Luke 1:45-56
The Magnificat

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1.  Today we read together "The Praise Song Of Mary."  This section takes the opening word from the old time Latin version and is called "The Magnificat."  So, this song of praise has been told in song for generations as a song of the church.  There is a tradition that it is sung in the morning service of the Eastern Orthodox Church and there is also a tradition that it is sung in the evening service in the Western Church to which we belong.  Mary is a special character but it was not sung with the intention of praising her.  The church sang Mary's words of faith as its own words.  Even when we read today's scripture I think we should read it as our own words putting ourselves in Mary's place. Later we will sing Mary's song of praise.  I would like us to focus our listening on the address God is making through the words of this passage and to sing this anew and again as our own words.

My Soul Worships The Lord

2.  With that, first of all I will read you once more from verse forty-six to the first half of verse forty-nine.  "There Mary said, 'My soul worships the Lord and my spirit joyfully praises God, my savior because I am low in social status and the Lord looking down rested his eye upon me.  From now on every generation of persons will call me a blessed person as the powerful One has done a thing of greatness for me...'" (vv. 46-49).

3.  The key note of this song is obviously "joy."  The joy of a blessed person is full to overflowing here.  The resounding of her joy began ever since the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary.  It was the scene called the Announcement Of The Conception.  It is written in chapter one verse twenty-six on, the scripture we read just today shortly before.  The angel appeared to her and said the following: "Congratulations, O blessed person!  The Lord is with you," (verse 28).  Mary, who was notified of the conception of Christ, headed for the home of Elizabeth, a relative. Elizabeth said to Mary: "You are a blessed person among women.  The child in your womb is blessed as well.  How is it that the mother of my Lord has come to my place?  When I heard the sound of your greeting the child in my womb jumped with joy.  How happy will the ones who believed that what the Lord said is surely coming to pass,"  (vv. 42-45).  The song which she sang when receiving this is the praise song of Mary.  In that place as well Mary said:  "From now on people of all generations will call me a blessed person," (v. 48).  The scriptures consistently record Mary as "a blessed person" or " a happy person."  She is called a blessed person with whom the Lord is with and he fixes his eye upon her.

4.  But, would you really call the event that was recorded here a genuinely blessed and happy one?  When we read the context thinking like that we are made to realize that that is just not the case.  Mary was betrothed to Joseph at this time.  They were surely waiting with great hope and excitement for the approaching day of the wedding celebration. Public life at that time under the rule of the Roman empire must not have been very easy.  But even under such conditions of that time period she dreamed of a modest amount of happiness in building a home of faith with Joseph and  I think such words were normal for a chaste young woman.  She wasn't consumed with any outrageous ambitions.  As Mary hoped for a normal happy life, what could possibly have hindered it?  Her modest hopes were dashed down with the message from the angel; for, this is what the angel announced:  "You have conceived and will give birth to a son and please name that child Jesus, " (v. 31).

5.  In the Gospel of Matthew it says that Joseph, her fiancé, "decided to cut off the relationship privately," (Matthew 1:19).  It would be a very troubled future.  That's what they had to expect.  Both Mary and Joseph would have been all too familiar with the kind of reaction there would be in their Jewish society over a person with premarital conception. Who in the world would believe the story that "she conceived by the Holy Spirit?"  If this event concerning Mary was reported as adultery she would not escape from the judgment of the death penalty.  What's more, this was just the beginning of Mary's sufferings.  Later on her son would go out in public and begin to preach the kingdom of God.  In no time it will come to pass that he would face animosity from the ruling authorities.  How will the sorrows and the sufferings of Mary go?  So, at the end Mary will go all the way to standing before the cross of the Lord Jesus.  It will come to her son spilling blood and dying right before her eyes.

6.  Why was it Mary?  Why wasn't it some other person?  I don't know. Some say "because Mary was pure."  Some say "because Mary had deep faith." The severe circumstances are so bad that that those two common ordinary reasons for choosing Mary end up getting blown away.  In the end all we can say is God chose her.  The message of Gabriel was one-sided. "Congratulations, o blessed one" was already decided.  He was not seeking for Mary's consent.  That was the destiny established and given to Mary.  This is not limited to the case of Mary, when a person tries to choose, they don't have a real choice.  When trying to escape, they can't escape.  No matter what you can't avoid bearing it and there is no running from either receiving or refusing it.  For Mary, it was made clear from the angel's announcement that that fate was difficult to run from.

7.  Well, the song sung under those conditions was Mary's song of praise that we just read earlier.  You may say it's only natural to see a song of praise in a story associated with the birth of the savior.  But, no, you can't read this passage in such a way.  Something that is NOT natural is happening here.  Mary declares, "From now on people of all times will call me a blessed person."  Why will they say that?  They will say that because in a sense Mary did accept this event.  After all, if a situation is destined for you, it is better to live in acceptance of it than to live in resistance or refusal of it.  Everyone believes that.  But, could it be as simple a thing as that?  Even accepting small events is in reality a very difficult thing.  I know that from personal experience.  The story is not a simple one.  What is being related here is not merely a psychological "acceptance of reality."

