The Magnificat: The Power of Mary’s Choice
By the Rev. Sunil Chandy
Today in the Gospel of Luke we hear the story of Mary the mother of Jesus meeting her cousin Elizabeth. She sings one the most beloved hymns in Christendom, “the Magnificat.” What Advent Season would be complete with out the Magnificat? Lets look at this ancient Christian hymn or canticle and understand the powerful effect of the choices of Mary and how these choices affects us today.
The Magnificat , also known as the Song of Mary, comes from the first word of the Latin version of the canticle's text – Magnificat anima mea, Dominum --(My soul doth magnify the Lord).
In our Anglican tradition this canticle is usually sung or recited during the main evening prayer service, Evensong—And occasionally at Holy Eucharist as it was today- sung by our choir so beautifully!
In the first part of the hymn, Mary the future mother of Jesus -declares her gratefulness to God for choosing her to be the mother of the savior.
The 2nd half of the song expresses the thanksgiving of the nation. God is the powerful one who has destroyed the enemies, scattered the proud, and reduced the rich. The lowly he has exalted, and she declares that he will remember his promises to Israel.
The Magnificat stands as a powerful testament of the faith.
Mary’s faith is deep but we need to look closer in the Gospel of Luke to understand how deep it is.
Luke’s Gospel decribes the meeting of Mary and her cousin Elizabeth. Earlier in the Gospel we learn that Elizabeth much older than Mary- and well past child bearing age. Yet as Mary meets Elizabeth we understand that her condition is also the result of a miraculous pregnancy. Her child would one day grow to become John the Baptist.
And as the two cousins meet, Luke describes that Elizabeth’s unborn child moves within her womb. Elizabeth praises Mary for her faith, Mary’s response is the Magnificat.
I love this wonderful picture that Luke paints for us…but this beautiful Christmas card word image may masks the danger and uncertainty that Mary must have been feeling.
Yes there was danger for Mary. She is a teenager and unmarried in the small community of Nazareth- and unlike our own, in her community, women were stoned for committing adultery. In Mary’s birth community one’s behaviors directly impacted the status and perception of the family. There were enormous pressures to make sure that unwanted behaviors and mistakes don’t occur. And though Scripture and the church believes that the pregnancy was the result of God’s miraculous intervention, the people of Mary’s community would not know. So the teen would be hard pressed to explain her situation.
So she was in danger. This might explain why she leaves her community of Nazareth and travels over 80 miles to see her cousin in Judah. I can only image the worry and anxiety she must have been going through. Questioning herself and wondering what to do? It is in the midst of her worry that she reaffirms her course of action. She will believe in God and She will have the baby and will raise it faithfully!
And as she meets Elizabeth - who is also in midst own unexpected pregnancy. She is greeted with affirmation, welcome and love. These two women live in the midst of life that is filled with harsh realities and yet they dare to believe… and have hope---in a God who can do marvelous things even when circumstances suggest otherwise.
This hope that she passes on to her unborn child.
Imagine Mary singing this lovely Magnificat canticle as a lullaby to her child! Imagine how that lullaby, and the choice of Mary to have a hopeful and faithful attitude might influence and nurture the faith life of that child. And imagine it is God that uses that child borne of unexpected and inconvenient circumstances to change the way we see God and the world.
Yes the story of the young Mary is a powerful one for us as well to struggle with our own lives, and sometimes our lives are filled with harsh realities, and it may seem easier for us to lose faith. It might seem easy for us to see only the problems of life, it would be easy for us to loose sight of our faith.
This is why Mary and her choice is powerful! The simple and wonderful faith of that teenage girl shows us that we too can have faith in a God! And as we have faith, we too can give birth to the Kingdom of God in our lives and in the world!