As we approach the text this morning we should immediately note how much respect is given to Mary. Elizabeth blesses Mary. Mary speaks of how all future generations will call her blessed. Mary should be a hero to the Church. She should be respected but without being venerated. Honored, in our thinking, without being worshiped. There are two extremes to avoid then. On the one hand there is the Mary cult that exists within some of Roman Catholic culture. Here Mary is seen, by some, as Mother of humanity, Co–redemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate for the human race. On the other hand there is the Mary that nobody knows or remembers.
Luther gets it right, I think when he wrote:
“Mary is the highest woman and the noblest gem in Christianity after Christ. She is nobility, wisdom, and holiness personified. We can never honor her enough. Still honor and praise must be given to her in such a way as to injure neither Christ nor the Scriptures” (Luther 1531).
Elizabeth said to Mary: “Blessed art thou among women”. Mary, then, was the chosen instrument of the Incarnation and the fulfillment of the Old Testament. “But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Gal. 4:4-5).
We agree with what Lutheran Pastor Ross Mahan is telling his congregation this morning,
The contribution of the Virgin Mary to our salvation was absolutely necessary. Without Mary we lose the doctrine of the two natures of Jesus Christ. Jesus was true God, begotten of His Father from all eternity, and true man, conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary. Jesus stood in our place as both God and man to redeem us to God. “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (I Tim. 2:5). If you lose the Virgin Mary, you lose the Christian faith.
In turning to Mary’s Magnificat we must remind ourselves to read it in the context of Redemptive History. This is a Song that fits into the unfolding of the History of Redemption and not a treatise that can be isolated from the rest of Scripture. The reason we mark this at the outset is that many have gone to this passage to justify something called Liberation Theology. Liberation Theology teaches that the Church must involve itself in a socialist agenda in order to work to release the working class from the oppression of those who have capital.
Those who believe in Liberation Theology thus go to passages like Mary’s song and from the text enlist God as being on the side of social revolutionaries. They take Mary’s words from 52-53
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
and apply them to every culture where class structure is at work and suggest that God is always on the side of breaking down economic class structures. Jesus, thus becomes a bandoleer sporting Bandito crusading for a Marxist New World Order.
Such commentaries as Wm. Barclay reveals this kind of thinking. Barclay can say,
“(Where the text says that) He cast’s down the mighty — He exalts the humble this is speaking of a social revolution.”
Mr. Barclay then goes on to explain the text in classical Marxist egalitarian categories,
“Christianity puts an end to the world’s labels and prestige….The social grades and ranks are gone.”
Mr. Barclay would have us believe that Christianity is a socially leveling religion. It is not a wonder with teaching like this that Americans are notorious for having a problem with authority since authority requires ‘rank.’
And again later in his commentary when explaining “He has filled those who are hungry…those who are rich he has sent empty away”, Barclay offers,
“That is an economic revolution. A non-Christian society is an acquisitive society where each man is out to amass as much as he can get. Christianity begets a revolution in each man, and a revolution in the world.”
You see this text is being drafted in order to justify a socialist order where everyone is equal in position and possessions and a egalitarian order where everyone is the same.
And while God certainly is concerned about just social order we can authoritatively say that God does not favor socialism or egalitarianism, nor does this text even deal with those issues.
This text must be read Redemptively and Historically.
Mary is speaking as one whom is wrapped up in the the Historical fulfillment of all God’s promises to the Fathers. She is speaking from the position of one who sees that God, by what He is doing in her, is keeping His promise to Abraham and to the Church Fathers of the Old Covenant. She is not giving a socio-economic treatise here but rather is articulating her understanding of God’s covenant faithfulness.
Mary’s understanding of God’s covenant faithfulness as communicated by Elizabeth’s words of Mary, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord,” implies contrast contrast between Mary’s trust in God’s Word with her own husband’s hesitation, doubt and questioning.
Zechariah asked for proof that the angel’s word was true. Mary asked for an explanation of what was going to happen to her, and then gave her willing consent. Zechariah the religious professional doubted God, but Mary the peasant girl believed. However, there may also be another implied contrast here and that is between Mary, who believed God’s authoritative and legislative Word and Eve who gave ear to the whispers of the Serpent saying “Hath God really said.” Mary is the anti-Eve in this account who submits to God’s Word and is used to bear the child who would heal Eve’s wound.
Secondly, we want to note here the way Mary was shaped in her thinking. We note that much of what we find here in the Magnificat is typically reflective of a Hebrew mindset which includes a large familiarity with not only what the Scriptures say but also what the Scriptures mean.
Comparing this Magnificat to I Samuel 2:1-10, where we find Hannah praising God for opening her womb with the child Samuel, we find large similarities.
