The Magnificat – Mary’s Song

This is a transcript of a sermon I gave on 29th March 2009 at Amblecote Christian Centre

Not long after leaving school my daughter became pregnant. Luckily she had parents who were there to support her and my grand-daughter.

There is still some stigma attached to young mothers today.

Can you picture what it was like years ago? In the life time of some of the congregation, women were locked up in mental institutions for having a child out of wedlock. If they were lucky it was a hastily arranged marriage.

Go further back. About 2010 years.

A girl of between 13 & 15 becomes pregnant. She’s engaged to be married, but it isn’t his. She faces Public humiliation, as would her parents. She faces being disowned, cast out. How would she survive? At worse she faces death in a public stoning.

This girl, let’s call her Mary has just been told she is to become pregnant. Not by man but by the Holy Spirit.
Can you picture Mary’s face when Gabriel delivers his message? It is Wile E. coyote who just realizes he has run beyond the edge of a cliff. She is about to fall and fall fast. She is Peter on the water, seeing the storm and not the face. She is Peter in the waves, hearing the wind and not the voice. At that moment one thing holds her together. Faith.
Now Picture sitting a few feet from a man on death row. Jewish by birth. Tentmaker by trade. Apostle by calling. His days are marked. You’re curious about what bolsters this man as he nears his execution.
So you ask some questions.
Do you have family, Paul? I have none.
What about your health? My body is beaten and tired.
What do you own? I have my parchments. My pen. A cloak.
And your reputation? Well, it’s not much. I’m a heretic to some, a maverick to others.
Do you have friends? Oh yes, I do, but even some of them have turned back.
Any awards? Not on earth.
Then what do you have, Paul? No belongings. No family. Criticised by some. Mocked by others. What do you have, Paul? What do you have that matters?
You sit back quietly and watch. Paul rolls his hand into a fist. He looks at it. You look at it. What is he holding? What does he have?
He extends his hand so you can see. As you lean forward, he opens his fingers. You peer at his palm.
It’s empty.
I have my faith. It’s all I have. But it’s all I need. I have kept the faith.
Paul had Nothing of this world, Mary had everything to lose in this world, being pregnant and unmarried, but they both had faith.
For that’s what faith is. Faith is trusting what the eye can’t see.
Eyes see the prowling lion. Faith sees Daniel’s angel.
Eyes see storms. Faith sees Noah’s rainbow.
Eyes see giants. Faith sees Canaan.
Your eyes see your faults. Your faith sees your Saviour.
Your eyes see your guilt. Your faith sees His blood.
Your eyes see your grave. Your faith sees your Father whose house has many rooms.
Your eyes look in the mirror and see a sinner, a failure, a promise-breaker. But by faith you look in the mirror and see a robed prodigal bearing the ring of grace on your finger and the kiss of your Father on your face.
Mary sees all that can happen to her. Her faith sees all God has done for her.
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.”
After receiving Gabriel’s message Mary visits Elizabeth, because, as most of us here do, she had doubts about what message she was receiving from God.
Was it a dream? Elizabeth was mentioned. I’ll go and see her.
Elizabeth seeing Mary exclaims ‘But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?’
At this point Mary no longer sees herself as unmarried and pregnant, due to be stoned to death, or made an outcast. Mary sees her position, through faiths eyes, and prays to God. She prays not to receive, but to give thanks.

Mary sings a prayer of worship now known as the Magnificat which can be broken down into four parts. Firstly, Mary expresses her gratitude to God and shows her Faithfulness and Gods Favour; in the second, she praises God for his power, His holiness His mercy and his Fairness; in the third, she compares how differently God deals with the proud and the humble; in the fourth, she recalls that all the ancient prophecies to the Jews are now being fulfilled in the Messiah, The Future, Who was at that moment present in her womb.

The Prayer launches straight in with

Mary’s Gratitude to God

46And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
47and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.

Mary sings, “My soul glorifies the Lord.” She’s saying My soul adores, praises, and honours the Lord. The stress is always on ‘the Lord.’

What a contrast between Mary’s attitude and that of so many people today. Think of all the people who are referred to as heroes, who are sadly undeserving of praise, but rather often condemnation. Who were the great heroes about whom we read and whose exploits we memorized; the men who ran roughshod over human beings, and who destroyed empires in order to achieve their ambitions? How strange that we should be so ready to praise weak human flesh that dying soon decays.

In Romans 7:24-8:1 Paul says- Who will save me from this body that brings death? I thank God for saving me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So now, those who are in Christ Jesus are not judged guiltyIf I had been Paul, I might have put a “Hallelujah!” on the end of that paragraph. What an incredible statement. What an awesome reality! Paul understands what Mary was singing about.

Let us examine our consciences on how seldom we praise God.

