THE SONG OF MARY: MAGNIFICAT: Luke 1:46-55
By Ted Schroder,
December 20, 2015
This hymn of praise is known as the Magnificat because in the Latin translation that is the opening word, which means glorifies or magnifies or enlarges. I used to sing it every Sunday night at Evening Prayer in my home church. Mary represents all faithful believers in the Church, and her song is our song. What God did for Mary is what he does for all of us. We can take this song upon our own lips and into our own hearts. What does it say to us and for us?
First, we are called to magnify the Lord and to rejoice in God our Savior. God is our Savior and Lord. He has chosen us to bear his name and his life in the world. Praise and thanksgiving are the characteristics of the people of God because we have experienced the Savior and his salvation. We are not leaderless or lost for we have a Divine Commander. We do not inhabit a cheerless and vacuous universe but a world that is full of the life and love of God. Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote,
"Glory to God for dappled things - ....
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
The Bible is full of praise and thanksgiving. Biblical religion is a religion of rejoicing, of music and son. "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4) It is noteworthy that Christianity has produced so much music. Christmas, in particular, is the season for so much beautiful music as we celebrate the coming of the Messiah and the hope he brings. The message of Jesus is called Gospel: good news. That is what Mary sings about. She is favored to be the mother of the Lord. Her soul is full of praise. She wants to express this joy. Her spirit rejoices in God revealing himself through her as Savior.
As we approach Christmas this year we do well to remind ourselves of our blessings in the Gospel. As Elizabeth recognized how blessed was Mary and the child she would bear, we should realize how favored we are that, like Elizabeth, Christ has come to us. How different would be our lives if Christ had not come to us. Is it no wonder that many people we know have no reason for praise and thanksgiving this Christmas, because they either have not heard of Christ as their Savior and Lord, or they have not received him when he has come to them? Perhaps we, like Mary, are the ones who will bring the Savior to them through prayer and loving kindness. Do we not want them to share with us in this song of rejoicing? Do we not want all people to be able to glorify the Lord and in their spirits rejoice in God as their Savior?
Second, we magnify the Lord and rejoice in God our Savior because he has chosen us although we are insignificant and inadequate and unworthy and given us a noble vocation and opportunity in his service. He has taken a humble slip of a girl and made her blessed in history. This mercy and grace and loving kindness is extended to all who respond to his call to honor and follow him. No woman should ever feel inferior or less worthy than a man. Christianity, in Mary, has elevated the role of women to the highest rank. That is one reason among many why the religion of Islam is so contrary to the Christian Gospel. In many developing regions and countries, millions of women are "missing" -- killed by infanticide, gender-based abortions, or systematic discrimination. "Count up all the girls who were never born because of selective abortion, victims of infanticide and females who dies from neglect and there are upwards of 100 million women missing in Asia by some estimates." (WSJ, November 27, 2015) About I in every 3 girls worldwide is not educated past fourth grade. Women own less than 1% of the world's property. They earn 10% of the world's income. God takes the least and the lowest among us, male and female, and calls them to noble vocations of the highest importance and significance.
William Temple, archbishop of Canterbury during World War II, warned his missionaries in India never to read the Magnificat in public. Christians were already suspect in that country and they were cautioned about reading verse so inflammatory. The caste system was so ingrained in Hindu society that this Gospel truth would cause a social revolution for the lowest caste -- the Untouchables or Dalits -- would seize upon it as liberating them from servitude. This is still true today. The message of the Magnificat is "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians3:28).
Third, we magnify the Lord and rejoice in God our Savior because he has acted in the coming of Christ to bring about a revolution. Jesus, the ultimate revolutionary, reverses all selfish human values. This gives the lie to Karl Marx's claim that religion is the opium of the people. Long before his predictions about class warfare Mary was singing about the revolution that Jesus would inaugurate. Mao Tse-tung claimed that "Political power comes out of the barrel of a gun." But political revolutions have a life of their own which benefit some at the expense of others. There are winners and losers in all political and economic systems. See what has happened in China, Russia and Iran since their revolutions.
The power of Jesus is spiritual and moral.
"He performs mighty deeds with his arms;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inner thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty."
What are the powerful acts of God that effect a revolution in the affairs of the world?
God causes confusion and foolishness in those who are full of arrogance. Jesus said, "Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 18:14). The way of the Incarnation is the opposite of pride. God humbled himself to become human - "he made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death -- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:7-11).
The way of Christ, the way of salvation, is the death of pride. The Gospel is a moral revolution that defeats pride in the human heart. Christ puts an end to the world's labels and prestige. Christianity is a social revolution. All social grades and ranks are reduced. Christ causes an economic revolution for the love of Christ creates generosity and condemns greed. Christianity fosters a work ethic that creates wealth and raises up the poor. It provides incentives for the rich to share their wealth to alleviate suffering. The hungry of the world are filled through Christian inspired efforts. This comes about through Christ changing the human heart and not through political power.
God acts through his servants: Israel, Abraham and his descendants, all those who call on the name of the Lord, for we are Abraham's offspring, "He is the father of us all" (Romans 4:16). Mary sings our song and we pick up the refrain. Can you sing it?
(Ted's blog is found at www.tedschroder.com)
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