39 Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45 Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”
46 And Mary said:
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
48For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
49For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.
50And His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation.
51He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
52He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
53He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.
54He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy,
55As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.”
In our passage, Mary, the blessed mother of Jesus, shows us just how well she knows her Bible. And she shows us that she understands the promises that God has made to His people over the course of generations and thousands of years are being fulfilled and what exactly that fulfillment means. When we think of Advent, and the joy and expectation of Christ coming, the song in our hearts should be The Magnificat.
Mary Visits Elizabeth (v. 39-45)
After the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will become pregnant with Jesus, Mary goes to the hill country of Judah to be with her relative Elizabeth. Earlier in the chapter Elizabeth’s husband, Zacharias, heard a similar announcement that despite their advanced age, Zacharias and Elizabeth would have a son. Zacharias did not believe the angel and so he was made mute until the baby was born (and which is probably why he does not appear in this part of the story, despite Mary coming to his house).
Something amazing happens when Mary arrives at Zacharias’ house. When Mary entered and made her greeting to Elizabeth, the unborn John the Baptist leapt in Mary’s womb. That Holy Scripture records this for is interesting. Why does God want us to know that the pre-born John leapt when Mary (and Jesus) entered the room? God does not waste His breath. Everything in Scripture is there for a reason and it is our duty and our privilege to figure out why. And in this particular case, there seem to be a few reasons. To begin with, John is treated here not as a zygote or fetus, with some dehumanizing scientific-sounding term, but as a human being, a person with his own mind, his own will, and his own soul. Along with Deuteronomy 21, where the death penalty is applied to a man hitting a pregnant woman so that she miscarries, this is the clearest example in scripture that shows us that a baby in the womb is a person, not merely a potential person.
Another reason why God point this out to us is to show us the nature of faith. Because we are people on this side of the modern philosophical and intellectual movement known as “The Enlightenment,” we believe faith is very closely associated with intellect and understanding. And we are highly individualistic about it, particularly because of the cultural importance Americans place upon individualism. We think faith is impossible unless your brain functions like a normal adult. It leads us to believe things like “You cannot really have faith if you are intellectually disabled or not intellectually developed.” The implications of that idea are massive. If you have a child with Down Syndrome, autism, or some other intellectual disability, or an elderly loved one with senility or Alzheimer’s Disease and you believe faith is tied to intellectual ability, you could despair. When I was a young boy and my grandfather had Alzheimer’s, this was a tremendous fear of mine. “What if my grandpa sins in his current state and does not have the mental ability to repent!?” It was something that I agonized over. But God does not want us to agonize over such things. My grandfather was a faithful man, who loved the Lord, served His church, raised His children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. His faith in Jesus Christ did not change because his mind slowly broke down.
The example of John the Baptist’s faith while still in the womb may seem extraordinary because John was an extraordinary man. Some see this and dismiss the idea that we can draw any conclusions from pre-born John’s faith. If that is the point, then its inclusion into Scripture is for the purpose of novelty. “Oh that’s neat. Moving on.” No, John’s example here is like David in Psalm 22 saying he had faith in the Lord while nursing on his mother’s breasts. It is there to give us hope! It is there to give us confidence that the faith that unites us to Christ does not come because we can meet an intellectual standard.
Elizabeth, too, responds to Mary’s arrival, and the Holy Spirit inspires her to say “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Roman Catholicism has seized this phrase for its idolatrous prayer to Mary, so it makes us leery even hearing it. What a tragedy! Mary is blessed among women. God giving her the honor to bear Jesus marks her out among all the women who have ever lived. We can and should believe it because Scripture tells us this.
The Magnificat (v. 46-54)
After Elizabeth praises Mary’s faith, which is in stark contrast to Zacharias’ unbelief, Mary launches into song, in stark contrast to Zacharias’ being stricken mute. And Mary’s song is a glorious weaving together of so many of the strands of Holy Scripture that are spun over the course of millennia. If you do not know your Bible well, you might think it is just one song among the many in the Bible. But there is so much more to it going on than that.
Mary begins with “My soul magnifies the Lord.” Then she goes on to say “And my spirit has rejoiced in God my savior.” That is a paraphrase of Psalm 35
“And my soul shall be joyful in the Lord;
It shall rejoice in His salvation.
All my bones shall say,
“Lord, who is like You,
Delivering the poor from him who is too strong for him,
Yes, the poor and the needy from him who plunders him?”
The latter part about the poor being delivered from those who plunder him is also referred to by Mary in v. 53.
“For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant” is a reference to 1 Samuel 1 where the barren Hannah prays for a child (which would be the Prophet Samuel) using those same words.
Mary then says all generations shall call her blessed. As an aside, it must be said, we should not fear calling Mary blessed, either. Just because an errant sect of Christianity venerates her idolatrously, does not mean we should swing all the way to the other ditch and dishonor her. What the Bible says is true. Let God be true and every man a liar. Mary is blessed. We shouldn’t fear naming our daughters Mary because a schismatic sect often does that. They don’t get to claim Mary as their own. She is ours. The antidote to idolatrous veneration of Mary as almost a sort of sub-goddess is to honor her rightly.
