George Booker
To Us A Child Is Born

(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 change.

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 fears?

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 lot.

“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. 42-45).

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 Savior.”

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. 18:18,23).

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 generation.”

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 sins.

V. 51: “He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.”

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... waiting.

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 faith.

“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.

Next Next Next