The first thing that struck me about this particular lectionary reading is that it officially begins with Luke 1:46b: “My soul glorifies the Lord…” Of course, these words matter deeply, but the context of this song cannot fully be grasped if we do not first return to the source. This is not a generic exclamation for all to claim as their own. No, there is an actual narrative, and it does little good to hear the words of another if we do not recognize their very identity. So instead, let’s begin with Luke 1:46a, today: And Mary said…”
Early adolescent Mary, who has just been approached by an angel who conveyed the news that she has been chosen by God to carry his son…
Greatly trouble, perplexed Mary, who cannot even fathom how this is a possibility but is assured that even her elderly relative is now pregnant, because anything is possible with God…
Willing Mary, who gives her consent and then does not walk but runs to make sure that story is true…
Validated Mary, who is greeted by Elizabeth and her unborn child, who corroborate the angel’s story…
Then, and only then, does Mary craft this song of praise, power, and redemption, perhaps with a sigh of relief.
Now, “My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
In many ways, Mary’s words that follow have been responsibly translated for us, and they are fairly straightforward. But as is often the case when we return to the original language, there are some fascinating turns of phrase in this passage which hold multiple meanings and bring a weight to Mary’s song which is easy to miss.
Certainly, there are ways to interpret this passage that will leave us with firm foundations for sermons about social justice and tearing down harmful power structures. And I am all for that. But I’m also a little worried at this point of my life and ministry when that’s the only focus. There’s a part of me that is just tired of constantly looking for the angriest sermon I can preach.
And so, as I thought deeply about barely more than a baby herself Mary, pregnant with the baby who would save the world, I opened my mind and heart to hear what I thought she might be saying.
The number of words in Mary’s song that relate directly to the formation of the body within her is pretty astounding.
ψυχή (psuchē): breath
πνεῦμα (pneuma): spirit
βραχίονι (brachioni): arm – also, closely related, ‘just some little part(s)’
διανοίᾳ (dianoia): mind, thought, and disposition
καρδίας (kardias): heart
Mary is concerned about things like promises fulfilled and mercy that extends beyond herself, from generation to generation, because her world has greatly expanded, and she dares to hope the life inside of her will be part of a family line that continues. Spoiler alert: from a physical standpoint, he’s not.
After all of this, we come to the verses about God bringing down rulers from their thrones, but it can also be translated as God lifting up the humble and fulfilling God’s promises, choosing to empower them by literally bringing Jesus to earth as ruler, God incarnate.
It seems to me the possibility exists that Mary was far more concerned with the life and body growing inside her and the potential for the redemption of the people of God than she was with whatever outside force might be thwarted in the process. And I guess that makes sense to me as a person who had the great privilege of carrying five people within my own body. If this is a song about motherhood, Mary was probably far less likely to be writing the lyrics to the next great political treatise set to music and far more likely to be overcome by the idea that she… perhaps hungry… was undeniably filled with a real and present good “thing.”
What does that mean for us, today, when we dare to take Mary’s words as our own? Undoubtedly, we cannot fully grasp the gravity of the original context, but as we live into our own identities as people who embody the Holy Spirit, could we not sing of humility, mercy, and covenant, as well? Even in our own inexperience and incredulity, even when we look around and wonder how these very circumstances could possibly hold space for the redemptive work of God, may we be brave enough to say yes, and may we seek out others who hope in spite of hopelessness until every promise is fulfilled.