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The Magnificat

Elizabeth Prata

(Photo: Unsplash)

By Elizabeth Prata

Luke 1:26-56 contains an incredible amount of theology, praise, and biblical history. It’s the Annunciation (Gabriel’s announcement to Mary of her selection as the womb to carry the coming Messiah) and Mary’s praise to the LORD, called her Magnificat.

Mary’s Magnificat
by John MacArthur,
Friday, December 5, 2014

Imagine how Mary must have felt when she was told by an angel that she would be the parent of the long-awaited Messiah—that she’d be responsible for raising and nurturing her Savior. How do you think you’d respond? You’d no doubt find the responsibility overwhelming and intimidating. You might be instantly overcome with worry. You might even attempt to respectfully decline the position altogether. That’s why Mary’s response to the angel’s prophecy in Luke 1:28-35 is so remarkable. She was just a young woman—a girl, really—but she reacted with the grace, wisdom, and spiritual maturity of a seasoned saint.

It’s often instructive to compare Mary’s response to the news with Zacharias’ response to similar news. Zacharias was husband to Elizabeth. Elizabeth was kin to Mary and Elizabeth would bear the forerunner to Jesus, who would become known as John the Baptist. The angel Gabriel came to announce this news to Zacharias. Though he was old and past childbearing years as was Elizabeth, the husband and wife would receive the privilege of producing a son who would declare the Messiah’s coming.

Zacharias was a priest, ministering in the temple when Gabriel came. Zechariah’s response was-

Zacharias said to the angel, “How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.” (Luke 1:18)

Zacharias should have known better. Why? 1) he was a priest, well versed in the scriptures 2) hel-LO! Abraham and Sarah! Precedent had been famously established that the LORD can and does enable barren women advanced in years to become pregnant, noted our preacher yesterday in his sermon.

Mary on the other hand, when she asked “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34b), no precedent had ever been seen where a woman suddenly became pregnant without the man’s participation. Zacharias was all, ‘give me a sign’ and Mary was ‘let it be done to me as you will’. Further, Zacharias would receive acclaim, fame, and notability with this miracle. Mary knew stoning was the consequence for adultery, and if she escaped that, she’d only receive during her lifetime, shame, suspicion, and snickers for this seemingly illegitimate pregnancy. Yet as MacArthur said above, she responded with humility, grace, and submission. All the more remarkable since she was a young girl.

One other thought before we get to the verses, compare Mary’s praise song with Hannah’s. (1 Samuel 2:1–11)

Here is her Magnificat, embedded in verses prior: Luke 1:26-55

26Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. 30The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 32“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” 34Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. 36“And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. 37“For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Mary Visits Elizabeth

      39Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, 40and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43“And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? 44“For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. 45“And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”

The Magnificat

      46And Mary said:
            “My soul exalts the Lord,

      47And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

      48“For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave;
            For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.

      49“For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
            And holy is His name.

      50“AND HIS MERCY IS UPON GENERATION AFTER GENERATION
            TOWARD THOSE WHO FEAR HIM.

      51“He has done mighty deeds with His arm;
            He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.

      52“He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
            And has exalted those who were humble.

      53“HE HAS FILLED THE HUNGRY WITH GOOD THINGS;
            And sent away the rich empty-handed.

      54“He has given help to Israel His servant,
            In remembrance of His mercy,

      55As He spoke to our fathers,
            To Abraham and his descendants forever.”

      56And Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home.

This one of my favorite depictions in art of The Annunciation. It’s from 1898, by painter Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1859–1937). Image and Description from Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Tanner painted The Annunciation soon after returning to Paris from a trip to Egypt and Palestine in 1897. The son of a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Tanner specialized in religious subjects, and wanted to experience the people, culture, architecture, and light of the Holy Land. Influenced by what he saw, Tanner created an unconventional image of the moment when the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will bear the Son of God. Mary is shown as an adolescent dressed in rumpled Middle Eastern peasant clothing, without a halo or other holy attributes. Gabriel appears only as a shaft of light. Tanner entered this painting in the 1898 Paris Salon exhibition, after which it was bought for the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1899, making it his first work to enter an American museum.

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