Skip to comments.Mary's Magnificat: Beautiful and Theologically Profound (Protestant Caucus)
Posted on 12/02/2010 3:30:00 PM PST by Gamecock
In The Incarnation in the Gospels (P&R Publishing, October 2008) coauthor Philip G. Ryken calls Marys Magnificat the first of four nativity hymns in Lukes Gospel. The other hymns, he tells readers, are Zechariahs Benedictus, the angels Gloria, and Simeons Nunc Dimittis.
Quoting author and theologian Graham Scroggie, Ryken identifies these songs as the last of the Hebrew psalms, and the first of the Christian hymns. They appear only in Luke because, Ryken suggests, Luke understood that the gospel is and must be a musical. It is not enough simply to say what God has done to save us, he writes. What He has done needs to be celebrated in song.
In this four-part series, The First Songs of Christmas, byFaith speaks with Ryken about the insights we can glean from the very first Christian hymns. In part one, we explore how Mary, a young girl, could have composed something so beautiful and theologically profound as the Magnificat.
Marys Magnificat is a sophisticated piece of poetry. You point out that there are echoes from Hannah [Samuels mother] in it, and that it either quotes or alludes to verses from 11 books of the Old Testament. How does a young girl extemporaneously compose something so complex?
Reading the Magnificat, you cant help but come away with an enormous appreciation for Marys maturity. In this song, we get a sense of her insight into spiritual matters and we hear her joy in the Lord. But more than that, theres something of Marys character reflected in this song. You not only see an intimate relationship with the Lord, but an almost inexplicable capacity for putting it into words.
How did she do this? The first thing we need to remember is the role of the Holy Spirit in inspiration. Ultimately these arent merely the words of Mary, but the words of God. Which, of course, makes us wonder how God worked in Marys life: How, in His sovereignty, did He produce this kind of worship in someone so young?
One of the unavoidable conclusions, I think, is that Mary was raised in the Scriptures. I have to believe that Scripture reading was part-and-parcel of her family lifethat she memorized portions of Scripture, and used them regularly in some sort of personal devotion.
When you look at how Marys song is organized it reminds me of a patchwork quilt, the kind that takes persistence to create, that requires familiarity with the fabrics, years of experience, and a thorough knowledge of how, exactly, these disparate materials can be stitched to form a beautiful pattern. This song is like scraps of fabric brought together from various places in the Old Testament. Its fabric Mary knows, fabric shes worked with many times beforeand with it, she produces something beautiful.
In the Magnificat Mary is magnifying the Lord. It is a song of gospel joy but she doesnt mention Jesus by name. Why do you suppose that is?
We need to understand Marys words in the context of the announcement that she has heard. Her song, everything she says in these verses, has to be understood in the context of Messianic expectation, and of her obedience to the Lord.
To magnify means to enlarge, and thats what Mary wants to doenlarge her vision of God. Therefore, she broadens her song, focusing first on what God is doing in her life, and then to the broader purposes of redemption.
In this song we see some of what the Christ will accomplish through His kingship. We hear Mary worship His power, she makes reference to His holiness, she expresses an awareness of His mercy for sinners, and she praises His faithfulness . We see that she, when confronted with what God is doing in the world, cant stay focused on her personal circumstances. As she begins to grasp how God will work through the birth of this child, she has to rejoice in His character.
Theres also a sense of deliverance in this song, a sense of God lifting the humble. As she composes this song, Marys aware that shes a nobody; she knows shes a sinner. Thats why she praises God as her Savior. Though none of us will have an experience like Marys, ultimately, God worked in her life the same way He works in ours. He exalts the humble, He does great things for those who honor Him, He shows mercy to those who fear Him. And so theres a strong flavor of deliverance in Marys song, a sense that God will bring in a new era of salvation.
In the second half of Marys song you point out that the personal becomes national and international. What do you mean by that? And why is it central to the Christmas story?
In the opening verses Mary speaks personally: My spirit rejoices in God my Savior. My soul magnifies the Lord. She talks about how God looks on the humble estate of His servant, and how all generations will call herpersonallyblessed.
Its always appropriate to be grateful to God for what He has done in our lives but, when we view His work from too narrow a perspective, our gratitude can become self-indulgent or even prideful. Mary doesnt make that mistake. She recognizes what God has done in her life, but then she broadens her view, she sees that this mercy is not just for me; it is a mercy for many. She expands from the personal outwardto the community of faith, to those who, with her, fear the Lord.
