Song of Mary

Song of Mary

Song of Mary.

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,

according to the promise he made to our ancestors,

to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”  (Luke 1:46-55, NRSV).

CONTEXT. On a fixed heavenly timetable, there was a momentous visit of the angel Gabriel to a young unsuspecting virgin living in Nazareth. This teenaged girl Mary humbly and bravely accepted God’s call to be the Messiah’s mother. Gabriel’s mysterious and puzzling announcement at first troubled Mary. What does this all mean, she wondered. After the subtle and poetically expressed conception of Jesus… “the Holy Spirit came upon her and she was overshadowed in the power of the Most High“… Mary’s historic response to Gabriel was, “You see before you the Lord’s servant, let it happen to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38).

Mary soon thereafter visited her cousin Elizabeth in the hill country, Elizabeth being another woman experiencing a miraculous pregnancy. Filled with the Holy Spirit and pregnant with John the Baptist, Elizabeth “gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honored with a visit from the mother of my Lord? Look, the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who has believed that what the the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.”  (Luke 1:42-45). Mary’s Magnificat is Mary’s response to Elizabeth. “Magnificat” is the traditional title of Mary’s prayer, because it is the first word in the Latin translation of this passage.

MARY. In her inspired song of praise, Mary proved to be a scholar of the Hebrew Bible, what many call the Old Testament. She was undoubtedly a serious student of the Scripture since a very young girl. In fact, in most classical paintings of the Annunciation, Mary is pictured as holding a book. Mary is indeed a person of the Book. In her compact song, the first prayer said in the gospel story, she either directly quoted or alluded to the Hebrew scriptures over 20 times! She was intimately familiar with the Word, blending passages from Genesis to several Psalms, from 1 Samuel to Habakkuk, from Job to Zephaniah. It is astonishing that she was able to weave so many biblical passages and themes into a brief coherent whole. It’s no wonder it has been put to music as often as it has down through the centuries. It is a literary gem.

MARY and HANNAH. Mary’s burst of worship is reminiscent of Hannah’s song  in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. That’s not surprising, since Hannah’s song had been prayed by expectant Jewish mothers for centuries. The two prayers are so similar that it looks like Mary may have referred to Hannah’s song as a prototype. It’s almost as if, in composing her prayer, Mary considered Hannah’s prayer as an ancient first draft. Both songs exult in God’s power, in His salvation and greatness. Also, it’s clear that both women have a heart for the poor and the humble. They both clearly know what it feels to be marginalized, to be humiliated and stigmatized… Mary for being pregnant and unmarried, and Hannah for being married and barren. They both claim that God has set Himself against the abuse of power. Mary and Hannah both advocate for the weak against the powerful, the humble against the haughty. They both see themselves as champions for the poor and for the servants of God. Mary and Hannah also focus on God’s justice, His mercy, His awesome holiness. Another fascinating fact on how Mary and Hannah had connected through time… In her song Hannah predicts the strength of the “anointed one“, or “messiah.” This was the first mention of the messiah in the Hebrew Scriptures. Mary powerfully completes Hannah’s prophetic word by being the one who will deliver the predicted Messiah in the fullness of time. Mary and Hannah are sisters in the Faith, though centuries apart.

COVENANT. Mary closed her song by acknowledging that God has kept His promise of mercy and favor over Israel. In her hymn here, she reminds us of God’s covenant with Abraham, His everlasting promise of Israel’s favored nation status… “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you. I will always be your God, and the God of your descendants after you.(Genesis 17). “I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed.” (Genesis 22). Mary therefore magnified the Name of the merciful promise-keeper. Because of His faithfulness, Mary wants to go on record as wanting above all to make God famous.

MARY. Through her magnificent prayer-song, Mary can rightly be judged a student of Scripture, a champion for the powerless, and a young Jewish woman of great faith. Mary rejoices that her son will be the Messiah, from the line of David, the One who will bless the whole world. Mary is in awe of that truth, and humbly considers herself the most fortunate of all women. She is amazed that she has found God’s favor to this degree, and frankly finds it almost unbelievable. She is overwhelmed by God’s mercy and grace.

Through her life and witness, Mary was the model of discipleship. She literally contained Christ, and nurtured Jesus within her. She devoutly studied the Word. She actively listened to God and obediently said Yes to His new life. She not only received God’s message from Gabriel, she faithfully submitted to Him. She exulted in God’s truth, in His historical presence with her people, and she strongly trusted in God’s mercy and power. Mary proved to be a righteous prototype of a faithful Christian. Her Magnificat is memorable, of course, but so are her words at the wedding in Cana… ‘Mary went to the servants and told them, ‘Whatever Jesus tells you, make sure that you do it!” (John 2:5). Mary’s words here get to the heart of following Jesus.