Yet faith tells us that prayers of praise and adoration are the most important form of prayer. Unless we praise God, glorifying Him, we are not acknowledging God for Who He is and ourselves for what we are. How God longs for us to tell Him: “How great Thou art, O Lord, how great Thou art!” And by contrast, how unimportant, how trifling is everything and everyone else. Having said, “My soul glorifies the Lord,” Mary immediately adds, “And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”, on praising God, Joy follows

God really wants us to be happy. He wants us to rejoice in Him, but on His conditions doing His Will and not the world’s. What a lie to think that joy is found in our self will. Mary had a clear idea of who she was, that she was the Mother of the Messiah, even as Elizabeth had told her she was the ‘mother of the Lord Who made her.’ Mary also knew by whose favour she was blessed.

Compare the two phrases “lowliness of His handmaid” and “He that is mighty has done great things for me.” God did do great things for Mary because in her own estimation she was His lowly servant. This is all God asks us to tell Him: “You alone are mighty and I, except for You, am nothing.”

Next

Mary Praises God for His Power, Holiness and Mercy

50His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

I was thanking our Father the other day for his mercy. I began listing the sins he’d forgiven. One by one I thanked God for forgiving my stumbles and tumbles. My motives were pure and my heart was thankful, but my understanding of God was wrong. It was when I used the word remember that it hit me.

“Remember the time I…”

I was about to thank God for another act of mercy. But I stopped. Something was wrong. The word remember seemed displaced. It was a misspelled word in a poem. It didn’t fit. “Does he remember?”

Then I remembered. I remembered his words.

“And I will remember their sins no more.” Hebrews 8:12

Wow! Now, that is a remarkable promise. God doesn’t just forgive, he forgets. He erases the board. He destroys the evidence. He formats the hard drive. He clears the computer.

He doesn’t remember my mistakes. For all the things he does do, this is one thing he refuses to do. He refuses to keep a list of my wrongs. When I ask for forgiveness he doesn’t pull our a clipboard and say, “But I’ve already forgiven you for that three hundred and sixteen times.”

He doesn’t remember.

“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:12“

I will be merciful toward their iniquities.” Hebrews 8:12

“Even if you are stained as red as crimson, I can make you white as wool.” Isaiah 1:18

No, he doesn’t remember.

But I do, you do.

You still remember. You’re like me. You still remember what you did before you changed. In the cellar of your heart lurk the ghosts of yesterday’s sins. Sins you’ve confessed; errors of which you’ve repented; damage you’ve done your best to repair.

And though you’re a different person, the ghosts still linger. Though you’ve locked the cellar door, they still haunt you. They float to meet you, spooking your soul and robbing your joy.

Mary understands his mercy for she sees herself as we do.

As we see, in the second part is Mary’s praise of God. As reason and faith tell us, God does not need our poor prayers, but He wants them and wants us to recognize Him for what He is. According to Mary, He is Power, He is Holiness and Mercy.

How is God Power?

He is Power because He can do whatever He wills. He had only to will our souls into existence and we were made, existing only because God wills it. Withdrawing His Will, we would be absolutely nothing again. In our day when power is the watchword inspiring fear into people’s hearts, we have to keep our balance. I am not to be impressed by human power nor do I fear what any human being can do to me. The One I adore is the only One I fear, God Almighty. As long as He is with me, who can do me harm? He will be with me as long as I am with Him. We have infinity at our disposal, provided we have humility and the honesty to acknowledge that God alone has the right to tell us what to do.

How is God Mercy?

God is Merciful for He loves the sinner even as He hates the sin. His mercy is boundless and His kindness towards the weak and fallen is proverbial. Let us remember that though we have sinned deeply and often, God still loves us. His love is greater than our sin. He wants us to become holy, more holy because we have sinned. He wants us to become more humble, more patient, more prayerful than we would have been had we not always sinned. It is precisely that combination of Divine Love and our sins that brings us to God’s Mercy.

That is what mercy implies.

Read this powerful passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians. You’re in for a thrill.

“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ Jesus have put on Christ.”

You read it right. We have “put on” Christ. When God looks at us he doesn’t see us; he sees Christ. We “wear” him. We are hidden in him; we are covered by him.

As the song says, “Dressed in his righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne.”

Presumptuous, you say? Sacrilegious? It would be if it were my idea. But it isn’t; it’s his. We are presumptuous, not when we marvel at his grace, but when we reject it. And we’re sacrilegious, not when we claim his forgiveness, but when we allow the haunting sins of yesterday to convince us that God forgives but he doesn’t forget.

Do yourself a favour.

Purge your cellar and take the Roman nails of Calvary and board up the door.

And remember…he forgets.

He is Mercy.

Next

Mary Compares the Lot of the Humble and the Proud

52He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.

