Mary’s Song of Praise (Luke 1:46b-55)

The Magnificat, a woodcut by Sr. Mary Grace Thul

Mary said,

“My heart praises the Lord;
    my soul is glad because of God my Savior,
    for he has remembered me, his lowly servant!
From now on all people will call me happy,
    because of the great things the Mighty God has done for me.
His name is holy;
    from one generation to another
    he shows mercy to those who honor him.
He has stretched out his mighty arm
    and scattered the proud with all their plans.
He has brought down mighty kings from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away with empty hands.
He has kept the promise he made to our ancestors,
    and has come to the help of his servant Israel.
He has remembered to show mercy to Abraham
    and to all his descendants forever!” (Good News Translation)

It strikes me that Mary, instead of being full of worry and afraid of the future, and as an unmarried teen with child, is full of the Spirit and faith. Mary neither complained nor fretted for the nine months of her pregnancy; she praised God and was clear-headed about the grace shown to her.

Mary’s canticle gives us insight into the mystery of the incarnation: God chooses the weak, those of low esteem, and the powerless.

Mary was rather ordinary. She had no wealth. She possessed nothing which would cause anyone to pick her out of a crowd. Yet, she is the one chosen by God. And her wonderful response to grace demonstrated that there is so much more to any person than what we can see with our eyes and perceive through our earthly glasses of high positions and strength of personalities.

The mother of Jesus had the wisdom to discern that her situation typified the Lord’s egalitarian work of leveling the field. Mary’s pregnancy normalized the needs of all people. Her son, the Deliverer, would carry this understanding into his own life and ministry – declaring good news to the poor, comforting the brokenhearted, proclaiming freedom for captives, telling those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.

Mary’s is the kind of song that has been sung by people of faith throughout the ages. It’s not only a song of faith but a declaration of resistance, in defiance of all evil powers which ignore the poor, such as Mary.

It was not a completely new sort of song; it’s in harmony with songs that other faithful followers of the Lord have sung in past generations.

Moses and Miriam sang a song to the Lord of freedom from powerful Egyptian bondage and oppression:

“I will sing to the Lord, because he has won a glorious victory;
    he has thrown the horses and their riders into the sea.
The Lord is my strong defender;
    he is the one who has saved me.
He is my God, and I will praise him,
    my father’s God, and I will sing about his greatness.
The Lord is a warrior;
    the Lord is his name.” (Exodus 15:1-3, 21, GNT)

Hannah, unable to conceive and have children, endured a long stretch of affliction from her rival – that is, until the Lord stepped in and opened her womb:

“No one is holy like the Lord;
    there is none like him,
    no protector like our God.
Stop your loud boasting;
    silence your proud words.
For the Lord is a God who knows,
    and he judges all that people do.
The bows of strong soldiers are broken,
    but the weak grow strong.
The people who once were well fed
    now hire themselves out to get food,
    but the hungry are hungry no more.
The childless wife has borne seven children,
    but the mother of many is left with none.
The Lord kills and restores to life;
    he sends people to the world of the dead
    and brings them back again.
He makes some people poor and others rich;
    he humbles some and makes others great.
He lifts the poor from the dust
    and raises the needy from their misery.
He makes them companions of princes
    and puts them in places of honor.
The foundations of the earth belong to the Lord;
    on them he has built the world. (1 Samuel 2:2-8, GNT)

Stained glass window of Hannah offering her son Samuel to the Lord by Phil Watkins

The psalmist declares his song about the Lord who turns the tables on the unfortunate and brings them privilege:

He always keeps his promises;
    he judges in favor of the oppressed
    and gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets prisoners free
    and gives sight to the blind.
He lifts those who have fallen;
    he loves his righteous people.
He protects the strangers who live in our land;
    he helps widows and orphans,
    but takes the wicked to their ruin. (Psalm 146:6b-9, GNT)

God’s people throughout history have faced oppression. And, when in the teeth of that adversity, they have sung God’s songs of resistance against the evil powers of this world.

Along with Holy Scripture, let us also in these days of Advent just before Christmas Day, sing our traditional songs of resistance, deliverance, and hope:

“Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus”

By Charles Wesley

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.

“It Came upon the Midnight Clear” (vs.3-4)

By Edmund Sears

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way
with painful steps and slow,
look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
and hear the angels sing!

For lo! the days are hastening on,
by prophet seen of old,
when with the ever-circling years
shall come the time foretold
when peace shall over all the earth
its ancient splendors fling,
and the whole world send back the song
which now the angels sing.

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” (vs.1, 4, 6)

By J.M. Neale

O come, O come, Immanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

O come, O Branch of Jesse’s stem,
unto your own and rescue them!
From depths of hell your people save,
and give them victory o’er the grave.

O come, O Bright and Morning Star,
and bring us comfort from afar!
Dispel the shadows of the night
and turn our darkness into light.

Christ came to stand against sin, death, and the power of the Devil.

God is full of grace, mercy, and power to the powerless and the needy. The Lord has our backs. Perhaps if we all, both individually and corporately, continually used our words to identify and declare the great things God has done we would realize the consistent blessing of the Lord. 

As we near the night of our Lord’s birth, take some time to reflect on the ways God has been good to you in this Advent season, and like Mary, offer praise for each act of mercy. Mary exhibited no helplessness but had her heart calibrated to detect the grace of God when it was present – and to resist the injustice of this world.

Soli Deo Gloria

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