The Radical Act of the Magnificat

The first chapters of the gospel of Luke are a musical featuring songs by such luminaries as Elizabeth, Simeon, Zacharias and Mary. I have a hard time now reading Gabriel without imagining a punishing glory-roar of trumpets and a dulcet baritone thundering, “Fear not, Zacharias, for thy prayer is heard.”

.  .  .

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior;

For He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden.
For behold, from this time forth all generations will call me blessed.
For the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is His name;

And His mercy is upon generation to generation
Toward those who fear Him.
He has shown strength with his arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones
And has exalted those of low estate.
The hungry He has filled 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 seed forever.

.  .  .

In taking up threads from the Song of Hannah and Psalm 72, through inspiration of the Holy Spirit and her own education, Mary takes up the history of Israel. She calls herself blessed because “all shall be blessed in him” (Ps. 72:17). She sees his mighty acts in her low estate and completes the promise: the proud are darkened, the mighty cast down, the hungry filled.

The church in taking up her song has made it everyone’s song. The radical thing about singing the Magnificat is that the church isn’t (just) singing about Mary, the church is singing about herself.

When the church sings the Magnificat she sings that “all generations will call me blessed” and in singing this the church is pulled backwards and forwards. All generations past and future acknowledge the blessing, we bless the history of blessing showered on God’s people.

Whether the church sees it or not she sings about the scattered proud and the fallen mighty. It is a practice in faith, it is a grounding in humility, to pronounce an exaltation that we may not see, to announce the strength of his arm we may be missing.

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