Luke 1:46b-55 – Mary’s Magnificat

Mary’s Magnificat by Br. Mickey McGrath

Mary responded,

“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.” (New Living Translation)

Mary’s great song of praise grasps the reality of being pregnant with the Messiah. Mary affirmed that the all-powerful God “has done great things for me.” Indeed, the Lord shows mercy to everyone who worships and adores such mighty acts.

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.

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.

Great and mighty God, I will praise you with all my heart.  You care for me and always show mercy to those who worship you.  Fulfill all your good promises in me, and in all your people, for the sake of your Son, the Lord Jesus.  Amen.

1 Samuel 2:1-10 – From Weeping to Singing

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

Then Hannah prayed:

My heart rejoices in the Lord.
    My strength rises up in the Lord!
    My mouth mocks my enemies
        because I rejoice in your deliverance.
No one is holy like the Lord—
    no, no one except you!
    There is no rock like our God!

Don’t go on and on, talking so proudly,
    spouting arrogance from your mouth,
    because the Lord is the God who knows,
        and he weighs every act.

The bows of mighty warriors are shattered,
    but those who were stumbling now dress themselves in power!
Those who were filled full now sell themselves for bread,
    but the ones who were starving are now fat from food!
    The woman who was barren has birthed seven children,
        but the mother with many sons has lost them all!
The Lord!
    He brings death, gives life,
        takes down to the grave, and raises up!
The Lord!
He makes poor, gives wealth,
    brings low, but also lifts up high!
God raises the poor from the dust,
    lifts up the needy from the garbage pile.
    God sits them with officials,
    gives them the seat of honor!
The pillars of the earth belong to the Lord;
    he set the world on top of them!
God guards the feet of his faithful ones,
    but the wicked die in darkness
        because no one succeeds by strength alone.

The Lord!
His enemies are terrified!
        God thunders against them from heaven!
    The Lord!
    He judges the far corners of the earth!

May God give strength to his king
    and raise high the strength of his anointed one. (CEB)

This is the song of Hannah, a woman unable to conceive children and then offered a heartfelt petition to God for a child. Her prayer was answered. A thousand years later, Mary took this same song, reworked it, and personalized it, to voice and sing her own praise to God. (Luke 1:46-55)

Hannah dared to hope. It might seem from the perspective of one who has never struggled with being childless that offering a prayer for children is easy. However, when hope has been dashed and all seems impossible, putting oneself out there to ask, even to beg, is downright hard. In a fear of having what little hope remains be crushed, it is far easier to stay away from God and keep the prayers to oneself.

Hannah actively sought divine help and risked praying and emoting. The Lord heard. Hannah’s weeping turned to singing. And, like Mary’s Magnificat, Hannah quickly moved from her own experience to the experiences of people everywhere. In short, Hannah focused on the God of the impossible and the divine accessibility which exists when we become vulnerable and put ourselves out there in risky hope.

The great reversal of Hannah’s condition from barren to fertile gives hope for the weak to become strong, the hungry to be filled, and the lost to be found. In a world in which God is Sovereign, nothing needs to stay the same – nothing is carved in stone.

Since no part of our existence as humans is outside the purview of God, there is always the possibility of change, of a reversal of fortunes.

The underdog has a champion with God. The misfits, the exploited, and the downtrodden – those who cannot lift themselves or pull themselves up by their bootstraps – are precisely the persons whom the Lord raises up. God’s providential care shall oversee them, and justice will be dispensed with perfect equity.

It is one thing to hope; it is another thing altogether in daring to hope against all odds and while others poo-poo your dreams. Godly hope is not wishful thinking but a confident expectation that God will show up and be gracious, merciful, and kind.

The place of crying and weeping is important because it is our tears which find a better way. Anyone can offer cheap praise but the person who sits with their sadness and feels the heart-wrenching agony of a hope unfulfilled is the one who is able to give genuine praise and to sing with authenticity. Since their hope was planted and watered with tears, their joy in the harvest is abundant and plenteous.

As we move to the expectant close of Advent and realize the Christmas hope fulfilled, allow the daring hope of Mary and Hannah to conceive a fresh hope in your own life so that you will give birth to new life.

God of hope, in these times of change, helplessness, and uncertainty give us courage to overcome our fears, and help us to build a future in which all may prosper and share together, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Luke 1:46-55 – Mary’s Magnificat

The Magnificat, a woodcut by Sr. Mary Grace Thul

Mary responded,

“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.” (NLT)

Mary’s great song of praise, having grasped the reality of being pregnant with the Messiah, affirmed that the all-powerful God “has done great things for me.”  Indeed, the Lord shows mercy to everyone who worships and adores such mighty acts. 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 quite ordinary for her day. She had no wealth and 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.

