The Magnificat: Mary’s Praise of the Lord

23 Dec

(Photo by clarita on Morgue File.)

One of the scripture readings for today in the daily lectionary is Luke 1.46-55. This pericope is known as The Magnificat. (Magnificat is an utterance of praise. The idea is to magnify, which is in the first phrase of Mary’s canticle.)

Here is the pericope in full:

Mary responded,

“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
47     How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
48 For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
    and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
49 For the Mighty One is holy,
    and he has done great things for me.
50 He shows mercy from generation to generation
    to all who fear him.
51 His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
    He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
52 He has brought down princes from their thrones
    and exalted the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    and sent the rich away with empty hands.
54 He has helped his servant Israel
    and remembered to be merciful.
55 For he made this promise to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and his children forever.” (NLT)

Just imagine being in Mary’s shoes, eh, sandals! Imagine the thoughts swirling around in her young mind. Pregnancy out of wedlock in a small village like Nazareth tends to cause something of a stir! The gossip mill gets cranked up and rumors spread like wildfire.

How will Joseph respond to this unexpected news? What will her parents think of her? Will she be shunned? Will she hear the whispers behind her back at the marketplace? Will she be ostracized and ridiculed? What sorts of names will she be called? What sorts of humiliation will she be forced to endure?

Here we are left to our imaginations. Scripture does not speak to it. But, something tells me it did not go unnoticed, nor without comment!

Being chosen by God is not always an easy path. Some may romanticize it that way. Some may make it sound as if being chosen is a path of ease and entitlement. Well, if you believe that just ask some notable chosen individuals from the bible and see what they have to say about that! Chosen folk such as Abraham, who had to pack up and leave his ancestral home and move his entire family and possessions to an unknown, foreign land. Moses, who had to endure a vast wilderness, not once but twice! He had to endure the grumblings and complaining of an ungrateful people. On and on we could go: Jeremiah, Isaiah, Mary and even Jesus!

There is no doubt, being chosen by God is a blessing and an undeserved privilege, but it is not a cakewalk. It brings with it its own struggles and pains and hardships. It is not for the weak of heart. Only those who are enabled by the Spirit can have any hope of fulfilling God’s purpose for their lives.

Mary was such a person. Perhaps a very unlikely person to be chosen by the Almighty, Eternal God. But, there she is, in her little hamlet minding her own business when an angel appears and reveals God’s purpose and plan.

Of course, the revelation was only partial. God did not disclose everything to her. He never does. I think a big reason for this is his grace. There are some things best left unknown until we have to face them.

The whole birth of the Messiah really is quite out of the norm. It doesn’t happen as one would think. Whether we think of Mary as an unlikely candidate to be the mother of the Son of God. Or, we think of a manger as an odd place for his birth. Or shepherds as less than respectable to be the first witnesses to the newborn King. On we could go, but the whole thing is rather bizarre.

There was a song popular a few years ago, and you still hear it during this time of year. The name of it is  A Strange Way to Save the World. It basically sums up what we have been discussing.

And Mary, was definitely a strange choice to be the mother of the Messiah. But, there she is, a young woman of faith and confidence in God. Certainly with more questions than answers. Yet, she still humbly accepts the divine will and commissioning of God and sings his praises. That indeed is faith.

And it is what we are all called to do. Like Mary, we, as Christ-followers, are to be ready and willing to hear and obey the Master’s will. Yes, we all like to ask our questions and debate our points. We all like to reason the thing out and come to some logical conclusion that makes the enterprise seem responsible and worthwhile. After all, we consider, we must have a good explanation for doing this or that to tell to our families and friends.

We have to hold on to some modicum of respectability and sanity! And here we are again, in a position to consider the faithful of old.

Just imagine the following conversations:

Abraham to Sarah: Honey, last night I was outside after that fine supper you prepared and I was looking up at the stars in the heavens, when all of a sudden God, no not a god, the God, spoke to me and told me to pack up and head out! Where to? Well, eh, you see, he didn’t tell me that part! All I know is we have to leave! When will we get there? Well, I don’t know? How much will it cost? I have no idea!

Or Moses: The other day I was tending the flock, when I noticed a peculiar sight. I saw this scraggly old bush burning, but funny thing is, it was not burned up. It just kept burning and burning and burning. Well, you know me, I just had to go check it out. And when I got close to it a voice spoke to me. No, no, there was no one else around. Just me, the sheep and the bush. Where did the voice come from? Well, it obviously wasn’t one of my sheep! What do you think I am crazy! Do you think I believe in talking sheep? I know I’ve spent a good bit of time out in the sun, but come on! NO, no it was the bush, the bush spoke to me! Hey, where are you going?

On top of that, just imagine him going to the Israelites in Egypt and declaring: Listen up you guys, I have been a shepherd for the past forty odd years, but I had this burning bush experience and God spoke to me from that very bush and told me to come over here and set you all free from the mighty Pharaoh and great Egyptians! Military training? Well, no not really. Have I ever lead a group before? Yes, I’ve led sheep for the past forty years I told you! Oh, have I ever led people? Well, no, no I haven’t.

Well, you get the idea!

Mary, pregnant and unmarried? And it is a miracle of God? Yeah, right!

But sometimes, truth is in fact stranger than fiction.

As we celebrate Christmas, may we allow Mary to be an example of faith to us. As one has said, the greatest ability God is looking for in a person is availability! Mary was available and willing to serve the Lord. No, she didn’t have all the answers. No, she didn’t know all that would happen. But, she knew the One who had called her and she knew he was trustworthy and worthy of her obedience and praise.

May we have the attitude of Mary!


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