Last week we saw the angel Gabriel appear to Zechariah and give him the good news of the impossible task of him and his wife Elizabeth having a child because they were advanced in years. Then Elizabeth conceives and when she was 6 months pregnant with John the Baptist. Her response was one of joyous exclamation as she knew the promises of God were being fulfilled. This week we continue to ask the question about the correct response to the good news of the incarnation. God the Son putting on flesh and dwelling among mankind. God becoming man to save man in their sins. Paul says in Galatians chapter four that “the fulness of time came, God sent forth his Son born of a woman… (Gal 4:4). This woman is Mary. Luke records the angels announcement to her but also her song recorded in Luke 1:46-57, known as the Magnificent, from the Latin translation “My soul Magnifies…” Before looking at the particular song we need to know what she is singing about.
Just as we saw last week when Zechariah was told that he and his barren wife, Elizabeth would have a child. Gabriel visits a young lady Mary who was betrothed to a man named Joseph (Luke 1:26). Now Gabriel is merely a messenger for the Lord. Now when Luke introduced Zechariah and Elizabeth, he mentioned that Elizabeth was barren. However, then he introduces Mary, he tells us that she is a virgin. Gabriel appears and speaks to Mary, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you.” We mentioned this briefly before but needs to be mentioned again. If we seek to elevate Mary to a position that is for God alone then we break many of God’s commands. Gabriel’s greeting is not so much about Mary as she is some form of super hero (as she will explain later). O favored one speaks more of God’s grace been shown to her, than of something intrinsic in her. This is the story of the Bible (Gen 6:8, 15:6, etc.) After the greeting we read that Mary is unsure of what this greeting means (Luke 1:29). Gabriel thinks back to his orientation in angel school and remembers always to be begin with “Do not be afraid.” A personal side note, our pictures of angels do not have the same response of fear and trembling then they might not be Biblical.
Gabriel explains his greeting that God has shown Mary grace. Gabriel tells Mary the news he was sent to tell,
“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:31–33)
This passage loaded with glorious promises (that we cannot unpack at this point). Mary then asks the question, “how can this be, since I am still a virgin?” Gabriel explains “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35). Mary sees herself as a servant for God. After visiting her cousin Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s exclamation, Mary begins her Magnificat which is in regard to the good news of the incarnation.
God’s Gift through his might
We do not have many words from the lips of Mary. However, from what we do have we see a humble servant seeking to serve God in whatever way he calls her. Sadly, many Christians have sought to elevate her to a position she does not seek or want for herself. We see Mary magnify the Lord. This song of praise is focused on God and what he has done and not Mary. She begins the Magnificat with three ‘mys.’ She begins by saying my soul magnifies the Lord. After hearing the response of the incarnation her first response is worship towards the Lord. The second is that her spirit rejoices, again from the depths of he being she rejoices in what the Lord is doing, but finally she rejoices in God my savior. She knows the good news which ahs been announced to her, he will be the one who sits on David’s throne forever. Now a popular song is sung around this time of year. I am a bit of a grinch to begin with but this one does get under my skin, the song is, “Mary did you know?” I understand artistic license but in all reality, did Mary know, yes. She knows the promises found in the Old Testament and she knows that this child within her womb was going to be the promised messiah.
Mary continues knowing that God has looked upon her and it is nothing great within her why she has been called to this task, but she calls herself a humble servant. Now, consider this, you have a nation of Israel who we see many people who are well dressed in power positions, who have wealth, knowledge of the Law of God, and many other traits, yet Christ is born of this humble servant, Mary. This shows the extend of his humiliation as coming as a man to save man. Born from a humble body, lived in a humble house, and died a death of great humility. Mary knows that it is only because of what the Lord is doing that other generations will call her blessed. If we then turn this around and elevate her, then we do not understand why she is called humble. The response to the incarnation should always lead to humility, this is Paul’s main point in Philippians chapter 2. The incarnation of Christ is all about Christ’s humiliation to the lowly estate. How can you serve others this season?