In [Luke 1] verse 50 she shifts to, His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation. This language of generation to generation is Old Testament language for the people of God, for the communion of saints from one generation to the next. Theres a breadth of vision here. Mary goes beyond what God is doing in her life, and sees that its a part of what God is doing in the world.
If we think about our own experienceabout how we praise God for the Incarnationwe want to do the same. We want to recognize what God has done for us, but we want to see the big picture, too. We want to see the coming of His kingdom and the great reversalof how Christ will humble the pride of intellect and humble the pride of position and humble the pride of wealth .
Mary understood that Christ would turn things upside down. She knew, somehow, that Christ would exalt the humble servant who does His will, and that Hed humble the proud who refuse to acknowledge their need for God. This has to be part of the Christmas story, because its a part of why Christ came.
Mary is able to see the personal implications of Gods grace, but she also sees the communal implications. Its a model for our own praise and meditation on the true meaning of Christmas.
In the next installment, we discuss Luke 1: 68-79, Zechariahs Benedictus.
Ryken has published more than 30 books, including The Message of Salvation (InterVarsity, 2001); City on a Hill: Recovering the Biblical Pattern for the Church in the 21st Century (Moody Press, 2003); Ryken's Bible Handbook, with Leland Ryken and Jim Wilhoit (Tyndale, 2005); Art for God's Sake: A Call to Recover the Arts (P&R, 2006); and expository commentaries on Exodus, Jeremiah, Luke, and other books of the Bible.
In the next installment, we discuss Luke 1: 68-79, Zechariahs Benedictus.
Please post this, too, when it shows up.
"Now may thy servant, Lord
According to thy word..."
“Which, of course, makes us wonder how God worked in Marys life:.....”
The same way God inspired Isiah to write about the Suffering Servant some 6 centuries before it actually happened. God’s ways are not our ways, thank God.
Isiah must have scratched his head in utter disbelief after reading what he wrote. And that goes with all the prophets.
I love the magnificat ..it is a song that all the saved are be able to sing
Luke 1:46 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.
Amen. As Mary states: My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
Yet, it is interesting that twelve years later we find the following:
Good point Harley!
We see the same throughout Scripture.
All sorts of folk encounter God and they just don’t get who He is.
You are, of course, right.
Ryken knows that too.
But God works in each of us in a different way, each of us will have a different story. I suspect that is what the Ryken is wondering about.
Mary knew she was a sinner (not sinless) and needed a Savior. Moreover, I believe, she understood from the angels saying that the baby she bore was that Savior.
Those who say she was sinless should take another look at this verse.
Well, quite frankly, how could she understand what He meant by “And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?
“? Remember also that the Jewish idea of a messiah or savior was not completely clear and Mary being a monotheist may not have completely understood what Jesus meant by “my Father’s business” — it’s a difficult enough concept for people these days to grasp!
You raise a very interesting question. I believe she probably thought Jesus was either a prophet, or the Jewish understanding of their Messiah (never thinking this was actually God). In the Jewish thinking their Messiah would come and immediately vanquish all of Israel's enemies and establish the Kingdom. No one had any idea that a spiritual reconciliation would occur first.
Her actions say just the opposite. She rebuked Jesus when he stayed at the Temple. She was confused when Jesus said why He stayed at the Temple. She tried to control Him when she told Him to turn the water into wine. She came with His brothers to take Him home because she thought He was crazy. These are not the actions of someone who believes Jesus is not only the Messiah, but the Son of God.
Your comments only prove what I was saying that she was Not sinless and Not that she recognized her Savior.
I agree ! All throughout the OT God reveals the Savior, and that He will save men from their sins.. not there political situation.. But Jews had their eyes darkened and they could not even understand their own prophecies.
I think the fact that mary knew the scriptures well and yet did not grasp the full meaning of them shows she was, like all men, before we are saved, walking in spiritual darkness..
The Jews were looking for a political savior, not a Savior of their souls , even the apostles did not fully grasp the truth of that when they were called.
Like most unsaved men they thought they did not need a spiritual savior
I love Simeon’s song as well. We named our son after him.