By Sam E. Stone
When Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel, she learned that God had selected her to be the mother of his Son. After receiving this message she traveled to see her relative Elizabeth who lived many miles away from Nazareth, down in Judea. Elizabeth had also received a message from the Lord. Although she was childless and of advanced age, God promised to answer her prayer for a son (Luke 1:5-25).
The son of Elizabeth and Zechariah would be called John the Baptist, sent by God to prepare the way for the Messiah. Last week’s lesson told what happened when Mary visited Elizabeth. As Mary entered Zechariah’s home and Elizabeth heard her greeting, the baby leaped in her womb and she was filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:41-45). Elizabeth exclaimed, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear.” Today’s text begins with Mary’s response to her kinswoman.
God’s Great Deed
Mary responded, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” God is frequently called “Savior” in the Old Testament (see Deuteronomy 32:15; Psalm 24:5). Here Luke also records the name as a title for Christ (see Luke 2:11). Mary’s song is often referred to as the Magnificat because this is the first word of the song in the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible. It is one of four hymns preserved in Luke 1-2 (see 1:68-79; 2:14; 2:29-32.) The themes of Mary’s song are familiar to Old Testament readers.
Her psalm of praise is similar to the one Hannah sang when God answered her prayers by giving her a son (1 Samuel 2:1-10). Albert Barnes points out, “It is the language of a humble, thankful, pious, female heart praising God—for his mercy to her (Luke 1:46-49), to all men (vv. 50-53), and his special goodness to his people (vv. 54, 55).”
Mary expressed her gratitude to the Lord who had been mindful of the humble state of his servant. Mary had no noble rank, no wealth, no earthly position. What she did have, however, was submissive faith in the Lord (1:38). She was content to be God’s obedient slave, come what may. God himself is no respecter of persons (Romans 2:11; 10:11-13). “All generations will call me blessed,” Mary said.
Recognizing Mary’s faith and how God honored it does not mean that she is to be worshipped, of course. The Mighty One has done great things for me. All blessings come from God (James 1:17). Mary praised God for his holiness of character and for his mercy shown to those who respect and honor him throughout the generations.
God’s Great Plan
Mary continued, “He has performed mighty deeds with his arm.” Isaiah had predicted that the Messiah would appear as “a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground” (53:2). Despite this humble beginning, he would become the all-powerful ruler. As the ministry of Jesus unfolded, people would see him bring down rulers from their thrones, but lift up the humble. The rich and the royal are often passed over by God when he seeks people to do his work.
Lynn Gardner writes, “God shatters the dreams and imagined greatness of the proud and arrogant . . . Those who are humble and hungry for God will be filled with good things. Those who consider themselves rich, with no need of God, he sends away empty of the things that really matter. She concluded the hymn with mention of God’s help for his people Israel, and his faithful speaking to the fathers, to Abraham and his descendants.”
Mary uses powerful images to illustrate the Lord’s rich blessings. He has helped his servant Israel. Despite the suffering endured by the people of Israel for many years, the Lord remained true to his promises (Genesis 22:16-18; Micah 7:20; Galatians 3:16). Their hopes would be realized in her son, Jesus. Ours will be as well.
Mary remained at Elizabeth’s about three months (or until John was born) and returned to her home. One can only imagine the wonderful visit they had together. No one else in all the world would have had the sympathetic understanding they had for each other because of sharing in common their similar secrets.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.