The song of Mary known as the Magnificat is one of the most beautiful psalms of praise in the Holy Scriptures. This hymn has a very important theological depth and teaching which unfortunately goes unnoticed by most of the followers of Christ. For example, I cannot recall hearing any messages or teaching on this passage in any church or seminary in which I have participated. For most evangelicals, Mary was just a girl whom God graciously chose to be the mother of Jesus. With this song, Mary reminds us that she was also a faithful servant of God and a wise theological educator with an important prophetic voice to which we must listen carefully to learn from her. The song of Mary teaches us a correct attitude of worship and gives us an adequate perspective on life and on the attitudes of the heart that please God.
The Magnificat is found in Luke 1: 46-55 and is a psalm of praise that Mary spoke after the angel announced to her that she was chosen to be the mother of the promised Messiah. This song is called Magnificat because of the Latin version where Mary at the beginning glorifies God by declaring her magnificence. Amid the prevailing confusion regarding the identity and worth of human beings and the constant search for meaning through external circumstances, the song of Mary shows us a safe path to what is truly important in our lives. Through her praise, Mary teaches us that our identity is not based on what we do but on what God does in us and shows us the type of people who find divine favor and those who, although apparently successful and have the approval of others, are rejected by the Lord.
The psalm has two parts, in verses 46-19, Mary praises the Lord for her specific situation in receiving divine favor and in verses 50-55 they give a description of God’s power over his people and those who fear him. The first three verses clearly show that Mary understood well that her worth and identity were based on God’s work in her life and not on her own merits. God loves us and decides to cooperate with us by his grace to fulfill his purposes in this world. In its a privilege to be an instrument in the hands of God to declare his greatness:
And Mary said:
“My soul exalts the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
“For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave;
For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.
“For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
And holy is His name.
Verses 50-53 contrast the kind of people God is pleased with and the kind of people God opposes. This description goes against what is commonly understood about success in life and shows us that God is not governed by human standards of superiority or worth. In general, human beings seek to find their value in themselves and in their achievements, but our value must always be grounded in God and not in us. Verse 50 declares that God is pleased with those who fear him, that is, with those who are aware of his greatness.
“And His mercy is upon generation after generation
Toward those who fear Him.
In contrast, God is against the proud, those who think they are important in themselves and do not need divine help.
“He has done mighty deeds with His arm;
He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.
Verses 50-52 describe two more characteristics of those who receive divine favor and those whom God rejects. God takes pleasure in the humble and the hungry. Humility is essential to relate to God and to our fellow human beings because it recognizes that no one is self-sufficient, but that we need God and others to live life fully. Hunger is a manifestation of a physical need that cannot be satisfied by itself but needs something external, food, to find satisfaction. The hungry are those who are in need and who wait in God’s provision. On the other hand, God opposes the powerful of this world and the rich who rely on their assets as the source of security and provision. The common desire for power and wealth as visible manifestations of success in this world is actually a false hope and far from God.
“He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
And has exalted those who were humble.
“He has filled the hungry with good things;
And sent away the rich empty-handed.
Finally, verses 54-55 of the song of Mary are a reminder of God’s faithfulness to his people. God keeps His promises and we can trust and rest completely in Him. The God who sent the promised Messiah will also always continue to show His mercy to all those who trust Him:
“He has given help to Israel His servant,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and his descendants forever.”
The Magnificat is a song of celebration and teaching. Mary was blessed to be chosen as the mother of Jesus and in her hymn, as a great theologian, she reminds us that all of God’s children are also blessed and that our hope and value is found in who we are in God and not in what we do for ourselves. All we have and what we manage to do are divine gifts and when we live conscious of our need for God, we receive the Lord’s favor and we can enjoy the fullness of life that Jesus offers to his followers.