If you ever watch the program ‘Britain’s Got Talent’, you see and hear sometimes a young girl or boy singing with a voice that you never expected to come out of such a young person. A voice that leaves even Simon Cowell speechless; mature, powerful, filled with emotions that could normally only come from a man or woman with life experience.
It’s a bit like that in our New Testament reading. Its words come from the young Jewish girl Mary, but the words with which she expresses herself are immensely powerful; words that come out of her soul; words that spell out the essence of who God is: mighty, holy, filled by His mercy.
It is Mary’s Magnificat. She begins with magnifying the Lord, as her Saviour, how He has done great things for her, but then she moves away from herself. There is shift of focus from the personal to those who fear Him. Her view broadens as she draws into her song, God’s way, God’s history with the whole of Israel
And so Mary’s song works like a stone that is thrown into a pond, creating circles that become bigger. Mary’s song begins as a song that proclaims and celebrates God as the Saviour in her life, after which she moves to all the people of Israel, to whom she belongs, as they all, like Mary, have experienced Him as their Saviour.
Hymns in which God’s might, holiness and mercy are praised have been sung by more women, long before Mary, who all have experienced that God turned His words into deeds.
Miriam, the sister of Moses, the judge Deborah, and Hanna, the mother of Samuel. They are all Old Testament women who have done what Mary does, generations before her, each from within their time and circumstances.
In the book of Judges, Deborah the judge, sings
“That the leaders took the lead in Israel,
that the people offered themselves willingly,
bless the Lord!
“Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes;
to the Lord I will sing;
I will make melody to the Lord, the God of Israel”
Hannah, after leaving her little boy Samuel in the Temple and so kept her promise to God that she would give her son back to Him, sings:
‘My heart exults in the Lord, my strength is exalted in the Lord. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation’.
And Miriam, Moses sister, when Israel had crossed the Red Sea after which their enemies, Pharaoh and his men drowned, Miriam sang with all the women,
‘Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously’
Miriam and Mary. There is this close connection between their names. But that connection signifies so much more as both stand within the salvation story, in which we also have been given our place.
All those inspiring forces from the past are mobilised and channelled into Mary’s hymn of praise.
The voices from women of Israel. Israel, the people with whom God chose to have this unique partnership. But from that partnership all the nations in the world were to be blessed, through the covenant, that God made with Abraham. And that is why Mary concludes her song with him, Abraham. The intimacy between God and Israel has its root in how God spoke to Abraham and from then to Abraham’s offspring. And because of that special and intimate bond, Israel belongs to no other god than to the God of Abraham.
That is why Israel is so often called virgin.
‘Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel ‘(Jeremiah 31:4)
‘She despises you, she scorns you, the virgin daughter of Zion’ (2 Kings 19:21)
As the mother of God’s Son, Mary represents this virgin Israel; and so she belongs first to God only. And from this virgin, Jesus Christ was born, out of God’s will, not out of procreation but from His visit to Mary, God’s Son was born.
Out of Israel. And so,only so; only in this way; the way of God, salvation came from the Jews.
It may feel bittersweet, to focus on Mary’s words that express her awe and wonder about God, while we aren’t allowed to sing the words of the song that we would have sung,
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord!
Unnumbered blessings give my spirit voice;
Tender to me the promise of his word;
In God my Savior shall my heart rejoice
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of his Name!
Make known his might, the deeds his arm has done;
His mercy sure, from age to age to same;
His holy Name–the Lord, the Mighty One
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of his might!
Powers and dominions lay their glory by
Proud hearts and stubborn wills are put to flight
The hungry fed, the humble lifted high
Tell out, my soul, the glories of his word!
Firm is his promise, and his mercy sure
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord
To children’s children and for evermore!
Our reading says: Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord’. And magnifying the Lord can of course be done with loud voices. That is what we want through singing, it’s what we long to do. And we will again, but meanwhile, be comforted. Remember that the One to whom our praise is addressed; the One in whom we have faith, He doesn’t mind whether we express ourselves loudly or quietly in our hearts. He doesn’t hear or see us better, when we are loud.
The way we in which praise, in which we confess our faith in Him..it may well be more important to ourselves than to God. What matters for Him is that we do it, in the church, outside the church, in our homes, outside, loud or quiet, singing or just saying. What counts for Him is what is really there in our hearts; what He finds there, within us.
Human nature doesn’t allow much for being humble. Naturally, that’s not what we choose to be. Yes, we are willing when it’s not too costly, when it doesn’t touch our pride too much, when it doesn’t last too long. We don’t want to be left the darkness that, we feel, comes with dependence. We want the opposite: the light of our independence, our strength, our control.
But that is not state that Mary is in when she magnifies the Lord. That is not the light in which Mary stands when she says the words, ‘Let it be to me according to Your Word.’ When she says those words, she finds herself standing in the light of God’s grace. Maybe, realizing that, letting that sink in more, we may be drawn more into that state of humility.
It’s the state that God chose for Himself, when for Him the time was right to reveal Himself as He did: humble, in the vulnerability of a new born baby.
God’s choice to show His face in His own Son Jesus Christ, His choice for the humility that comes with love, which is patient, kind, which doesn’t envy or boast, is not arrogant or rude.
Let God’s choice for love be our choice too.
After all, we have been created by Him, in His image…