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Luke 1:39-56

Mary’s Song of Hope

Lesson Focus: Mary proclaims what God has done in the past because she understands that what is happening in her now is a continuation of God’s faithful saving acts toward his people. It gives her hope for the future.

Lesson Outcomes: Through this lesson, students should: 1. Understand that Mary’s song is a testimony concerning God’s past faithfulness 2. Understand that remembering God’s past saving actions gives us hope for the future 3. Be encouraged to constantly remember God’s saving acts in hopeful anticipation of Jesus’ final coming

Catch up on the story: In the very early stages of this narrative, Luke has been weaving together two separate yet connected story lines. The first story line is that of the elderly couple, Elizabeth and Zechariah. They are from the priestly line of Aaron and yet are unable to bear children. Zechariah, while working in the Temple one day, gets a visit from an angel proclaiming that the couple will soon give birth to a son. The son’s name will be John and he will be no ordinary person. He will be the one who will prepare the way for the Messiah. Zechariah fails to believe and so loses his ability to speak until the baby is born.

The second story line is that of Mary, a young woman who is engaged to be married to a man named Joseph. Mary, who is a virgin, is also visited by an angel telling her that she will become pregnant, too. Only, this pregnancy will not come about by the normal way, but will be a blessing from God. Again, the boy she will bear, Jesus, will be no normal son; he will be called “Son of the Most High” and will sit on the throne of his ancestor David (1:32-33). Mary receives the news with more faith than Zechariah does, yielding herself as a servant of God.

Of course, Mary and Elizabeth are related and the angel informs Mary that Elizabeth is pregnant as well. These two initially separate story lines are now about to come together.

The Text: The Journey and Greeting: 1:39-45 It is not long after Mary receives the news of Elizabeth’s pregnancy that she sets out to visit her. In those days, young women did not travel once they had been engaged to be married. Normally, an engaged woman would remain secluded in her home until she entered the bridal chamber. She certainly would not have left unaccompanied on what was possibly a seventy-mile trip (Green, 94-95). We are given no specific reason for Mary’s trip. The angel did not command her to go.

Nevertheless, her journey to visit Elizabeth fits with Luke’s general journey motif. Narratively, it also helps the reader get a clearer idea of how these two story lines intersect and who the true hero of the story is. Or, perhaps her hasty visit was an attempt to flee some of the shame that came with being a young unmarried woman who was with child.

Mary arrives at the home of Elizabeth and offers a greeting. Upon hearing Mary’s greeting the child that Elizabeth carries in her womb begins to leap for joy and Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. We can assume that what fills Elizabeth now fills John, too. The Spirit’s filling of Elizabeth and John enables them (and us now as witness to this event) to discern the significance of Mary and the child she carries. As we will hear in Elizabeth’s speech, there is no doubt about the hope that is about to be fulfilled.

Elizabeth’s Spirit-guided discernment also turns social custom on its head. In her world, those of lesser standing, because of age and the like, travel to and visit those of greater standing. The initial greeting is offered by the lesser person, too. For her part, Mary acts accordingly, which causes Elizabeth to wonder why she has done so. Elizabeth questions why such a good thing, that the mother of her Lord would come to visit her, has happened to her. Elizabeth recognizes that due to God’s graciousness toward Mary, Mary is the one who is now the greater person in the relationship. As a general rule, Luke’s gospel will constantly turn social norms and customs upside down. This instance is but one of many.

Elizabeth also offers Mary a blessing. The word used here, “blessed,” is the same word that Jesus will use in the Sermon on the Mount. It is a word that is “spoken over those who are judged to possess what is necessary for a joyful life and especially over those who are the recipients of God’s gift of redemption” (Green, 96). Mary has truly been blessed by God as she carries this child who will be the savior of the world.

Mary’s Song: 1:46-56 In response to Elizabeth’s blessing, Mary sings a song that takes the form of a declarative psalm of praise (like Psalms 8, 33, 47,100, 135 and 136). Mary’s song uses bits of psalms, hymns and scripture that she would have been familiar with since young childhood. The song itself functions a bit like the songs in a Broadway or Disney musical. Songs in those types of productions do not usually advance the narrative, but they do help the viewer understand what has already transpired and, perhaps, offer a bit of foreshadowing. Thus, Mary’s song does not advance Luke’s narrative, but helps us understand the significance of the events that have already taken place.

Mary’s song begins with Mary stating that, on the deepest levels, in her “soul” and “spirit” she is filled with joy. Throughout the Old Tes