Reader: “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.”
Response: “How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!”
Scripture: Luke 1:46-55
“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
For the Mighty One is holy,
and he has done great things for me.
He shows mercy from generation to generation
to all who fear him.
His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
He has brought down princes from their thrones
and exalted the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away with empty hands.
He has helped his servant Israel
and remembered to be merciful.
For he made this promise to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children forever.”
Today’s passage is one of the four canticles, or hymns, in the gospel of Luke, (The Magnificat 1:46-55, The Benedictus 1:68-79, Gloria in Excelsis 2:14, and Nunc Dimittis 2:29-32). The Magnificat derives its name from the Latin first word as translated from the Vulgate of Jerome in the early fifth century.
We’ve mentioned on several other occasions that New Testament Jews knew the Old Testament Scriptures extremely well. Here is another example. In the Magnificat Mary makes no less than sixteen references to First Testament passages from the books of Psalms, 2 Samuel, Job, Isaiah, Genesis, and 1 Samuel, along with a reference to God’s covenant with Abraham. And she actually quotes verbatim a line from Hannah’s song that we looked at two days ago! She was undoubtedly familiar with both the story and the song. Like Hannah’s, her son would be given completely to serving God in his earthly life. While Samuel served God in the Temple, Jesus was the Temple. In his own words, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (Jn.2:19)
The structure of the hymn is very Hebrew in form and expression with its lines of parallel thought in the first stanza as Mary expresses her personal emotions and gratitude to God her Savior. She rejoiced in God noticing her (as he does us). The second verse moves to focusing on God’s omnipotence, mercy and great deeds done in love to those who have reverence and deep respect for their Lord. In the third stroph the revolutionary language appears, the great reversal is described. The proud are humbled and the lowly are raised up. God is the one who acts in the lives of people . . . he has helped, he has filled, he has brought down, he has scattered, he has sent, he has remembered, he has exalted. The final verse of Mary’s hymn concludes with a virtual “Amen” as she declares God’s faithfulness to his people via his covenant with Abraham, as she has pointed out throughout the previous stanzas.
While young Mary’s response upon arriving at Elizabeth’s home is poetic and beautiful, she is not speaking sweet religious platitudes. There are powerful social, economic and political unsettling statements being made in her song. The people in her day would know exactly what she was talking about as they experienced first hand the Roman occupation and religious corruption with the legalism of the Pharisees and the proud arrogance of the Sadducees. Mary speaks of her God, a Savior who has put down the proud, the wealthy, the powerful and raised up the poor, the weak and the humble. It turns out the three month old baby in her womb would do the very things of which she sang. The Magnificat, it turns out, was a prophetic revolutionary statement from a young teenage girl as well as being a joyful song of praise to God. Even as a young woman, Mary was a strong, devout woman of deep faith and trust in God. The words of her song ring as true today as the day she first uttered them in Israel two millennia ago.
I’ve taken the liberty to offer several versions of the Magnificat. It is one of the most often set texts in the Scriptures. I’ve also included a video clip from “The Chosen” series in which the disciples ask Mary what it was like when she gave birth to Jesus. I trust you will not be offended. Of course, we have no idea what it was like, but I have wondered that very thing and I would bet you have as well. What I appreciate from this clip, while admittedly speculative, it does serve to remind us of the humanity of Jesus. He was fully human and fully divine at the same time. Too often it is easy for us to simply dwell on the God side and forget that he was the Incarnate God/Man in human form. If you are not familiar with “The Chosen,” may I commend it to you, giving it the highest marks. Begin with episode one of season one as it builds episode on episode.
Music: “Magnificat” African Sisters
“Magnificat” J.S. Bach Ton Koopman This performance in J.S. Bach’s Church!
“Magnificat” John Rutter The Cambridge Singers
Bonus: Mary reflecting on giving birth to Jesus from “The Chosen” video clip
On this holiest of nights when heaven came to earth in human flesh, we bow in reverence to you our Lord and God. Along with Mary we say, “Oh, how my soul praises you Lord and how I rejoice in you my Savior.” There is none like you. For one moment, we lay aside the cares and uncertainties of this world and fill our hearts with all the good things you have done for us. You have helped and have been merciful toward us. You have been faithful throughout all generations. Lord God, receive our worship and adoration through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen, ―Daniel Sharp