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Luke 1:46b-55

In his comedy special, The New One, Mike Birbiglia shares how he and his wife had talked about the possibility of having kids. This was an idea he was always opposed to, because he said that he enjoyed the way his life was going, especially his relationship with his wife, and how he didn’t want having kids to change his life. His wife stated, “Having a kid doesn’t need to change anything.” After a short pause, he shares the all too real punchline, “And then we had a kid, and it changed everything!”

 

A child changes everything. This is an apt and simplistic definition of the nativity story, and yet, it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the impact of Christ’s birth. In today’s reading, we get a glimpse of Mary’s Magnificat, or her song of praise to God for what he has done as well as what he is going to do through Jesus.

 

In The Expositors Bible Commentary (Luke-Acts), Tremper Longman III and David Garland contend that the Magnificat can be divided into four distinct strophes, or coral movements. The first movement can be seen in the way that Mary praises God for all that he has done in her life (vv.46-48). The second movement (vv.49-50) continues this theme of praise for God, and focuses in on the attributes of God’s character, his power, holiness, and mercy shown to Mary and his people; “The people who fear him.” The third movement (vv.51-53) shifts to the powerful and sovereign actions of God, specifically in ushering in a societal reconciliation and moral restoration. And the final movement (vv.54-55) recalls and remembers the way that God was faithful to the people of Israel in the past, as a way to bolster and encourage that God continues to be faithful still today.[1] Therefore, the Magnificat is a song praise for the faithfulness of God in Mary’s life, but also an awareness of God’s faithfulness to his people as well.

 

In every commentary I referenced, there is a connection made between Mary’s Magnificat to the hymn and prayer of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2:1-10, in which Hannah offers a song and prayer to God of praise and thanksgiving, talking of God’s faithfulness to his people. Although, the real connection comes in the way that Hannah speaks about the movement of God, the coming savior and messiah and the way that God will work in the world and bring change to fruition, especially through her son, Samuel. In this way, the Magnificat is a reminder that God is at work, especially in and through Mary’s future son, the long-awaited messiah, Jesus. N.T. Wright makes this observation about the Magnificat, “It’s the gospel before the gospel. A fierce bright shout of triumph thirty weeks before Bethlehem, thirty years before calvary and Easter. It goes with a swing and a clap and a stamp. It’s all about God, and it’s all about revolution… Underneath it all is a celebration of God. God has taken the initiative - God the Lord, the savior, the Powerful One, the Holy One, the Merciful One, the Faithful One. God is the ultimate reason to celebrate.”[2] Therefore, this is a powerful moment for Mary, but even more so, for the people of God. This is a song of celebration, a song of hope that God is at work, stirring up a revolution that will change the world as we know it.

 

Brittany Wilson notes in her article on the Magnificat, “Mary’s song functions as a prelude to the Lukan theme of reversal… Indeed, the gospel hinges on the reversal of life over death, and Mary’s song gives us a foretaste of this greatest reversal of all, Jesus’s resurrection.”[3] This reversal is seen as a revolution to the current cultural norms of the day, a flipping upside down of the understood mores, economies, and practices that were deemed normal and acceptable. William Barclay contends that the Magnificat is a prayer and song not only of praise, but of revolution as well. For Barclay, in vv.51-53, we can see the markings of social, moral, and economic revolution in the messianic hope. In the way that this Christ child’s birth humbles the proud, bringing us to honest reflection of ourselves, as well as uplifting those on the fringes, the disenfranchised and forgotten, seeking to love and show compassion for all. Barclay notes, “There is a loveliness in the Magnificat but in that loveliness there is dynamite. Christianity brings about a revolution in individuals and revolution in the world.”[4] Therefore, the acknowledgement is that the Magnificat is not some passive song from a dainty girl, but a powerful prayer from a faithful woman that is aware that this birth, this Messiah will change and upturn the current cultural mores and instead, usher in the restorative foretaste of God’s kingdom and economy.

 

Therefore, this praise and acknowledgement of God’s restorative will imagined in Christ is not merely meant to be something that we wait for God to enact, but instead is an expectation that we will partner with and be ambassadors of in our communities. David A. Neale notes in his commentary, “Believers are called to bring the prophetic vision into reality by their labors, spirituality, and moral purity. This new order is the reality that our Christian hope tells us is meant to be. As such, Mary’s human is a call to engagement in social action to right the wrongs brought on by pride and oppression, to right the wrongs visited on the downtrodden.”[5]

 

With this in mind, the Magnificat is a hymn of messianic hope. Robert Tannehill observes, “The poem presents God’s choice of the lowly mother and God’s overturning of society as one act... Thus the mighty God’s regard for a humble woman becomes the sign of God’s eschatological act for the world. In that small event this great event lies hidden.”[6] This child changes everything, because, as the Magnificat acknowledges, the messiah bring about a revolution that we are being invited to join. The Magnificat is a prayer from a woman of faith, about a faithful God who is seeking to reconcile and restore through the birth of Jesus. But it doesn’t end there; the restorative work is something we are being called to partner with and enact, as we strive to be change agents of God.

 

[1] Tremper Longman and David E. Garland, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke-Acts, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 64-65.

[2] N. T. Wright, Luke for Everyone (London: SPCK, 2004), 14, 16.

[3] Brittany E. Wilson, “Luke 1:46–55.” Interpretation 71, no. 1 (2017): 80–82.

[4] William Barclay and Alister E. McGrath, The Gospel of Luke (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 20.

[5] David A. Neale, Luke 1-9: A Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 2011), 66.

[6] Robert C. Tannehill, “The Magnificat as Poem,” in The Shape of Luke’s Story: Essays on Luke-Acts (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2005), 32-47, 34.

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