5 Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
And the hungry have ceased to hunger.
3 He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.
8 He raises the poor from the dust
And lifts the beggar from the ash heap,
To set them among princes
And make them inherit the throne of glory.
52 He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
10 The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken in pieces;
From heaven He will thunder against them.
The LORD will judge the ends of the earth.
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
And these are only a few of the more obvious similarities. Clearly there is a relationship between Hannah’s praise and Mary’s.
But also we should realize that Mary’s song is also shaped by the Psalms. Many of the phrases that she uses are likewise found throughout the Psalms.
Now, I bring this out not just to note something interesting about the texts but more importantly to challenge us to be imbued with Scripture and to imbue our children with Scripture so that when they open their mouths they are echoing the mind of God not only in what the Scripture says but also in what the Scriptures mean. Clearly Mary understands herself and what is happening to her through a mindset informed by Biblical categories. The challenge that is brought to us through this song is that we likewise would see all of life through a Biblcially informed frame of reference.
Now we continue to try and understand these words redemptively historically. Mary says in vs. 50
His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation
These words are takes from the covenant of Genesis 17 where God says to Abraham,
7 And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.
Which is articulated again in Dt. 7:9
“Therefore know that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments;
So, you see Mary is saying that God has kept this promise to the Fathers through the child that is growing within her.
And we might add here that because Mary see’s God’s faithfulness to His people in the past she can be confident that God’s people will always exist in the future and that is why she can say with such confidence that ‘henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.’ Mary could not say this w/o a confidence in the fact that God would always keep and maintain a people who would forever call her blessed. If it is revealed to Mary that all generations shall call her blessed then we can be confident that God will always have a people, throughout the generations who will call her blessed. The Church isn’t going away.
In vs. 51 we find the phrase
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
This phrase ‘scattered the proud’ is a metaphor derived from putting to flight a defeated enemy.
This echoes the sentiment of Scripture where God arises to defeat His enemies.
Note here that it is God who is baring His arm. God does all the saving here and that is clearly seen in the reality that she is carrying a child that was given not by human agency.
Now, here we should say again that Mary sees the faithfulness of God in the past being brought again into the present. In the past God out of Faithfulness to His covenant did these things and in the present out of faithfulness to the covenant He is again doing these things. As God was faithful to Israel in remembering them in their bondage during the time of Moses, and as He was faithful in making covenant with David, so He is now being faithful to His people by making Mary the Theotokos … the God bearer.
And we should note in doing these things He is not simply setting aside the rich because they are rich but because in their wealth and station they have set God aside and are oppressing His people. Mary exalts that God is setting the rich aside because the rich have God’s people under their boots. God’s people are not to be esteemed solely because they are poor. It is not their poverty that makes them estimable but rather it is because they are God’s people who happen to be poor and oppressed that makes them estimable.
My point here is that rich are not to be despised simply because they are rich but rather because they are rich and forget God and so oppress God’s people. And similarly, the poor are not to be thought noble simply because they are poor but rather only if they are poor and are lovers of God. Wealth and poverty by themselves are not indicators of peoples value before God.
When we get to vs. 52 we see Mary’s understanding that History is the personal outworking of God’s personal involvement,
“He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.”
“She teaches us, that the world does not move and revolve by a blind impulse of fortune, but that all the revolutions observed in it are brought about by the Providence of God, and that those judgments, which appear to us to disturb and overthrow the entire framework of society, are regulated by God with unerring justice.”
History is personal. It can not ultimately be explained by the actions of men or by the confluence of events. History is not mechanical (Enlightenment thinking) or magical (Animistic thinking) but it is personal. It has upon it the fingerprints of God.
Vs. 54f reveal that Mary has had Redemptive History in mind all along.
54 He has holpen His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy,
55 As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.”
If the Blessed Virgin has social orders in mind at all, it is not about social orders where the poor get their share but rather it is about a social order where righteousness gets it share. But, again, social orders are not on her mind, but rather the faithfulness of God to His covenant promises and His covenant people are on her mind. God had promised to send a deliverer and now that time had come. This deliverer — this savior is the one who would rescue God’s people from God’s wrath, from their sin, and from the works of the devil. This savior would overturn social orders but only because he first conquered individual men by taking from them their heart of stone and giving to them a heart of flesh. This Messiah that Mary was carrying would crush the unrighteous, both rich and poor, and seat in their places those who would love righteousness and serve mercy.
During advent season we continue to magnify the Lord w/ Mary for the Lord Christ continues to oppose the proud while giving grace to the humble. He opposes the proud by retaining His wrath against the wicked. He gives His grace to the humble by coming near to them in Christ.