A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.” Mary responded, “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me. He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him. His mighty arm has done tremendous things! He has scattered the proud and haughty ones. He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands. He has helped his servant Israel and remembered to be merciful. For he made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his children forever.” Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then went back to her own home.
Mary’s song of praise is often called the Magnificat because that is it’s first word in Latin. It is one of the most famous songs in Christianity. It is recited at our own Anglican evening prayer services, chanted in Cathedrals and has been set to great works of music by the likes of Bach and Rachmaninoff.
It is the good news of the Gospel before it was written, before Easter, before the Cross, before even Bethlehem. It is all about God and His plan for a Great Reversal.
All because of Jesus who has not been born yet, but is much alive in His mothers womb. We might ask our selves ‘Why does Mary, who seems like a rather shy, quiet person, shout out this song of hope and joy? What secrets have been revealed to her? And what about her older cousin Elizabeth? Why did her baby leap for joy in her womb? What does the news of their untimely pregnancies have to do with God and His plans for the whole world?
Earlier in Luke chapter 1: The angel Gabriel visits Mary tells her about the gift of God she is caring in her womb and also about her much older relative Elizabeth who is also with child. So Mary sets out to pay her a visit in the hill country of Judea, which is about about 60 miles south from where Mary lived in Nazareth. Mary travels to the land of the tribe of Judah, and King David.
How fitting that the promises of God are being fulfilled in the area those same promises were given to people like, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah. As soon as Mary greets Elizabeth her cousin’s unborn baby, which is John the Baptist, moves in her womb and she is filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit says to her young cousin, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. Luke 1:43 Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? 44 When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. 45 You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.”
Elizabeth realizes that the movement of her unborn baby is an expression of his joy, and she realizes under the inspiration of God, that Mary’s child is in fact the Saviour of the world. Elizabeth concludes not only by affirming Mary for her humble faith but also affirming that God’s promises will certainly take place.
We turn to Mary’s song of praise, which is called the Magnificat.
“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
Luke 1:47 How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
Luke 1:48 For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
Luke 1:49 For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me.
Luke 1:50 He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him.
Luke 1:51 His mighty arm has done tremendous things! He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
Luke 1:52 He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble.
Luke 1:53 He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands.
Luke 1:54 He has helped his servant Israel and remembered to be merciful.
Luke 1:55 For he made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his children forever.”
Mary’s song, is very much like Old Testament language. There are a few similarities to Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 which celebrates the birth of Samuel and all that God was going to do through him, as a prophet, but there is a difference in tone. Whereas Hannah’s song is one of triumph in the face of her enemies, Mary’s song is a humble praise to God for His great mercy and grace.
From thankfulness for what God has done for her Mary turns to thinking about God Himself. She contemplates three things. His power, His holiness and His mercy. She sees herself as insignificant, but that doesn’t matter, because God is doing something; He is on the move.
Verses 51-53: In a prophetic spirit Mary looks forward into a future that has already begun, where what God will do is so certain that it can be spoken of as if already accomplished. This was frequently the way OT prophets would speak.
This section of the song tells of a complete reversal of human values. It is not the proud or the rich or the mighty who have the last word. God, through His Son, is about to overthrow all of these and turn human attitudes and society upside down.
Verses 54-56: Mary now sings of God’s help for His people that will come through Jesus. She is saying that God’s action of sending Jesus is not a completely new idea, but rather as a continuation of His mercy to Abraham and the fathers or patriarchs of old times. Mary and Elizabeth shared an ancient dream: that one day all the prophecies in the Old Testament would come true, that through Abraham’s family all nations would be blessed. But for that to happen the powers that kept the world in slavery must be toppled. Evil had to be vanquished.
Mary and Elizabeth, like so many people of their day, listened to the scriptures, soaked themselves in the Psalms and Prophetic writings which spoke of God’s mercy, hope, fulfilment, reversal, victory over evil and of His coming to the rescue at long last. All of this is poured into Mary’s song and much of it will be echoed in her Son’s preaching as He warns the rich not to trust in their wealth, and promises God’s Kingdom to the poor.
The Great Reversal promised in the Magnificat really will involve the downfall of the rulers of the world. The question is when, and in what sense, and how?