“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And 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 mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry 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 offspring forever.” (Luke 1: 46-55)
This familiar Christmas passage is often called Mary’s Song or the Magnificat, which is Latin for magnify. Mary sings this song in response to Elizabeth’s exclamation of blessing to her when she arrived for a visit and when John the Baptist leapt in Elizabeth’s womb, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Mary sang this song to magnify or to extol God. When we magnify something, we make it bigger, so we can better see it. Like a magnifying glass. Or when someone is put up on the jumbotron at a ball game, so everyone can see their silly dance. In the case of this song, Mary is narrowing in on the greatness of God. She is filled with wonder at what God is doing and can’t help but bubble over into praise.
What makes this song all the more remarkable is the challenges and trials she likely went through before her visit to Elizabeth. She had probably been ostracized by many in her community. We don’t know how her family responded, but they had every legal right to reject her, or worse. We know from the book of Matthew that Joseph wanted to divorce her after he heard the news of her conception. We should also remember where Israel is in her history. Since the exile, they have not had a king on the throne. The prophets have been silent since Malachi. Romans rule the world and their land. So in many ways, it’s a dark time, for Mary and for her people. Yet as we see, she sings a song filled with wonder and thanksgiving.
Magnifying the Lord in Thanksgiving
In her song, Mary shows us how to give thanks to the Lord. And we can learn a few things from her for our own songs of praise.
We praise God by rehearsing Scripture: Throughout her song, Mary references directly or indirectly many psalms and other Old Testament passages. One obvious one is Hannah’s prayer from 1 Samuel. The first verse of her song mirrors Psalm 103:1 where the psalmist wrote, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” As an Israelite, Mary was steeped in Scripture; she knew God’s word. And having sung the psalms in worship, she knew how to sing praises to the Lord. Singing praises to God for who he is and what he has done was natural to her and this song is spontaneous praise. She is overwhelmed by the goodness of God to her and ultimately to her people. Mary faced a significant turning point in her life. A huge event just happened. An event that was a mixture of both trial and hope. She learned that she would bear the Messiah, but that blessing also brought about difficulty and challenges for her and her family. She processed and prayed and praised by rehearsing what she knew from God’s Word. Mary shows us how to respond to all the events in our life: whether momentous or hard, whether joyous or painful, by focusing on who God is and what he has done.