Then Mary paraphrases Psalms 71 and 126, saying the Almighty has done great things for her. “And holy is His name” is straight out of Psalm 111. “His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation” is also not original to Mary but a reference to God making His covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17, the promise in the Ten Commandments of mercy to thousands of generations in Exodus 20, and almost a direct quote from Psalm 103. Psalm 98 describes the strength of the Lord’s arm, and Psalm 33 and Psalm 2 show the Lord scattering the proud.
Mary again refers to Hannah’s song, where Hannah sang this:
7The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
He brings low and lifts up.
8He 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.
Mary likewise sings about God lifting up the low and casting down the proud.
She then quotes Psalm 98 again, referring to God’s helping Israel and remembering His mercy.
Finally, she closes her song referring to the promises God made to Abraham and his seed, that these promises are now fulfilled in her womb.
Many people read The Magnificat and misunderstand it. Especially the part about scattering the proud, putting down the mighty from their thrones, filling the hungry, sending away the rich. Liberals and others who reject the rest of the Bible and seize upon this as scriptural proof of their ideology of envy and larceny. Is Mary saying the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises means revolutionary destruction and the establishment of a utopian society? The conservative view, however, leaves much to be desired as well, because it is a reaction to the liberal view “well, what Mary is saying here doesn’t mean that and so it must not really mean anything in particular at all.” Or we will spiritualize it and apply it to the end times. “Mary is talking about end times here, not anything going on in this world.” That leaves a lot to be desired, too. You cannot imagine Elizabeth, hearing this song, and all those who first read Luke’s record of this thinking “this is about envious cretins murdering everyone and stealing their stuff” nor “this isn’t about anything relevant to our situation today.”
So how did Elizabeth and the first Christians read this? Well, they read it the way it is written. The fulfillment of the promises to Israel in the promised seed, Jesus, really does accomplish this. The world is filled with rich, powerful people that crush the poor and weak. One does not have to be an acolyte of Lenin or Robespierre to recognize this. This was true in Jesus’ day, with the wicked Herodians, the Chief Priests, and the Pharisees and Sadducees. They existed to chew God’s people up and spit them out. Most of Jesus’ ministry was castigating these people. There is a reason He was murdered, and the reason is those people hated Him. He was a threat to them because He scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts and put down the mighty from their thrones. This is what Jesus does.
And He does it in every context. Just because awful, godless people have appropriated the paradigm of oppressor and oppressed and made an absurd parody of these things, does not mean these categories are fiction. That is one of the great evils of the woke religion is that they so badly mar concern for the oppressed that we begin to act as if it is not real. But tell that to the people losing their livelihoods they spent their entire lives building over a being forced by a tyrant to take an experimental medical treatment of dubious efficacy. Tell that to Christians in Canada who can be jailed and have their children taken away if they attempt to prevent them from pursuing the insanity of transsexualism. Tell the poor in our country who are having their savings and paychecks wiped out by massive inflation that benefits only the richest of the rich. When you watch the owners of Amazon and Walmart (who were allowed to stay open) see their net worth double in the last two years, while your tiny business goes bankrupt due to lockdowns, supply chain disruption, and inflation, the words “He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” start to sound pretty good, even if you hate communists more than anyone else in your neighborhood.
The fact is, Jesus has come. And He reigns over this world at His Father’s right hand. People that use their power and authority to grind other people into dust, He deals with. We can trust Him to deal with them. And not just far off in the eschaton, some time in the future that does not matter to our lives today. Jesus is dealing with them here and now. And not just big ones, like the regime we live under. He deals with the boss who abuses his workers, who demands more from you than Scrooge ever demanded from Bob Cratchit. He deals with the person that abuses little children. He deals with all those who treat others unjustly. Here and now in our world.
But sometimes, it does not seem like it. In Mary’s day it didn’t seem like it. Right after Jesus was born, they had to flee from the evil tyrant Herod. It sure didn’t seem like the proud were being scattered, the mighty were being cast down, or the rich sent away there, did it. But with Jesus’ birth, the events leading to the destruction of the Herods was set in motion. It was happening. Which is precisely why Herod was trying to kill Jesus.
That is how it looks for us. Just because the wicked seem like they are winning and crushing us does not mean they are. It actually means that Jesus and His people are a threat to them. If Jesus birth did not mean what Mary said it does, that the mighty were going to be cast down, Herod would not have tried to kill Jesus. If Jesus was not presently casting down the mighty in our day, and accomplishing this through the faithfulness of His people, the wicked would not be trying so hard to subvert, discourage, demoralize, and destroy the Christian faith. If you leading a quiet peaceable life full of hope in Jesus Christ was not a threat to them, they would not be doing everything in their power to keep you from believing in Jesus. So the charge to you is this, trust in Jesus Christ with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and watch him cast down the mighty from their thrones. In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!