(3) “My Soul Glorifies the Lord” (Luke 1:39-56)
As quickly as he had appeared, the angel GabrieI
was gone again, and Mary was left with her thoughts. She had experienced a union
with the Eternal that the children of Adam had never known. The world around her
had not changed, but she certainly had — her own body was witness to the
Or had it all been a dream? How would she cling
to the reality of that wonderful visitation? How would she face the trials that
were sure to come? With whom could she confide her joys and her
What had Gabriel said? Oh, yes! “Even
Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age” (Luke
1:36). There was the key. If Mary could only go to the home of Elizabeth, she
would see for herself a confirmation of the angel’s word. And she would
find another soul attuned to the Divine message of redemption, one who could
share with her the strange and mystifying privilege which had fallen to her
“Mary got ready and hurried to a town in
the hill country of Judea” (v. 39).
The hill country of Judah was the tableland to
the south and southwest of Jerusalem, centered about Hebron. Hebron may have
been the city of Zechariah and Elizabeth. But some other, unnamed, village in
this area might have been their home.
It would have been an unusual trip for a
just-betrothed young woman to undertake, and it would naturally arouse the
curiosity of the townsfolk of Nazareth. After she returned three months later
(v. 56) Mary’s condition would no longer be concealed, and the flickering
curiosity would be fanned into a fire of suspicion and denunciation.
“She entered Zechariah's home and
greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her
womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (vv. 40,41).
The quickening of the child was overdue, and
Elizabeth may have been waiting some weeks for this sign of life in the fetus.
It would be a joy all by itself to have this reassurance of health in the unborn
child. But there was more... much more. Though still in the womb, John was
testifying to the coming of the Messiah. He had begun his life’s work even
before he was born, surely a unique start to a unique career. By inspiration of
the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth knew the meaning of her son’s quickening, and
also the purpose of Mary’s visit. She gave voice to her joy in a brief
song of welcome:
“Blessed are you among women, and
blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of
my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my
ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that
what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” (vv.
Her first words (v. 42) were an independent
confirmation of Gabriel’s message to Mary (v. 28). Her next words extended
the blessing to that mysterious wisp of life that now clung to Mary’s
womb. And what a blessing it was! “Great” as Elizabeth’s own
son was destined to be (v. 15), Mary’s son would be greater yet. The
phrase “my Lord” (v. 43) can be interpreted in no other way than as
a profession of the Divine Sonship of Jesus.
Finally, as though to allay the fears that
naturally crept into Mary’s mind, Elizabeth assures her young cousin:
‘You have believed thus far, and see how God has blessed you. Do not doubt
for a moment that the Father of your child will continue to perform His
promise’ (see v. 45).
The song of Mary
And so Mary receives the “earnest” of
hope from the lips of Elizabeth. Now the younger woman expresses her happiness
in a profound prayer and song. She displays a keen spiritual mind, with a
breadth of Scriptural knowledge nothing short of astounding for a young woman in
her teens, as Mary most likely was. In the scope of one short song (vv. 46-55)
she quotes from at least nine separate books. Especially does she recall the
words of Hannah (1 Sam. 2:1-10), who rejoiced at the gift of a special son
destined to fulfill God’s promise.
V. 46: “My soul glorifies...” or
“doth magnify the Lord” (KJV).
This phrase supplies the popular title to
Mary’s song: “The Magnificat”. Mary’s words are drawn
from the psalms: “My soul will boast in the LORD; let the afflicted hear
and rejoice. Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together”
(34:2,3). This is from a psalm in which David praises God for His overshadowing
protection. Even when His children are afflicted (v. 19) God’s angel
encamps around them, to deliver them (v. 7).
And, “But may all who seek you rejoice and
be glad in you; may those who love your salvation always say, ‘The LORD be
exalted!’ ” (40:16). In this psalm David has spoken prophetically of
a greater who would “come” (v. 7), of whom the “scroll”
contained wonderful promises, whose heart would be filled with delight for the
law of God (v. 8). Mary carried within her womb that special One, in whose mind
the law would be engraved, one whose every action would “magnify”
his Heavenly Father.
V. 47: “My spirit rejoices in God my
Mary already appreciates the significance of her
son’s name: Jesus, “Yah-shua”, “God my Savior”.
“My soul will rejoice in the LORD and delight in his salvation
(yeshua)” (Psa. 35:9). “Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be
joyful in God my Savior” (Hab. 3: 18).
V. 48: “For he has been mindful of the
humble state (lit. “humiliation”) of his servant. From now on all
generations will call me blessed.”
Mary’s home in Nazareth was humble, and her
family was poor. Her lineage, from great king David, was exalted; yet in
Roman-occupied Palestine this was of no consequence.
David’s house had sunk to the low estate
that Isaiah envisioned, when he prophesied that a special “Shoot” or
“Branch” would spring from the “stump” or
“root” of Jesse (11:1). The “root” was Jesse, not David,
his famous son. Thus Isaiah indicates that David’s house would have fallen
into obscurity, as it had been when David himself, the youngest and least likely
of Jesse’s sons, was chosen and anointed by Samuel (1 Sam.
