First United Presbyterian Church

My Soul Magnifies the Lord

Luke 1:46 – 55

46 And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, 48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

This scripture, referred to in the Mass as The Magnificat, is a significant passage in the liturgical tradition. Its usage in worship dates back to the early Church, in which was referred to by Byzantine Christians as the Ode to the Theotokos. It’s generally regarded as one of the oldest hymns in the Christian faith. 

Last year, I was the interim music director at a Lutheran Church here in Fayetteville. To me, the title of “interim” described my life as a whole. There was a lot of feelings of being “in-between”, not feeling as if I had fully settled down into a career path. I was doing various things to earn my keep, including substitute teaching, private lessons, playing shows, and being a music minister. I was a minute man, using my gifts to fill a need. But I was also very burnt out, far away from home, and poor as dirt to boot. 

It was the season of Advent, and it was that church’s tradition to hold Advent services every Wednesday. During these services, we sang a Litany entitled “The Holden Evening Prayer” by Marty Haugen. In this Litany, Haugen includes his musical setting of the Magnificat. Each week, I had the chance to sing these words. My soul doth magnify the Lord… Mary sings her praises to God, affirming who He is and what He is capable of. 

We as modern Christians understand the good news of the Gospel, that Jesus is the Son of God, born of a virign. Mary lived in a society that had yet to understand God’s will. She likely endured many negative consequences as the result of falling pregnant before marriage. Regardless, Mary still praised the Lord, despite what anyone had to say. There is an element of empowerment in the Magnificat, as if Mary has crossed over from merely being obedient, to understanding her place in the story of the Messiah. She has spoken into existence the basic tenets of the Christian faith: 1) God keeps his promises and 2) God favors the humble, and humbles the prideful. 

Contributed by Cole Birmingham.

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