December 17, 2020
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
These are the first two lines of Mary’s “Magnificat,” a waterfall of praise and prophecy she sang in response to her cousin Elizabeth’s joyous welcome on the threshold of her Judean home. Both women were shockingly pregnant, Elizabeth late in age and Mary young and unmarried. Together, amazed and glad of one another, they extolled God’s astonishing work in their bodies and lives. Even Elizabeth’s baby John rejoiced, for as soon as Elizabeth heard the sound of Mary’s greeting, she cried “the child in my womb leaped for joy!” Oh, what a scene. I keep returning to it, trying to deepen my understanding of their experience. In the process, these women’s songs have taken on life in my spirit, a spirit weary of the world and 2020 losses.
Last week, I fractured my left ankle. It is not a terrible fracture, but it has slowed me down considerably, I was cleaning out my basement of accumulated papers and junk and tripped over a small shelf I had overlooked. My body went one way and my ankle went another. Now I am hobbling around in a “walking” boot and learning the knack of steering a knee scooter through Costco. Christmas and work and home…I am negotiating everything at turtle pace.
Around the same week I so gracefully fell, I had started reading the gospel of Luke, trying to force myself into some sort of Advent pace, to align myself with the holy Christmas story and to switch out of the multitasking mindset that fragments and frazzles me. Confined to my sofa, foot elevated, I began to read Luke Chapter 1—and about half-way through the narrative of Jesus’ birth story I got “stuck.”
“My soul magnifies the Lord.”
My soul. Magnifies. The Lord.
My mind swung in an arc like a pendulum seeking center. I took a deep breath and went deep-down still. At verse 46, Mary’s expansive self pours out of her small frame in a rush of praise and hope and certainty. Such remarkable words for a peasant teenager to sing! From what well did she draw such deep knowledge of God and his grandeur?
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
Oh my word.
This year has been a grind. A heart-rending, exhausting slog. Our souls have cried out in shock and despair. No continent has been spared the sadness of this time. The Earth is in pain—with trees torched by flames and oceans slammed by hurricanes. Lives have been lost. Jobs. Homes. And in the midst of all the losses and fear and uncertainty, we humans have tried to manage as best we can, to find some equilibrium, to love our families, to provide, to do better by our neighbors, to do better by ourselves. And we long for a break from it all, from the constant noise and our sense of inadequacy; we long to be comforted— enfolded and enraptured—in the all-encompassing love of a wholly magnificent, ever-compassionate God.
We are all, if we acknowledge it, children in our souls. Regardless of what age we are, we often feel our youth; we know we are naive and unfinished in matters of heart, mind, and spirit. Spiritually, we are no more than youngsters who anticipate growing throughout eternity. And while we know in our souls we are not God, there are times we wish we were. To have control. To be able to manage everything with an acumen that exceeds our human capacities. Regardless of how well-positioned, educated, or equipped we are, we’re all just trying to figure out life as we live it; to do the best we can; to persist when we feel inadequate; to love when we feel unloving. In reality, all those efforts matter—all those meaningful and precious efforts—because we are loved by a great and glorious God, regardless of how insignificant and invisible we sometimes feel.
We are beloved. Mary knew this and trusted God for it. God looks with favor on our “lowliness.”
God more than looks with favor. God is reaching out to us, moving inside us, sowing his Word-seed in our souls. Blessedly, our souls expand to accommodate the gestating Spirit; in-flooded, we grow large and warm with God’s loving majesty: as Mary, we embody the One who is “with us”—Immanuel. This One, is an active force of God-nature, a nature that transforms our small lives with a type of incandescence that emanates and enlightens our hopes, aspirations, work, and relationships.
God is ready to be magnified in us because God is here. Now. With Mary, we recall and acclaim God’s magnificent character.
We worship the One who is—
For the humble and against the proud
Keeper of promises
Just and faithful
This is our God.
Mary and Elizabeth praised him aptly. They allowed the Spirit’s words to pour out. They didn’t silence themselves. They rejoiced together.
They are models for us.
Praise the One who chose a peasant girl to make his miraculous presence known.
Praise the One who lives in our small frames and works in our small corners of the world.
Praise the God of Christmas as you’ve never praised God before.
And rejoice. For God is good and His mercies endure forever.
No matter the century, the Magnificat endures because God is still God.
This is our hope, a living Word.
For the Bible story, see Luke 1. The translation used here is the NRSV.