Compare these statements, taken from different translations: “He has scattered the proud”, “He has put down the mighty”, “He has sent the rich away empty”,

Compare them to..

“He has lifted up the humble”, “He has filled the hungry with good things.”

It is not so much Mary telling us these things, but Jesus in her womb is speaking through His Mother’s lips. When He was older and began His public ministry, this is almost the theme of His Gospels. God exalts the humble; and humbles the proud. We are inclined to take this too mechanically and mistakenly suppose that this reward of the humble and retribution of the proud always takes place regularly in our lives.

I wish it did.

Sadly but obviously the proud get prouder and are exalted.

Who make the headlines?

Who are honored and praised and who are ignored in this world?

Are some of us here too proud? Do we feel that everything should revolve around us?

Until Copernicus came along in 1543, people enjoyed centre stage. Fathers could place an arm around their children, point to the night sky, and proclaim, “The universe revolves around us.”

Copernicus asked questions “can anyone tell me what causes the seasons to change?”

“Why do some stars appear in the day and others at night?”

“Does anyone know exactly how far ships can sail before falling off the edge of the earth?”

“Trivialities!” people scoffed.

But Copernicus persisted. He tapped our collective shoulders and cleared his throat. “Forgive my proclamation, but,” and pointing a lone finger toward the sun, he announced, “behold the centre of the solar system.”

The news wasn’t well received. People denied the facts for over half a century.

When like-minded Galileo came along, they imprisoned him. You’d have thought he had called the king a stepchild or the pope a protestant. The throne locked him up, and the church kicked him out.People didn’t take well to demotions back then.

We still don’t.

What Copernicus did for the earth, Mary sees God doing for our souls. Tapping the collective shoulder of humanity, she sees him pointing to the Son

The son she carries—his Son—and saying,

“Behold the centre of it all.”

Lastly

Mary Tells Us that God Keeps His Promises

54He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55to Abraham and his descendants forever,
even as he said to our fathers.”.

God’s faithfulness in the face of the disloyalty of the Jewish people over the centuries before Christ is hardly credible. We reread the Old Testament. It tells of one dreary failure after another, and of their failure to live up to the Covenant that Yahweh had made with them; they constantly relapsed into idolatry and resisted God’s commands. Yet, after their infidelity, murdering their Prophets, ignoring Yahweh’s laws and resisting His Will, there was nevertheless a Covenant between Yahweh and His people.

They had failed Him miserably and sadly, but as Mary says, God does not fail.

I like the last quarter of Mary’s prayer. I see Mary looking at Elizabeth, old, yet pregnant and seeing Gods promises kept.

If I can be so bold as to rearrange the New Testament so that Luke is the first book I feel that we end up with a continuation of the Old Testament. The last chapter of the Old Testament book of Malachi ends with Gods promise to send a prophet like Elijah before the day of the Lord comes.

Elizabeth is carrying John the Baptist the new ‘Elijah’. Mary is carrying the Lord, whos coming John will announce.

Elizabeth’s story, and in turn Mary’s is a clear demonstration that not only was God sending his Son to bring about the world’s redemption, but that this was being done clearly and explicitly in fulfillment of his promise to do so.

Our God keeps his promises. He will fulfill them at the right time. Not at our time. He is a God we can trust. The promises of God for his people are focused not on our personal blessing and convenience, but on the achievement of God’s purposes. He has a goal of bringing redemption to the whole of creation, not just to pick out a few here and there for a blessed future life in heaven.

Those are the four parts. Mary’s Gratitude, Gods Power and Mercy, The lot of the humble and proud and the keeping of promises.

After the initial surprise Mary said “I am the Lord’s servant,” “May it be to me as you have said.”

Are you ready to return God’s faith and accept Gods will whatever it may be?

The angel appeared to Joseph after Mary told of her pregnancy and said (if you can pardon my translation) “Joseph, trust God. He is in this. You may not understand all that is happening, but just trust God & everything will be all right”

Mary’s Song tells us to rejoice. We may not always think our prayers are answered but trust God – rejoice in the God who answers…He is the on-time, in-time, right-time God, that works for our good and His glory; rejoice in Him today!

Rejoice in the God who surprises…For when He intervenes, it may catch us off guard, but in the end, it is always worth singing about.

To finish would you be so kind to read Mary’s song with me? The song, like many other words in Scripture, may either be read as the speaker’s utterance of personal feeling, or recited as the Church’s expression of permanent truth. I leave you to read it as you are moved to.

46… “My soul glorifies the Lord
47and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
50His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55to Abraham and his descendants forever,
even as he said to our fathers.”

In this time of global financial collapse Mary’s words ring with relevance.

The rich are being sent away empty.

The proud are being scattered.

Their acts have affected all of us.

But remember God keeps his promises.

If we remain humble to his word, we will be lifted up.

The darkness will be past and the true light will shine.

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