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My spirit rejoices in God my saviour

And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, {47} and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour ." (Luke 1:46-47)

Mary's song in praise of God has been an inspiration to all generations since that time when she rejoiced with her cousin Elizabeth who greeted her:

And Mary was moved to recognize the greatness of God in his mercy on a humble woman:

We believe that Mary the mother of Jesus was indeed greatly blessed. She is often quite properly taken as an example to follow in loyalty and humble service. There are other aspects of her life which demonstrate those qualities. [For more on Mary herself see the sermons for Advent 4 in Years A and B: Mary the Mother of Jesus; Mary's co-operation with God.] What we see here in her song the Magnificat is a woman of her people, the people of Israel, speaking more like a prophet or psalmist of previous generations. She is a vehicle of revelation of the Word of God, showing us as her son Jesus would do in greater power what God is like. Although she begins with reference to her personal experience, "my soul magnifies" and "my spirit rejoices", the focus is always on God and not on herself and it quickly expands to celebrate the goodness of God to her community and people in general.

The way that the emphasis in Mary's words in not so much on herself as on the acts of God brings out again the experience of the people of Israel in the past, as when with Moses they sang of God's mighty act rescuing them from the Egyptian army as they escaped from slavery:

When Mary says my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour she is dancing in her spirit like King David dancing before the Lord (2 Samuel 6:14) when he brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. The word we translate "rejoice" [egalliasen] comes from words meaning "much" and "leap up", so the Jerusalem Bible has, "my spirit exults in God my saviour". "Up, up and away", you might say, is the response of that side of her which is open to what God is doing. "Spirit" and "soul" in this passage mean much the same thing, in the nature of the living person open to God, the point at which life is received from God who is the source of all life. There, where a person is enlivened by God, she is stirred up. So she sees God acting in the great things he is doing and declares him great. The root meaning of "magnify" [megalynei], is to make or declare great: My soul magnifies the Lord. It is her being in relation to the being of God which responds, my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour. So like the ancient prophets and singers of Israel she is uplifted in the Spirit of God as she celebrates. We imagine that she might perhaps have cast her eyes downwards in humble acceptance when the angel first told her of her destiny, but now she looks up with confidence, glad to declare the goodness of God. I hope you catch some of her excitement! See her confidence in God! My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.

Mary was very young and yet she was a woman of her people, the nation of Israel through whom God had chosen to reveal himself. Mary's rejoicing is in a tradition of women of Israel who have been blessed with children unexpectedly. You remember Abraham's wife Sarah who laughed at the idea of her having a child, and Rachel, Jacob's wife, who waited a long time, and in this story we have Mary's cousin Elizabeth who thought she could no longer have children. There is one big difference: Mary was young and had not been seeking a child while the other women and their husbands were much older and had been praying and waiting a long time. Sometimes they had even tried to bargain with God as they begged for his blessing, and then they tended not to believe it! Mary had done nothing and simply accepted God's chosen role for her. Her blessing was entirely God's initiative and in that way it is more clearly an act of grace. Yet there is much in the continuity of faithful witness to God throughout the history of Mary's people; so it is not surprising that Mary's song seems to be modelled on another example, the song of Hannah the mother of the prophet Samuel, which begins:

While Mary begins, My soul magnifies the Lord, {47} and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.

There is a similar insight in the cause both women, Hannah and Mary, have for rejoicing in the regard that God has for the poor and lowly, and the consequent reversal of privilege from the powerful to the weak: so Hannah sings,


While Mary says,

Here we have an indication that Mary's child will carry on the tradition of the prophets who cried out for justice, and Mary herself is a spokeswoman in the same prophetic tradition. We learn again something about the nature of God from the way Mary responded to the blessing she received from God. She rejoiced in goodness of God who lifted up the lowly. Jesus was more than a prophet, but he was a prophet too along with John the Baptist in speaking out for justice in the world. So later we find Mary's son saying

And Jesus pointed the disciples of John to the fact that when the poor had the good news proclaimed to them that was a sign that the Messiah had come:

In the same sense of prophecy concerning the Messiah being worked out as in that exchange between Jesus and John, Mary's song goes further than Hannah's when she declares that in her blessing the long held promises of God to his people are being brought to fulfilment:

Her blessing was more than a personal blessing, it was for all the people whom she represented. That was again in the prophetic tradition from Isaiah 61 which Jesus read in the synagogue at Nazareth to proclaim the fulfilment of God's promises as good news to the poor. The prophetic word points beyond the mere fact of Jesus being a prophet who brought the word of God. He put it into practice in his work for the people most in need. The prophetic word which was revealed in his actions showed that "one greater than Moses", or Samuel or John the Baptist, had been sent into world for he actually demonstrated in his life the word about God's love and power in the kingdom in God. Mary's child embodied the message from God in himself; so he was more than a mere spokesman, but it would be some time before even Mary understood much of what that would mean. What she knows at the point of her celebration is that God is good to the lowly and will raise them up and this will be a blessing to the whole people of God. In that, like the prophets of old, she knows a great deal about the nature of God, but it is still partial knowledge of the word of God that Jesus will perfectly reveal. It is because the action of God goes far beyond her limited knowledge and her particular place and time that she is able to say, Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.

Mary is in many ways truly representative of humanity. We sometimes say that the humanity of Jesus came from Mary. In her lowly estate, from which she is lifted up, she represents all of us in the human situation in general, and thus points to the uplifting, redeeming initiative of God in which she is blessed. She celebrates God as our saviour: my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, and that is as saviour of the whole world although it would take much suffering before Jesus would be able show how wide was the love of God in him. Mary represents the nation of Israel as a Jewish woman in the tradition of the families of the prophets, but now because of the role God has chosen for her she is representative of all humanity in our universal need for salvation, while her celebration of the gift of a saviour calls us all to celebrate the reasons for which all generations will call her blessed.

Mary has been the focus of faith and hope for millions of poor women. Through her God has given them what no one can take away: a deep assurance that their humble status does not preclude them from enjoying the greatest of God's blessings. They also see, as all humanity can see with the eyes of faith, that the blessing of Mary is entirely the work of God, not mediated by any human power, nor dependent upon any worldly achievement. So her praise of God itself is a gift of God, and it points forward to the worldwide God given response of praise in human affairs which extends to the reshaping of society. One can hardly celebrate how God, through her, lifted up the lowly and then not value the least of God's children; so the human response of praise continues in both word and deed. It is all an outworking of the revelation of God through his acts in history, which consistently demonstrate his faithfulness and care. God is not capricious, arbitrarily intervening in human affairs, first one way and then another, unpredictably. As Mary's affinity with the prophetic word clearly shows, God is consistent in his nature and faithful in his actions, throughout the whole story of his revelation. The humble part Mary was called to play, fits, as all our lives fit, into the great plan and purpose of God at last brought to a decisive point in the gift of Jesus Christ. For this reason, because we have a part in it, we can all rejoice with her when Mary sings, My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.

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