The Magnificat: Mary’s Song of Praise

The Magnificat: Mary’s Song of Praise

What’s the last Christmas song that was stuck in your head? If you listen to the radio, it likely has something to do with Mariah Carey.

How many Christmas songs do you think you know? Like really know. Like when they come on the radio, you know every word even though you only hear them once or twice a year? When I was a kid, my grandmother used to play Christmas records of the old good ones like Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Dean Marin, or Nat King Cole. Because I spent so much time at her house as she babysat us, got on and off the bus at her house, had our holiday gatherings at her house, (and it was Nanny’s house who lived just four houses done the road, so I was there a lot), when those songs come on the radio now, because they were such a staple in my life, I know almost every word to those songs. And boy do they bring me joy, all because I associate them with such fond memories at Nanny’s house.

Songs help us to remember things. Music has a way of penetrating into our minds. It’s why children are taught songs to remember everyday things, like the alphabet. There’s a song about the months of the year, the days of the week, even the Old and New Testament books. Bet you wish you knew that one, right?

This method of learning has been used for thousands of years. It’s why many of the Psalms in the Bible are written as songs for choirs to sing, all so they could remember who God is, what He’s done, and how great He really is. It’s how they reminded themselves that when they were lonely or depressed, when the world felt like it was in total chaos and collapsing on them, they could mediate on God’s promises and love.

There are other songs in the scriptures that were put to music for the same reasons. One that we may not hear a lot about, we likely know it’s there, but don’t fully understand the magnitude of the song, the heart and feeling that was poured into writing it.

The Magnificat

I’m speaking of the song known as “The Magnificat,” written by Mary, mother of Jesus. The first word in the Latin translation of her song is Magnificat, which literally means to magnify. Hence the first line in Mary’s song, “Oh, how my soul praises/glorifies the Lord.”

Mary wrote this song before Jesus’ birth. Like Hannah, the mother of Samuel, Mary glorified God in song for what he was going to do for the world through her. In both songs, Hannah’s and Mary’s, God is pictured as a champion of the poor, the oppressed, and the despised.

Before I read you this song of Mary’s, I want to give you some important background. I want to tell you a little about Luke, the author of Mary’s story in the New Testament. Luke was a Gentile, a Greek, and a doctor. As a doctor, he was a man of science, and therefore knew the importance of being very thorough of everything that he wrote. He knew there was a lot of interest in Jesus, and many people had written firsthand accounts about Him.

So he decided to join them and used his skills in observation and analysis to thoroughly investigate the stories about Jesus. Because truth was so important to Luke, he relied heavily on eyewitness accounts. Christianity does not say, “Close your eyes and believe,” but rather, “Check it out for yourself.” And that is exactly what Luke did. His conclusion, his diagnosis: The Good News of Jesus Christ is true!

So you can read Luke’s account of Jesus’ life with confidence that it was written by a clear thinker and a thoughtful researcher. It’s not surprising, then, that he begins his Gospel by outlining his extensive research and explaining that he is reporting the facts and the facts alone.

Luke 1:1-4

Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. 2 They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. 3 Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write an accurate account for you, most honorable The-oph-i-lus, 4 so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught.

Luke also was a close friend and traveling companion of the Apostle Paul, so he had one on one access to interview the disciples, had access to their historic accounts, and was an eyewitness to the birth and growth of the early church. His Gospel and book of Acts are reliable, historical documents.

Luke even goes to far to trace Jesus’ genealogy through David and Abraham and all the way back to Adam, proving Jesus’ identity as the Son of Man.

Now though Luke was not an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry himself, he nevertheless was concerned that eyewitness accounts be preserved accurately and that the foundations of the Christian belief be transmitted intact to the next generation.

So based on all that Luke covers about not only Jesus’ story, but Mary’s story, and based on the fact that he has the only Gospel that shares fine details of Mary’s story, it’s highly likely he had heard her account directly from her. Besides, we know she was still with or near to the disciples as she was left in the care of John the disciple,

So let’s recount Mary’s story. I feel like we need to hear it all together to before her song, so that we can remember where she was coming from when she sang it for the very first time.

Luke 1:26-38 – The Birth of Jesus Foretold

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. 28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”

29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. 36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. 37 For the word of God will never fail.”

38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.

Mary Visits Elizabeth

39 A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town 40 where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. 41 At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

42 Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. 43 Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? 44 When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. 45 You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.”

The Magnificat: Mary’s Song of Praise

46 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.”
56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then went back to her own home.

So an angel came to Mary with the message that Mary would conceive a child within her womb whose name would be Jesus. He would be holy and called the Son of God.

Mary’s life is taking a turn here that she could have never expected. As far as she knew, she was about to marry this nice Jewish boy Joseph, when suddenly she has been chosen to give birth to the Savior of the world. As we talked about last week, this was a huge disruption.

But Mary’s response to this “out of the blue” news, was…”Okay. If you are going to overshadow me with all of your might and power, then may everything you say about me come true.” Total surrender on Mary’s part. She has no idea what she is in for, yet it doesn’t matter.

She opens herself up to whatever God wants to do within her life, because she rests in God’s love for her and God’s love for the world knowing He’ll see through whatever He promises. She knows His promises can be fulfilled in and through us.

And what was the other thing the angel told her? “Oh that’s right, your cousin Elizabeth (who has important part in this story) is also expecting a child even in her old age. For the word of God will never fail.”

