The Magnificat: Mary’s song of Praise

The story in this passage is very familiar to us and we therefore miss the impact of it, I want to look at the Magnificat in the context of what Luke is wanting to do in his gospel.

   9       At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40       where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41       When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42       In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43       But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44       As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45       Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

46       And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
47       and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48       for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49       for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
50       His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51       He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52       He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53       He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54       He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55       to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”
56       Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home. (Lk 1:39–56). .

Luke records this song as part of his teaching to show the way Jesus came into this world to save us, it is very easy to divorce the Magnificat from its setting when we do this we lose the thrust of what Mary is saying and it turns into a nice song. The surrounding account is of vital importance to our understanding this song. Mary is visiting her cousin Elizabeth who is pregnant and her son is to become the powerful prophet  John the Baptist. This Child leaps in the womb at the arrival of Mary because she is bearing the son of God in her womb. It is interesting to see that as the child in the womb leaps for joy Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit it is quite staggering to see that an unborn child could recognize the presence of the Saviour. Elizabeth realizes that the Child Mary is bearing is her Lord. The powerful work of the Holy Spirit is to be seen here, we need to remind ourselves that we need to be as open to the Holy Spirit as Elizabeth was. Elizabeth also affirms Mary’s faith when she says, “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” . This is what humanly speaking causes Mary’s response as she too is led by the Holy Spirit to praise God, it seems that she must have been very familiar with Hannah’s song of praise because she seems to base her own song of praise on it. Just look at Hannah’s song and the similarities are striking.

   2:1       Then Hannah prayed and said:
“My heart rejoices in the LORD;
in the LORD my horn is lifted high.
My mouth boasts over my enemies,
for I delight in your deliverance.
2       “There is no one holy like the LORD;
there is no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.
3       “Do not keep talking so proudly
or let your mouth speak such arrogance,
for the LORD is a God who knows,
and by him deeds are weighed.
4       “The bows of the warriors are broken,
but those who stumbled are armed with strength.
5       Those who were full hire themselves out for food,
but those who were hungry are hungry no more.
She who was barren has borne seven children,
but she who has had many sons pines away.
6       “The LORD brings death and makes alive;
he brings down to the grave and raises up.
7       The LORD sends poverty and wealth;
he humbles and he exalts.
8       He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes
and has them inherit a throne of honor.
“For the foundations of the earth are the LORD’s;
on them he has set the world.
9       He will guard the feet of his faithful servants,
but the wicked will be silenced in the place of darkness.
“It is not by strength that one prevails;
10       those who oppose the LORD will be broken.
The Most High will thunder from heaven;
the LORD will judge the ends of the earth.
“He will give strength to his king
and exalt the horn of his anointed.”  (1 Sa 2:1–10).

This demonstrates Mary’s love of the Word of God, she obviously had remembered tis passage of Scripture in such a way that her own song of praise was strongly influenced it.

Having seen the setting we need now to look at what Mary says in this song of praise because it can be very instructive for us as a model of worship.

firstly Mary’s song is God centered, she says ” My soul glorifies the Lord” these words are the key to understanding the whole song, indeed the traditional title for this song the Magnificat is taken from this opening line being the word for glorifying God in the Latin text of this Scripture. Every line of this song is one that glorifies God. Mary is just amazed at the power and love of God which has been manifested in God blessing her with his own. Son. Notice that she glorifies God her Saviour, we must believe Mary when she describes God as her saviour, she was sinful from birth just like any other human being and she glories in the fact that she is saved by the grace of God. It is only after this confession of God as her saviour that she praises God for the blessings that he has poured out on her. Mary says,

   for he has been mindful    of the humble state of his servant.    From now on all generations will call me blessed, (Lk 1:48).

She acknowledges her humble state and yet she sees that God has richly blessed her and that all generations will call her blessed, we need not as many evangelicals do object to the title The blessed Virgin Mary because she was a virgin at the point of her conception. Some object to the title because she had other Children after Jesus but that is to miss the point of the title as originally given. Mary was supremely blessed with the responsibility of being the human mother of the son of God,our Lord Jesus Christ. It is in this context that she can say that the Lord has done great things for her, notice once again that she ascribes all the glory to God , she realizes that she does not deserve  this but god in his gracious and sovereign will has ordained her to be the one who would bear his Son in her womb. Mary here sees the amazing grace of God and she marvels in the way God has done great things for her. As a result of this she worships a holy god and she says “Holy is his name”.

Springing from this acknowledgement of the grace and holiness of God the rest of the song shows how God brings his salvation to those who seek his mercy and fear him, in the good sense of fear that of  a healthy respect for God which is marked by reverent joy. Notice how Mary describes how God receives the poor and needy who acknowledge their need of him and passes over the rich and self-satisfied. Indeed he casts down the mighty one, who are arrogant and raise up the humble. But perhaps the key to much of what Mary has said comes in her closing words when she recalls the covenant with Abraham. Abraham had been promised that through his descendants,  “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you”. In the birth of Jesus Mary see the fulfillment of that promise, at that time she did not realize that for this to be a reality her son would have to die on the cross and be raised again on the third day. we know these things that Mary had to learn so painfully, we too like Mary must praise our Saviour, let our songs of praise be God centered and we too will realize along with Mary how loving,gracious and powerful is our holy God.

About pneumaandlogos

David Rollings was born in Luton in1949 and raised by my Christian parents in the Gospel Standard Strict Baptist denomination( Hyper-Calvinistic} in the sixties I rebelled against this background and got involved in left-wing politics. I became a Christian in 1969 and soon started reading Francis Schaeffer's books and came to embrace a Christian Worldview. I had the privilege of being on the staff of L'Abti Fellowship from1975 - 1979. After L'abri I studied at London School of Theology where I gained my BA.(1983) A few years later I studied for my MA by distance learning with The Nazarene Theological College Manchester (1999) For the last 25 years, I have been an elder of Shoreham-by-Sea Baptist Church. I also regularly attend the Christian Doctrine Study Group of the Tyndale Fellowship.
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3 Responses to The Magnificat: Mary’s song of Praise

  1. Pingback: Pastor Leadership Blog » The Magnificat: Mary's song of Praise | Pneuma and Logos

  2. Pingback: The Magnificat: Mary's song of Praise | Pneuma and Logos | Worship Leaders

  3. I couldn’t refrain from commenting. Well written!

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