Mary’s “Magnificat” a revolutionary Christmas document

Madonna-Child-icon1Christmas is only a few days away and I keep asking myself: What will happen when Christmas comes?  We know its Jesus’ birthday, and we will surely celebrate.  The children will wake us up once again way too early; the hustle and bustle of family dinners will dominate the greater part of our day.   But it is Jesus’ birthday—shouldn’t it be life-changing, shouldn’t it make a difference?

Over the past four weeks, many churches have been observing Advent, a season dedicated to this question.   We hope that we will see things in a new way; that we will wake up and the breath we take will be qualitatively different, that we will feel more alive.

But then again, it might just be another day.   It may come and go, and nothing out of the ordinary may happen.  The meals may not taste that great; somebody may even end up burning the casserole.  One of us will forget to buy the batteries needed to power that one special toy the children have waited eagerly to use.

Still, we hope that Christmas will bring about a new vision for our life, a ground-breaking force.  We hope that it will provide a new reality as amazing and powerful as that described in the virgin Mary’s song (known as the “Magnificat”; Luke 1:46-55) that she sang when she was pregnant with Jesus.

For those of us who hope for change on Christmas day, Mary’s song is precisely where we should begin.  In the words of commentator William Barclay, it is a lovely prayer, but one filled with dynamite.

It is revolutionary.  Scholars, Jane Schaberg and Sharon Ringe opine that the Magnificat is “a song of liberation…a revolutionary document of intense conflict and victory.”  And, if we look closely at this song, we can outline four types of “revolutions” described in the text.

The first revolution (verses 46-50) is a spiritual one.  Mary recognized the divine blessing of being God’s very vessel for the savior of all the earth.  She can’t help but “exult God” in continual praise.  She can’t help but be a servant–one who was totally committed to the will of the Lord.  We too should surrender to God in such a powerful, earth-shaking way.

The second revolution (verses 51-52) speaks of a political revolution.  When God comes to earth in the form of a human and confounds both man and death, he is reminding all creation who is King of kings and Lord of lords.  Kings, queens, presidents and prime ministers may sit on thrones, but they–and we–should know their place because God is God and we are not.

The third revolution (verse 53) is socio-economic and points to a day in which those who have come to God in need and with empty hands will not return without abundant fulfillment.  Mary stated that the “rich” will go away empty, meaning that people who trust in possessions and resources rather than putting trusting in God will not find either life or satisfaction in the things of this world.

The last revolution (verses 54-55) is a historical one.  God’s divine visitation in the form of a human will fulfill all of the promises of the Old Testament, including those given to Abraham.  My guess is that Mary had the promises of Genesis 12:2 and 18:18 in mind when she sang this song. Both verses point to the promise that the salvation that comes through Abraham’s offspring (Israel) will be a blessing to all nations.

The Magnificat, therefore, begins and ends with blessing.  If anything, the change that happened for Mary–and for us–was one of blessing and affirmation in the knowledge that when God came to visit, all our hearts are transformed and united with His.  A blessing indeed!

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