The “cross” that Mary was called to
bear, with this unexpected and inexplicable pregnancy, would bring her a great
“humiliation” — a humiliation that would climax when a
“sword” would pierce her own soul (Luke 2:35), and her son, great
David’s heir, would be exposed to a cruel, mocking crucifixion. But she
was strengthened with the blessed assurance that the “cursing” was
for only one lifetime, and that all generations to follow would
“bless” both her and her son.
Mary’s prophecy has been wonderfully
fulfilled, even though sometimes in superstition and ignorance. One might even
suggest it has been “over-fulfilled”, since millions of deluded
“followers” have elevated the peasant girl of Galilee to a status
that would horrify her if she only knew: “Mother of God” and
“Queen of Heaven”! True believers will of course repudiate such
wrong teaching, while at the same time not losing sight of the real Mary,
blessed above all women. Mary was not a Roman Catholic “saint”, but
she was a righteous woman chosen by God for a glorious role.
V. 49: “The Mighty One has done great
things for me.”
“The Mighty One” echoes the Old
Testament title of God, El Gibbor, picturing God as a mighty warrior. It appears
to be an odd title to use in the circumstances, until it is remembered that
Mary’s son would be the “arm” of Yahweh (v. 51) to do battle
with the forces of sin, first in himself, and then in the world when he comes to
take his throne.
Vv. 49, 50: “Holy is His name” ...
and yet, “His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to
Mary recognized God as being unique and separate,
the epitome of all righteousness (Psa. 99:3; Exod. 15:11; Isa. 6:3; 1 Sam. 2:2),
so pure that He cannot behold sin (Hab. 1:13; Psa. 5:4). Yet blended with that
awesome holiness she also saw an abounding mercy, “from generation to
generation”, a mercy that does not reward us according to our sins (Psa.
103:10,11), but instead provides us with the perfect covering for our
V. 51: “He has performed mighty deeds
with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost
The militant character of God is still in
Mary’s thoughts. This expression recalls the redemption of Israel from
Egypt, memorialized in Moses’ song of victory (Exod. 15:6,7,12,13). Mary
has faith that God will deliver His people from a greater bondage than Egyptian
slavery — not from subjection to Rome, though that will be accomplished
also, but primarily and especially from servitude to sin and death: “For
Christ our passover has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7).
V. 52: “He has brought down rulers from
their thrones but has lifted up the humble.”
Her son’s contemporaries would revile him,
persecute him, and scoff at all he held most precious. His followers would be
“everywhere spoken against”. The proclamation of the cross would
appear weak and foolish to worldly men (1 Cor. 1:18-29), but one day the tables
would be turned.
One day the “poor” will be made rich,
and they that “hunger” after righteousness will be filled (v. 53;
Matt. 5:6). One day the meek will and inherit the earth (5:5). And one day those
who have humbled themselves under the mighty hand of God will be exalted by His
grace (1 Pet. 5:6).
Vv. 54, 55: “He has helped his servant
Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even
as he said to our fathers.”
That seed can be considered both individually and
collectively. Individually, Abraham’s seed of promise was Jesus (Matt.
1:1). In his life and death the eternal covenant found confirmation, and in his
coming Kingdom it will find fulfillment. In embracing the hope of Abraham we
become his collective “seed”. We lay our hands on eternal things,
and we set our eyes on a city which is built by God. Such is the glorious
consummation that will yet proceed from that tiny life once nourished in the
young woman of Nazareth.
No ordinary woman
She was no ordinary woman, and yet in some ways
she was quite ordinary. And there is the exhortation. She did not know she was
someone special until that day Gabriel brought his message, and she set off on a
long journey, a journey to Judah and back, to Bethlehem and Egypt, to Nazareth
yet again, and finally — over 30 years later — to a hill outside
Jerusalem, where her heart would be broken. But until that fateful day of the
angel’s revelation, Mary’s life had only been one of...
But her waiting had consisted of reading,
meditation, service, worship and prayer. She had laid herself at the throne of
God. She had waited. And then, as the Almighty cast about for an instrument to
fulfill His purpose, a “vessel” fit for His hand, she was there. She
was ready, as best she could make herself, and she was willing to be used. An
ordinary girl? Yes, but at the same time a very extraordinary girl. Are we
ordinary, or are we special ?
There were no “kings” in Nazareth, no
generals, no great scholars, just ordinary people like you and me. God chose
them, as He chooses us, investing the ordinary with great holiness, so that no
flesh should boast in His presence.
The angel spoke to Mary, but he also speaks to
us: “You have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30). Almost before we
asked, even though we do not deserve it, we have found favor with God. Not even
a sparrow falls to the ground unnoticed by God, and we, His children, we are
worth many sparrows (Matt. 10:29, 31).
It is not difficult to believe that God exists.
But sometimes it is difficult to believe that He takes personal notice of
“little people”, that He takes time off from balancing the stars of
heaven and directing the course of nations to care for every one of us poor,
weak, common creatures. The story of Mary should be a gentle reminder that no
one is too small or insignificant for God’s notice, if he or she has
“Mary abode with Elizabeth for about
three months, and then returned home” (Luke 1:56).
She had received a wonderful blessing, but her
path through life had become infinitely more difficult. She would discover just
how difficult when she returned to Nazareth.