And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 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 powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’
And Mary remained with her for about three months and then returned to her home.
There they stand together, two mothers-to-be. Elizabeth has lived through many years of private sadness and public shame because she has borne no children – made worse because her husband is a public figure. Now at last, an old woman, she is pregnant. Her visitor, Mary, is young, hardly more than a child, also pregnant, her condition not yet obvious. She is without a husband, facing a future of disgrace in the eyes of her community. Before she set out to visit Elizabeth, Mary had accepted her condition as being from God and her child as God’s Son – but there was no certainty that her older relative would see things in the same way. In fact Elizabeth is delighted, calling out for joy, and blessing Mary and her unborn child. Mary might have been expecting reproach, even rejection, from the older woman; instead she found blessing and strength. Mary’s joyful song of praise rings through the house. Magnificat – praise for the greatness of God the Saviour, the Mighty One, who chooses ordinary, lowly people and blesses them with justice; and is now, in Mary’s child, through Mary’s obedience, raising up one who will be their Saviour.
The words Luke attributes to Mary are not certainly his own: some scholars* believe them to be based on hymns sung in worship by early Christian communities. Their theme is fulfilment – jubilant confidence that God has kept faith with the people, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants for ever (v.55).
In these busy days before Christmas in a time of uncertainty and division, as we work and pray for justice in our society, we join in Mary’s joyful song … for He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. Magnificat – Thanks be to God
God, Maker of all that is eternal Creator of all that is new, make us unexpected agents of change for the world around us. Remind us that faith is catching your vision of the way things can be. Give us courage to speak when the odds appear against us, And help us to see the surprising results that can come about when unexpected people bring about unexpected transformation in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
*See The First Christmas – What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Birth by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, published in GB by SPCK, 2008.
The Rev’d Heather Pencavel, Retired Minister, Member of Thornbury URC
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