What is more, Mary had the wisdom to discern that her situation typified the Lord’s egalitarian work of leveling the field so that all persons have what they need. Her son, the Messiah, would carry this 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.

God is full of grace, mercy, and power to those who are powerless and in need of help. 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. 

I encourage you to take some time today and journal the ways in which 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.

Great and mighty God, I will praise you with all my heart.  You care for me and always show mercy to those who worship you.  Fulfill all your good promises in me, and in all your people, for the sake of your Son, the Lord Jesus.  Amen.

John 12:1-11 – Broken and Poured Out

mary anointing jesus feet

“Then Mary took an extraordinary amount, almost three-quarters of a pound, of very expensive perfume made of pure nard. She anointed Jesus’ feet with it, then wiped his feet dry with her hair. The house was filled with the aroma of the perfume.  Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), complained, ‘This perfume was worth a year’s wages!  Why wasn’t it sold, and the money given to the poor?’ (He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He carried the money bag and would take what was in it.)

Then Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. This perfume was to be used in preparation for my burial, and this is how she has used it. You will always have the poor among you, but you won’t always have me.’”

When I was a kid there was a show on TV called “Quincy.”  Quincy was a coroner.  Every episode was him performing an autopsy on someone who appeared to have a rather normal death.  But Quincy always found something suspicious and spent his time prying into people’s lives to confirm his investigation.  His boss and the police chief would chide and warn him saying, “Leave it alone, Quincy.”  Quincy’s typical response was: “But I can’t leave it alone.  There’s more here than what meets the eye!”

Indeed, the Apostle John was the Quincy of his ancient generation.  In his gospel there is always more going on than what meets the eye.  There are double-meanings, sometimes even triple-meanings to the events unfolding.  There are deeply symbolic encounters, as well as the physical tangible events serving as almost metaphors pointing to the spiritual.

quincy

Mary, a woman with a sordid background, had her life transformed through meeting Jesus.  Now, near the end of Christ’s life as he was about to enter Jerusalem and be arrested, tried, tortured and killed, Mary senses what is happening and is aware of what’s happening when others are not.  Her own brokenness cracked open to her the true reality of life.

The surface event itself is a touching and tender moment in history.  This woman, whom everyone knows as a damaged person, takes a high-end perfume and breaks the entire thing open.  She proceeds to anoint Christ’s feet with it.  You can imagine the aroma which would fill the house with an entire amount of expensive perfume out for all to smell.  Giving what she had to Jesus, Mary demonstrates the path of true discipleship.

But there’s more here than what meets the eye.  Let’s point out some observations about John’s expert autopsy:

  • The broken jar of perfume shows us the brokenness of Mary and our need to be broken (Matthew 5:3-4)
  • Mary uses an extraordinary amount of perfume, picturing her overflowing love for Jesus (John 20:1-18)
  • Mary applies the perfume to Jesus with her hair; hair is richly and culturally symbolic for submission and respect (1 Corinthians 11:14)
  • The perfume directs us to the death of Jesus (John 19:38-42)
  • The perfume highlights for us the aroma of Christ to the world (2 Corinthians 2:15-17)
  • There is more to Judas than his words about perfume; he is not actually concerned for the poor (Matthew 26:15)
  • Judas and Mary serve as spiritual contrasts: Mary opens herself to the sweet aroma of Christ; Judas just plain stinks
  • The perfume presents a powerful picture of the upcoming death of Christ, for those with eyes to see; he was broken and poured out for our salvation (Luke 23:26-27:12)

Christianity was never meant to be a surface religion which only runs skin deep.  The follower of Christ is meant to be profoundly transformed within, inside and out, so that there is genuine healing, spiritual health, and authentic concern for the poor and needy.  Keeping up appearances is what the Judas’s of this world do.  But the Mary’s among us dramatically point us to Jesus with their tears, their humility, their openness, and their love.

In this contemporary environment of fragmented human ecology, our first step toward wholeness and integrity begins with a posture of giving everything we have – body, soul, and spirit – to the Lord Jesus.  Methinks Quincy was on to something.

Loving Lord Jesus, my savior and my friend, you have gone before us and pioneered deliverance from an empty way of life and into a life of grace and gratitude.  May I and all your followers, emulate the path of Mary and realize the true freedom which comes from emptying oneself out for you.  Amen.