8.  Mary is worshipping God.  "My soul worships the Lord."  That's what Mary was singing.  "Worship" here literally means "to make big." It's not "I" am being made big, but "the Lord" is being made big.  In the life of a person who tries and tries to make "the I" big, the important thing will be the realization of his or her own wants and wishes.  But in the life of a person where the Lord is made big and is worshipped, the most necessary thing is to see the will of the Lord come to realization.  If Mary could only be happy in the actualization of her own will, they would not have called her a blessed person in this passage. But, she wasn't like that.  She said to the angel:  "The Lord is looking down towards me.  May it be upon this person just as you stated," (verse 38).  What made up the emphasis of her thoughts was that God's purpose and plan "be upon this person" and that God's will was coming to realization through Mary.  This is what worshipping God actually is. This is what worshipping God actually is because it is not easy to be a person in submission [especially in her case] when she was able to accept the angel's announcement and when she was able to accept the harsh reality into her life.  No, it wasn't easy and comfortable, but it stems from her having come to the point of worshipping God.

Pulling The Curtain Open On A New Day

9.  So, why had Mary come to the point of worshipping God amidst this harsh reality?  "I am low in social status and the Lord looking down rested his eye upon me," (verse 48).  Here the reason is made plain.  As we take a glance in the verses that come after verse fifty and so on the words that follow seem to have some kind of flavor as "a song for a revolution."  As we read this it doesn't appear to be saying that Mary is only "worshipping God because God fixed his eye on me."  The event which happened to Mary did not stop with only Mary and her individual person.

10.  The common sense of this world thinks that if the messiah is a true king he will be born from the nobility or high class stock.  But this story of the announcement of the conception overturns this common sense.  The angel announced that the messiah is to be born from Mary who calls herself "a person of lowly social status."  The beginning of a world turned around is depicted by this.  It means a new world has been inaugurated in a decisive way, a world which does not make use of a human centered worldly common sense.  Through the nativity of Christ we are informed that in the midst of this human centered world a new society has started, a world that people have not had as their focus, a world of God that God rules over.

11.  The way Christ was born points to the way this world of God has begun.  The One who is the true king was lying asleep in a dirty manger in a stable for animals.  The One who is the true king is not like a ruler, but has revealed himself as a servant.  The true king did not go to Jerusalem to receive glory for himself, instead he went to Jerusalem to hang on a cross.  The true king was buried in a tomb as a sinner alone. But on the other side of it all the light of the resurrection and the light of the world where eternal life rules has shined.  The Lord has made us see a world that he has turned around.  Furthermore, he has shown us that this very world which he has turned around is an eternal one.

12.  A decisive work of God has begun out of the event of that first Christmas.  Furthermore, at the end there will be nothing left of a world ruled by humans or a world that humans make as their central focus.  The rule of God will be perfectly complete.  What's left at the end is God's world.  What's left at the end is not the realization of human wants and wishes but the fulfillment of the will of God.  Those who only see a world where people rule think that "power and wealth have the last say so."  This generation works recklessly like daredevils looking for power and wealth. That's how it seems even in our puny little lives.  With the power to be able to freely do as we please around us, we work with all we got seeking whatever will give us support.  Because of that type of world, this world is loaded over with misfortune and misery.  But in midst of such a world Mary inaugurates in the birth of Christ and turns her eye to the rule of God which he will perfect before too long.  She was turning her eye on the eternal rule of God and the kingdom of the eternal God.  Therefore, she continued on with her song in the following manner:  "His name will guide, his mercy is unlimited for generations and will extend to persons who fear the Lord.  The Lord will wield his power based on the above, he will knock down the high-minded, he will pull the ruling authorities off their seats and will raise high those of lowly social status, he will fill with good things the hungry and chase back as the sky those who are wealthy," (vv. 49-53).  In God's kingdom what has meaning in the end is under God's authority and power and there is no human authority over power nor wealth.  One day soon God will knock to dust at last human luxury and haughtiness.

13.  The lowly will be elevated by God, the poor and the hungry will be filled with good things.  But, what is written in verses fifty-two and three should not be understood as merely economical.  If a person humbles himself before the Lord, even though he is rich and then he comes to economic poverty he still has so much to be proud of in the sight of the Lord.  Mary went on and sang about Abraham and his descendants, that is, the people of faith.  "You have received that servant of God  Israel and not forgotten your mercy just as you said to our ancestors Abraham and his descendants forever."  In short, this is not merely a song of social revolution.  Mary's singing is a matter of faith holding on.  So, in verse fifty the following goes recorded.  "His compassion is unlimited for generations and extends to those who fear the Lord."  Fearing the Lord is when we live knowing that we are humans and God is God.  In other words, we live remembering that God is the center and we live as worshippers of God.  Without respecting God as God and only thinking of God as a god for humankind's purposes the conceited person who thinks that in the end his life and this world will be satisfied through might and money will soon be completely overthrown.  That's what is being sung about here.

14.  While Mary, who was notified of Christ's conception, continues to direct her eye to the rule of God which begins from that point, she worships God and extols God in praise.  We as well should direct our thoughts to God's rule and kingdom during this time of trying to celebrate the nativity of his son.  Since then until today God is advancing his plan of salvation to completion even in this world, in this world which is mastered by misery because it is a world centered on human emphases.  Soon God's rule will be perfected.  If that's so, the important thing is not the fulfillment of our small wants, but that through our small selves the great deeds of God come to fulfillment.  We can't help but bare the fact there can be no choice for us.  However, we don't need to live as an unhappy person burdened with an unhappy destiny.  We want to sing joining voices with Mary and believe that God is advancing his deeds through us.  "My soul worships the Lord, and my spirit extols joyfully God, my savior." Amen.

 
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