As Christmas approaches, our thoughts turn to the stories of Jesus’s birth and one character above all others, that is to Mary, Jesus’s mother. This young unmarried woman, no more than a girl, has just heard that she will become pregnant and give birth to God’s son. She sings a mighty song, sometimes called the Magnificat, named after the first line in Latin, “My soul glorifies the Lord.” I want to unpack this song of Mary in this blog.
Mary sings her song of praise, following the tradition of her people and scriptures. Echoing women like the prophet Deborah (Judges 5:2-31), worship leader Miriam (Exodus 15:20-22) and faithful Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10). Her song has been likened to a patchwork quilt, combining bits of older fabric to create something beautiful, which is both old and new.
Young as she may be, Mary has a significant understanding of her scriptures and has been called the first theologian of the gospel. She draws upon the patterns of the songs of the women who came before her, using their language and pictures to tell us about God’s covenant faithfulness. These are the bright colours of the past sewn into her new quilt.
She sings of God breaking through into human history with divine mercy, of the redemption of her community, of turning the world upside down (or should that be the right way up!). Jesus would echo his mother’s words when at the start of his ministry he would say he had come to declare the year of God’s favour, and the release of people from their sins and illnesses. He ate at the same table and shared his life with sinners and outcasts.
The message did not end there, Jesus’s followers continued in the same way as Mary and Jesus, adding even more colours and fabric to the quilt. They spread the message out to those previously excluded, brought the outsiders inside, and turned the world upside down.
Mary sang of a world as it should be and as God intends it to be. Of God’s kingdom come to earth. The world in which she lived desperately needed her song and so does ours. It has been a call to Christians through the ages; will we still listen and join in her song?
Mary, the first theologian of the Gospel
Luke 1:46–55 The Passion Translation
And Mary sang this song:
“My soul is ecstatic, overflowing with praises to God!
My spirit bursts with joy over my life-giving God!
For he set his tender gaze upon me, his lowly servant girl.
And from here on, everyone will know
that I have been favoured and blessed.
The Mighty One has worked a mighty miracle for me;
holy is his name!
Mercy kisses all who fear him,
from one generation to the next.
Mighty power flows from him
to scatter all those who walk in pride.
Powerful princes he tears from their thrones
and he lifts up the lowly to take their place.
Those who hunger for him will always be filled,
but the smug and self-satisfied he will send away empty.
Because he can never forget to show mercy,
he has helped his chosen servant, Israel,
keeping his promises to Abraham
and to his descendants forever.”
Susan Sutherland is the author of Leaving Bethany, a historical Biblical fiction novel written from the point of view of Martha of Bethany, a friend of Jesus. The sequel, Return to Caesarea, will be out in early 2023.
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