so much a political manifesto (though it will have implications for all of life).  It is, first and foremost, a profound theology of incarnation.  Here is what Mary is contemplating: the eternal Christ has emptied Himself.  The Word of the Cosmos, has made Himself small.  So small in fact that He rests within this penniless teenager.  But if that is the trajectory of this world’s Judge, then all worldly trajectories come under judgement.

While the world attempts to lift itself up, the LORD of all comes down.  Therefore the high and mighty find themselves dangerously out of step with their Maker.  All who seek their own interests find themselves on a collision course with Mary’s child. Jesus redefines majesty as meekness, greatness as service, glory as sacrifice.

For those full of themselves, Christ’s coming will turn out to be their judgement.  For those who know they have nothing, it will be exaltation for the lowly and feasting for the hungry.

Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.  (2 Corinthians 8:9)

As you meditate on the LORD’s humility, how will you consider money, power and status today?

Most importantly, as you think on Christ’s self-emptying, won’t you sing with Mary: “My soul doth magnify the Lord!”

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