“My Soul Magnifies the Lord”
This song has been used by the church, almost daily, since the late fourth century. It has been sung, prayed and preached for centuries. In the text of Luke, it is one of three songs. The other two are by Elizabeth (1:42-45) and Zechariah (1:68-79). Mary’s song rests between them and is thereby highlighted.
For those interested in a rather detailed exegesis of the Magnificat, see the piece by Curtis A. Jahn. The appendix of the article has a wonderful chart which connects the language of the Magnificat with praise texts in the Hebrew Bible.
Mary praises God for his gracious kindness toward her (Luke 1:46-49).
Mary magnifies (exalts) the Lord and rejoices (delights) in God her Savior. This comes from deep within her—her soul, her spirit. Her praise and delight are rooted in God’s “look” toward her; he has been “mindful” of her. Mary was lovingly and affectionately chosen despite her humble, impoverished status. She was no daughter of a king, but she will now be the mother of one.
Hearing Elizabeth’s “blessing” pronouncement, Mary prophetically accepts that every generation will called her “blessed.” But her blessedness is not due to something within her. Her blessedness is the Lord’s doing. She is blessed by what the Lord does, and as a result she receives the title “blessed” when previously she was “humble.” Mary then ends this stanza the way it began–the name of God “holy” (transcendent, awesome, amazing, beyond our imagination; cf. Psalm 99) just as she began her song “magnifying” (making God great) the Lord.
Questions to Consider: What is the root of Mary’s praise? How does she see herself before and after God’s mighty act for her? How does this model our own acceptance of God’s mighty acts for us?
Mary recognizes that that God’s mercy extends beyond her (Luke 1:50-53).
Mary begins the second stanza with a praise and testimony to God’s mercy. Just as generations will call her blessed because of God’s mercy, in the same way that mercy will envelope generations to come as they trust (revered) God as Mary trusted God. Mercy is what God demonstrates by his actions in verses 51-53.
What God did in exalting Mary to a blessed state is nothing new; it is the pattern of God’s redemptive work throughout history (for example, Mary uses language reminiscent of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2). This is what God does in history: he performs mighty deeds for the humble and hungry as he topples the arrogant, powerful and wealthy.
God reverses the established order of this broken world. He brings good news to the poor and oppressed; this is the gospel. God does the unexpected—and salvation itself is unexpected. It is divine grace.
Questions to Consider: What do you learn about God from reading these few lines? How is his mercy manifested? How does his mercy continue throughout the generations and in your life?
Mary testifies that God keeps his promise of mercy to Israel (Luke 1:54-55).
The motherhood of Mary is the fulfillment God’s promise to the patriarchs, the fathers of Israel. God, literally, has “taken hold of” or “embraced his servant Israel.” God has loved his people by keeping his promise through the birth of Jesus.
This is itself an act of mercy. God has remembered his mercy. The mercy that overthrows the arrogant and powerful is the mercy he now extends “to Abraham and his descendents forever.” This mercy God will continually extend and display throughout the generations to come.
Questions to Consider: What experience in your own life comes to mind when you think about God “remembering mercy”? Where in your life have you felt the embrace of God’s love for you? Last week I posted a testimony about a recent experience of God’s mercy in my life.
Note: I have previously posted about the Magnificat but this one is designed for small group discussion.
A sermon based on this text is available at the Sycamore View Church of Christ website. Look for my lesson under May 10, 2009.