And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’
With all due respect to Mark Lowry, the writer of the popular Christmas song "Mary Did You Know," it appears that Mary did, in fact, know. The mother of Jesus is seen in some powerful moments in Luke's Gospel, one of which we'll hear in worship this Sunday. Called "the Magnificat" for the first word of its Latin version, Mary's song (Luke 1:46-55) has become probably the most widely arranged, recited, and sung passage in all of Scripture:
This song is chanted and sung by the church throughout the world every day at Vespers (Evening Prayer), and each year in Advent we hear it on a Sunday. It echoes the thrilling notes of the Old Testament (especially the song of Hannah) and anticipates the unfolding story of salvation through the life and ministry of Jesus. When Jesus says, in our Gospel passage this Sunday, "blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me," it starts with hearing the words of an otherwise not very important or prominent girl from Nazareth who devoted her own body to the incarnation of God and the salvation of the world. Here's a 16th-century setting by Palestrina:
And here's a huge. majestic setting by J.S. Bach from the 18th century:
And here's a personal favorite--an intimate setting by my friend and sometime editor Steve Thorngate. There is something authentic about the use of a country-music style to voice the words of a provincial girl who has been moved to the very center of the universe:
God's Work. Our hands.