And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.Luke 1:46-56, ESV
This is Mary’s song of praise, often called the “Magnificat”, was directed to God after her faith is strengthened with the testimony of Elizabeth. Her cousin was barren, but with God nothing is impossible. Everything Gabriel told her was true and her faith in God was deepening as a result. Mary burst into praise and out of her flowed this beautiful new song about the marvelous things God has done and will do (Psalm 98:1).
Mary’s song of praise was new, but it was new in the sense that her lyrics were applications and allusions to the inspired praises in the Psalms. She had not created something “ex nihilo” (out of nothing), no that is not her place nor ours. The Psalms were deeply woven into her heart and they came alive in fresh new ways because of her experience with God. It is in this way that her song was simultaneously new and old. Mary’s Magnificat deserves a lot of attention, but for now, let’s identify some of the Old Testament references she drew upon to express her rejoicing in God her Saviour.
Mary’s Motherly Figure
The opening lines of Mary’s song remind us of Hannah, a godly woman who became a mother after waiting and praying for God to bless her. It looks like Hannah was a mother figure in the Scripture that Mary had paid special attention to. Let’s compare Mary’s Magnifcat to Hannah’s words in 1 Samuel.
And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden:Luke 1:46-48, ESV
And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”1 Samuel 1:11, ESV
And Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the Lord; my horn is exalted in the Lord. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation.1 Samuel 2:1, ESV
Mary uses the phrase “handmaiden” in reference to her relationship with God like Hannah used the term “servant” to describe her relationship with God. The two words of identification used between Mary and Hannah are synonyms. Mary sees herself in a long line of gold women who view themselves to be God’s servants. This servitude isn’t bondage. This is a joyful and liberating service that is offered to their Benevolent Redeemer. Their lives are full of troubles and heartbreaks, but their God is faithful and in control.
What is your view of self in relationship with God? There is a tendency in our fallen condition toward extremes. Two unhealthy extremes that we must avoid in our view of self in relationship with God are self-righteousness and self-loathing. The first, self-righteousness, is often a result of having a low view of God and a high view of self, The second, self-loathing, is often a result of having a low view of self and a low view of God. In these terms the solution can seem simple, we must therefore have a high view of God and a low view of self. How will we find that healthy view of self in relationship with God?
Mary and Hannah are both excellent teachers for us on this topic. We can begin to find our identity as worshippers of God. To be a worshipper of God is far more than singing a song, praying a prayer, and listening to a homily. It’s true that singing, praying, and listening to the Word taught are acts of worship but a worshipper is someone who lives their life “Coram Deo”. Coram Deo is a Latin phrase that means living before the face of God. True worshippers do more than acts of worship because they know God is always watching, listening, and present. True worshippers organize their lives differently because of this belief. Hannah and Mary both were true worshippers who joyfully considered themselves to be servants of God. We ought to learn to be so wise. Allowing our doctrinal beliefs to saturate our minds so that our perspectives are thoroughly God-centered. That God-centeredness will not be a magic pill to once and for all cure self-righteousness or self-loathing, but it will be like a medicine for the Holy Spirit as He conforms us into the Image of the Son of God.