Luke 1.46-56: A Magnificent Song of Praise aimed where it belongs: God

Mary’s “Magnificat” is simply sublime with almost unparalleled grandeur. She starts with “all that I am, and every part of me praises you as high as you can be lifted up.” Remember that she is facing a life of misunderstanding and scorn, but she sees God far above her circumstances and situation. God is upending the world, religion, and society, and he’s doing it through common folks: the last, the least, and the lost. Thanks to God’s message to her, she sees the plan in action and understands her place in it, as baffling as that might be. In those days of regulated class distinctions and a generally impossibility of changing one’s station in life, it would be expected that the privilege of such blessing would belong to the privileged of class or role (priest). A lowly girl from a poor family in a remote corner of the empire, and not of a particular station in society, has been visited by God and has been asked to fill a part in his strategy of salvation. Mary expects to be remembered by history, but her humility and exaltation of God is the best proof that she would be absolutely revolted at the thought of being deified. She recognizes that God was the initiator, God is the Mighty One, God is the one who does such things, and there is nothing in herself to have earned it or deserved it.

How wonderful that Mary’s nothingness should attract God’s all. We discover that she is able to accept love because of her humility, but also her humility is what love requires. The proud cannot know true love, for love is defined by service for the other, and the proud person sees only him or herself. God recognizes those who, in love, see him, and thus he is accessible and discoverable by all, on equal ground. God is bringing a new order, one based on justice for the poor, centered in her soon-to-be-born Son, and resulting in salvation for people who come to Him. God recognizes those who, in love, see him, and thus he is accessible and discoverable by all, on equal ground. He is not just the possession of the mystics, the powerful emperors, or the wealthy (who assumed they were wealthy because they had God’s special favor). He will answer to all who seek him, to all who call on his name, even to the lowest of all people, and to the remotest of generations. The stage is being set for a God who seeks all of us, acknowledges all of us, and he makes his point by choosing the characters he does for his filling and his messages in Lk. 1 & 2.

The one whose birth is being announced—Jesus—is to be an agent of radical social change. The death of pride (self-centered godlessness) is forecast. He will change society by changing the inner person. God doesn’t often change our circumstances, but works inside of us. Here we discover, though, that it’s not just the snooty that God means to change, but ALL of us. All of us suffer from the cancerous corruption of pride, and this God is coming to renew the whole kit-and kaboodle of us. He has come to bind the proverbial strongman and lay waste his kingdom of pride and self (52), and replace it with the godliness of the humble: those who think about others, and live for others.

But catch the treasonous words in her speech (as well as that in the message of the angels, chapter 2). Herod had assassinated members of his own family for anything that even smelled of treachery. That same Herod had taxed Israel—felt more by the poor than by anyone else—beyond its means. Mary’s words are words of the subversion, words that reveal why unjust rulers might worry over their public recitation, words that tell the first Christmas story. Anyone within earshot knew what these words might mean for Herod the Great, if not also for Rome. I find myself anxious to read further, and to meet this One who is coming. What is his plan? What will he be like? What will he do? The excitement builds.

We are told he will disrupt people’s pride (51), he will depose rulers (being no respecter of normal worldly estimates of power), and exalt the last, the lost, and the least (52)—anyone content to rely on God, even if they have no worldly position.  He will upend the normal course of life, filing the hungry not just with food, but with good things (53), and sending the rich away empty-handed. Ha! She is pointing her finger at Herod the Great and his insatiable pride and appetite. Her words mean that the poor of Israel would experience JUSTICE! Justice? Who would ever think there could be such a thing. Our anticipation escalates even more.

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