As Mary shows her low estate before God, she shows God’s greatness through all of this. IT is God who is mighty who has done these great things. Paul would later write, if your view of salvation lifts you on to a pedestal of boasting you have not understood salvation (Eph 2:8-9). It is God who has given this great gift of sending his son into the world so that whoever would believe in him would have eternal life. All glory and honor is due to God for what he has done. Thomas Watson puts it this way, “A sight of God’s glory humbles. The stars vanish when the sun appears.” If we are still left focusing on Mary after Luke chapter 1 we have not read what Mary said. Mary’s focus and eyes have been on God for his great gift through his mighty hand and his holy name.
God’s generosity through his mercy
Mary does begin by mentioning herself, that is in all humility, but the rest of the Magnificat becomes centered on others and the whole world. Notice throughout this section almost every line begins with He (God) and what he has done; shown, brought, filled, helped and more. It begins with His mercy. As Mary understands she is unworthy of everything that has spoken she says that God shows his mercy from generation to generation. This is nothing new this is how God has always worked throughout all of History. Many of the servants of God in the Old Testament had nothing to their name. They were nobodies. Abram was just a man whom I am sure no one really knew who he was. But then God showed him mercy and told him, that I (God) will make your name great. If we think the New Testament changes the way God relates to people then we are sorely mistaken. The proud see no need for a savior, the strong see no need for a powerful God, the mighty have no want for someone to be above them, the rich see no need for any inheritance that is undefiled, unfading and imperishable. Mary knows, that the gospel message, is the same message from the Old Testament, God needs to show mercy.
Now Mary puts us all to shame in this short but sweet praise of God. You can see many similarities between this Magnificat and what we read of Hannah in 1 Samuel chapter 2. A great study would be to go home and see the similarities. In this the wife despised by the world and taunted by Peninnah is the one God uses to bring Samuel into the world. A great servant of God. Here, Mary a ‘nobody’ in the eyes of the world, is used by God to birth the savior of the world, the greatest servant of God. However, if we only think of this as in relationship to 1 Samuel we see the glorious connections in this song. Mary quotes many difference passages from the Old Testament. Now, she might have been a great student of Scripture, but given the cultural situation that not many people could read, they didn’t have copies of the word of God in their homes. Mary would of attended meetings at the Synagogues. Not to downplay Mary, it is quite possible she was a great student of the word. However, I believe the more likely explanation for these many scriptural references are found in because she is filled with the Holy Spirit, like John the Baptist and Elizabeth. The same spirit who carried along the men who wrote the scripture is the same spirit who has filled Mary. Mary quotes many scriptures, I count at least 20, from Psalms, 1 Samuel, Genesis, Habakkuk, Isaiah, and Micah.
God’s good news through his messiah
The birth of Christ is not the beginnings of a new story. We sadly think that the Bible starts in the New Testament, but every one of the Gospel accounts shows us that this is not a new story, but it is a fulfillment of old promises. It might be a new chapter, an important chapter, but it is connected to the promises of God. Mary knows this story is connected to these promises. The promise that we see in the last two verses of the Magnificat. “God has helped his servant Israel in remembrance of his mercy.” Just as Mary knows the Lord has done might things for her, a servant. He also has and will do mighty things for Israel, his servant. The good news which has been proclaimed through the Law, Psalms and the Prophets is what God will do for his people and never about his people saving themselves. Mary uses the terminology throughout Scripture of Israel being a servant but a great example, and a quotation is found in Isaiah 41:8-10
“But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:8–10)
Mary knows her story is not God being nice and showing her mercy but God is keeping his promise to God’s people the promise to send a savior into the world to save God’s people from their sin. The promise of the Messiah. The promise spoken to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and his offspring forever. The promise of snake crusher, Abel’s blood, God would well in the tents of Shem, that through one family the whole world will be blessed, the ram in the thicket, the ladder to heaven, the promise of the greater prophet than Moses, the great heigh priest of Melchizedek, David’s greater son, the stump of Jesse, the shepherd, the temple, the rock in the wilderness, the Passover lamb, the blood spilled on the altar, the suffering servant, the son given that the government will be upon his shoulders, Immanuel, the list can go on and on… Mary knows that this is the long awaited news to come to God’s people. The promises reaching the point, as Paul puts it the fullness of time (Gal 4:4).