Mary believes. We must not misunderstand her question of how this will happen with not believing. She just didn’t understand. Whereas for example Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband would be an example of not believing God’s messenger when he asks, “How can I be sure this will happen? My wife and I are too old.” There’s a disbelief on his part. So he lost his voice until his child, John, was born. But Mary right away believes.

And immediately after this news, Mary runs off to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Why? Some say to prove this was all real. I don’t think so. Mary clearly believed what the angel had said or she wouldn’t have responded in total surrender. But how was anyone else going to believe her. Just maybe Elizabeth would since God was working so greatly in her life too and using her for part of his grander plan, and just maybe this would be safe haven for Mary for the time.

Now either the Holy Spirit told Elizabeth earlier that her cousin was the mother of the Messiah, or He did in the very moment Mary greeted her, since the scriptures say Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit upon Mary’s greeting, as well as her child leaped with in her. I appreciate this word, leaped. This wasn’t just a tickle of the baby moving, this was a sure thing that something was going on. And with this leap, John was the first to truly worship Jesus.

When Elizabeth called Mary, “the mother of my Lord” before Mary could say anything more than hello, Mary’s faith was surly strengthened in the moment. Her heart must of felt such a peace and comfort that there is another who knows and understands, let alone is excited about this great news! Elizabeth also confirms and says, “You are blessed because you believe Mary. You believe the Lord will do as he says.”

That confirmed that Mary was doing the right thing saying yes to the Lord. It isn’t any wonder that Mary then broke out in a song! Let’s take a closer look at Mary’s song.

Mary’s song offers reason why praise is the right response. The first part of the song focuses on what God has done for Mary. Then, the second part moves on to what God has done for all, especially Israel. Mary is thinking ahead, previewing what Jesus will do by God’s direction.

Part #1

46 Mary responded, “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.

With her whole self she praises the Lord! The word heart is also used in some translations, but it does not refer to the organ like we talk today. It referred to one’s entire being, your whole self beyond just your physical being, your soul and all.

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.

Now Mary’s not being arrogant here. Mary isn’t powerful, she isn’t wealthy. And the word translated as “lowly” here also means “humble.” Servant meant she was surrendering herself to the Lord. And notice she echoes the angel Gabriel and Elizabeth when they called her highly favored and blessed.

49 For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me.

Mary is again glorifying God! Recognizing all that God is doing for her.

Part #2

50 He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him.

She actually ends both parts noting God’s mercy and faithfulness to His divine promise.

51 His mighty arm has done tremendous things!

A symbol of God’s power exhibited in human events:

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.

Jesus makes this same promise.

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.”

Mary expects that God is fulfilling the promises He made hundreds of years earlier through the prophets, to bring mercy upon His people, to rescue them.

God went to great lengths to rescue His people. God kept his promise to Abraham to be merciful to God’s people forever. Christ’s birth fulfilled the promise, and Mary understood this. She was not surprised when her special son eventually announced that he was the Messiah. She had known Jesus’ mission from before He was born.

Luke 1: 32-33

32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

Mary’s personal experience is God’s pattern among human beings. We too can sing a song like Mary’s based on what God has done for us and what he had done for all people.

He continues to fulfill all of His promises. He made over 300 promises or prophies about Jesus coming to rescue not just to the people of that day, but anyone who would except Him as their Savior forever!

And God promises to send Jesus back to set the world in right order. We don’t know when that will be. Jesus doesn’t even know when that will be. And in all honesty, we don’t want to know. But until then, He promises to be with us. God promises us hope, peace, joy and love. All that will sustain us until Jesus’ return.

Now I want to you think about this. This something that just resonated with me this year. Mary recited this song to Luke so he could write it word for word, so the world would hear it. So the world would know what Mary knew. So we would see how to surrender and have faith because our God fulfills His promises! He does what He says He’s going to do.

For Mary to recite this song approx.. 55-65 years after writing it, meant she sang it often. This may have been something that just came upon her through the Holy Spirit, but she memorized it by singing it over and over again. Why? This song had to give Mary hope, and peace, and joy and love throughout all her years.

I hear her singing it when she’s frightened and painfully birthing a baby in a barn. The last place on earth any baby should be born.

I hear her singing it with joy when they took the baby Jesus to the temple to give their purification offering, and Simeon was there and prophesized about the child.

I hear her singing it as comfort especially when the unknowns came, like being told by an angel to run off to a strange land, Egypt, to escape King Herod’s order to kill all babies two years and under, all the while knowing that mothers and fathers all over the land were losing their babies that night.

It had to be a reminder to her when they finally found Jesus after three days of being left behind at the temple. His response reminding her who He is, the Son of God. “Didn’t you know I would be in my Father’s house?”

Or how about when the Pharisees were turning on Jesus, breathing down his neck with threats. And then the ultimate time that she needed that song…when she watched with her very own eyes, her son being brutally beaten and killed.

This song was a staple in Mary’s life. It was a song she lived by, held on to, and with it remember her God’s promises. No matter how hard it got, no matter how terrifying it was, she had hope, peace, joy and love through these words.

Will you too remember God’s promises no matter how hard life gets, no matter how terrifying it becomes? Will you remember after the trees are down, all the decorations are put away, after the songs are off the radio stations, will you remember every day who our God is, His promises and that He never fails. Nothing is impossible with God. – Gabriel.