Magnificat Anima Mea Dominum: My Soul Magnifies the Lord [Devotion]
In Luke chapter one we find most of what we consider to be the Christmas story. It is also where we find a beautiful song of praise sung by Mary known as the Magnificat.
46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
(The Getty’s have a beautiful song that sets the Magnificat to music check it out here)
One thing I want to zero in on is at the beginning of verse 41, “And Mary said…“ I know it might seem insignificant but what it reminds us is that the Bible isn’t just recording this song of praise. God is recording Mary’s response to something. Now I just sort of assumed that she was responding to the visit of the Angel to announce the birth of Christ. But it’s not. To see what Mary is responding to let’s go back to what she’s not responding too… the Annunciation.
In verses 26-38 we watch as Jewish peasant girl’s world is turned upside down in a moment that is still remembered over two thousand years later. Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel and is told that despite being a virgin she is about to be expecting a child and on top of that the child will be the Son of God, the Savior of the World. Shocking news, to say the least, for obvious reasons. But the angel says, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God."
If we’re being honest it probably didn’t feel like favor. In Jewish custom at the time a couple would be betrothed for a year before actually living together and consummating the marriage. But in the culture of the first century betrothal was legally marriage (hence the reason that Joseph would have had to divorce her if he wanted to end the betrothal). So Mary is about to be pregnant in a time where she shouldn’t be pregnant because she shouldn’t be sleeping with her husband yet (or anyone else for that matter) and yet at the same time because she is legally married, if her husband didn’t claim the child as his own, he could have her stoned for committing adultery. In addition to that the story she has to explain herself is the type that no one will believe. We see how God would work out the circumstances to convince Joseph she was telling the truth. But from where Mary stood on that fateful day everything certain in the world had just shattered. And yet she replies “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Mary knows what she has been chosen for is not going to be easy it will be the hardest thing she would ever do (other than perhaps watch that beloved Son die) and yet she responds in humble obedience.
Yet this is not the moment of praise. This is not when she sings. Instead she, “arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah…” It’s interesting to me that the Lord prompted Luke to include the detail that she went in haste. We don’t know exactly how her visit to her cousin Elizabeth (wife of Zechariah) came about but I can imagine her just needing to get away from everything. Needing time to think about and process the information and emotions. Perhaps she wanted advice from her cousin-in-law the priest Zechariah. Maybe it was to see for herself what the angel had told her, that Elizabeth was with child. Whichever of these or other reasons she had she would have been traveling with a lot on her mind as she tried to understand what she was about to go through.
Then she arrives at Zechariah’s house and she, “…greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord’“
And… Mary… said…
Here, in response to this declaration from Elizabeth, Mary’s soul sings for joy and magnifies the Lord. One can only imagine that as she hears Elizabeth speak by the Holy Spirit that the fears and uncertainties slide away in this beautiful confirmation of what the Lord is doing. And so she sings. In response to the confirmation and blessing of Elizabeth she praises God taking comfort in who He is.
No matter what difficulties God has called us to may we remember that He calls those who have found favor to go through difficult things as part of His plan for their lives and the lives of those around them. And we can take comfort that Mary, like us, was not perfect. In the Magnificat itself we see her refer to God as her Savior, an acknowledgement of her need for redemption and God’s role as her redeemer. Even though we may not be perfect we must remember that when we respond in humble obedience to His call that He will provide the strength we need to follow Him through whatever He has called us to.
I admit that here on the cusp of the new year my knees buckle as I look at what’s ahead. But I will follow God in humble obedience, knowing that He is faithful even when I am faithless and that nothing can snatch me out of His hand. This earth is fleeting and it’s problems soon gone. But I will rejoice in eternity with my King, my God.
My soul magnifies the Lord.