Saturday, November 30, 2019

City Notes Special '19 | The Magnificat: Exalting God Reveals the Power to Fill Us and Transform Us


Advent 2019: The Magnificat for Every Tribe, Tongue, and Nation (Luke 1:45-55)

Mary teaches each of us that we are called to be a magnificat, too: to be so fully what we were created to be that our own lives give unique witness to the power of God in the world.


"Mary's Song" excerpt adapted from Sonja Corbitt's Exalted: How the Power of the Magnificat Can Transform Us

Scriptures: Luke 1:46-55


Mary was a diaper changer, laundry doer, dinner maker, religion teacher, and spouse. Mary was as normal as any of us. Her secret is that humility like hers in the context of these daily, unremarkable tasks unleashes the power of the Holy Spirit in the world. 

Mary's Magnificat is divided into two sections. The first is a personal reflection on what God has done for her (Lk. 1:46-49); the second is a meditation of what God has done throughout salvation history (Lk. 1:50-55). Because Mary prayed the fixed-hour prayers of her Jewish faith, she had assimilated the Old Testament scriptures so completely that when she praised God, she did so with Scripture (see 1 Samuel 2:1-10). Once, Mary learned from the song of Hannah and all the Old Testament that God brings down the proud but blesses the lowly who look to Him for mercy. And now she has found it to be true in her own experience. So she prayed God's Word back to Him! She had learned so well from Scripture that she was ready and able to experience it herself. Jesus followed in His mother's footsteps in His frequent application of certain Scriptures to His ministry and specific actions, especially the Psalms He prayed from the Cross (see Psalm 22Psalm 16:7-11; Psalm 31:5).

Luke 1:46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 
48 for He has looked on the humble estate of His servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 
49 for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. 
50 And His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation. 
51 He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; 
52 He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; 
53 He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. 
54 He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, 
55 as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His offspring forever.”

Today Mary's Magnificat is lifted to God — chanted, said, or silently prayed — every day in the Divine Office at Vespers (night prayer). The Magnificat is assigned to Vespers because the world was saved at what would become the close, or the evening, of the First Covenants by Mary's assent to her particular role in the divine plan of redemption. The Magnificat wraps up every day's prayers, just as Mary wrapped up the Old Testament and began the New with her prayer and cooperation with the Holy Spirit.

God raises up Mary as the prophetic voice: Mary does not assert; she assents, as we see at the wedding in Cana, too. She does not exalt herself; she fully accepts and works within her duties, and in that humility, God exalts her. Mary is a woman of true power through the fullness of her humility. What a precious faith it shows that she can sing in the face of the gathering storm of suspicion and shame. She will be charged with sin, even while she is preparing the world for its Savior.

St. Irenaeus says, "Being obedient she became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race." Hence, a few of the early Church leaders gladly assert ... : "The knot of Eve's disobedience was untied in Mary's obedience: what the virgin Eve bound through her disbelief, Mary loosened by her faith."


"Virgin Mary and Eve" by Scott Erickson, original by Sr. Grace Remington, OSCO
© 2005, Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey

In the midst of her service as a poor young woman, Mary finds herself the Mother of God, exalted above men and angels. Mary teaches us that being exalted can be, and often is, as simple as serving in place until we are called to step out into more complicated waters. We can stop the planning, stop the grasping, stop the hustling, and pray to know what God wants for us first. And what He always wants and brings is salvation.

Mary's song takes us through the whole sweep of salvation history, as she invites us to join the whole of God's people in celebrating His movement of grace. We continue to do so by looking back in the Scriptures and tradition of the Church, all of us together from generation to generation. 

In the original Greek of Luke's Gospel, the physician teaches us the verbs of magnificent continuing action in the Magnificat: God has (1) shown strength with His arm; He has (2) scattered the proud; He has (3) put down the mighty; He has (4) exalted those of low degree; He has (5) filled the hungry; He has the rich (6) sent away empty; and He has (7) helped His servant Israel. God has shown strength, He is showing strength, and He will show strength." Seven is the biblical number for completeness, covenant, and divinity. Evident in these seven divine works that sweep up all of salvation history into a type of covenant synopsis is the style in which the Lord of history works: He places Himself on the side of the most insignificant. Often, God's plan is hidden when the proud, the mighty, and the rich seem to win out, over and over. But always, in the end, His strength (His name) is shown to those who are faithful to His Word: the humble, the hungry, His servants, namely, the community of the People of God that, like Mary, are all poor and simple of heart. 

At one point in my life, I had never been so profoundly humiliated. What do you do when cutbacks, job losses, tragic accidents, stalkers, haters, marital strife, postpartum depression, and overwhelming debt (all at one time!) threaten to blow you away? You dare to let God exalt you. That's all I could do, and it was everything I needed to do. The one thing I knew from watching Mary's example and singing her Magnificat was that God would vindicate me if I remained with Him and waited long enough. If you haven't seen God do anything in your life yet, perhaps it's because you haven't risked anything yet that requires for Him to save you. Those who risk everything with Him always see the strength of His arm if we're willing to receive what He and He alone can give.

Mary's Magnificat shows us that we ought gladly to be poor in spirit, to "be wrong" and let our adversaries "be right." They will not continue in it forever; God's promise is too strong for them. ... Sometimes He must empty our hands and hearts so that He might fill them with something better. ... If you're not famished for spiritual things, chances are it's not because you have feasted and are satisfied but that have snacked on junk food away from the true table. When your soul is stuffed with small things, there is no room for the great. ... Mary recognizes the revolutionary presence and power of the "Mighty One who has done great things" for her. She proves that God works in secret ways of weakness to accomplish the great movements of His heart, and her Magnificat reminds me that in the turmoil of evil and suffering, God is quietly turning everything right-side-up with sacrificial love and filling the hungry with what we truly need.

Mary's treasure was not on earth, where moths and rust corrode and thieves rob. Her treasure was in her womb, a womb filled for its emptiness and willingness to remain empty if it pleased God. Her treasure was in heaven, from whence Jesus came, and He gave Himself to her, filling her completely. The detached, the little ones, and the hungry are so open and ready for filling that they somehow already lean in to possess Jesus. No one surrounded by luxury, comfort, pleasure, entertainment, prestige, and position, who live only for the good opinion of neighbors, is open to Mary's radical filling. Mary shows us that detachment is the first half of openness and humility is the other. All of us are to be open, ever ready to receive from God like Mary. We are to be like lilies, uncluttered, simple, receiving everything, blooming where we are planted, knowing from whom we came and to whom we go. Like her, we are unconcerned about food or drink or clothes. We detach ourselves from these worries and set our hearts exclusively on Him and the Kingdom He sets up in us (Matthew 6:25-34). All of the saints were not only willing to be stripped of all possessions, but they rejoiced in the privilege, since it aligned them more closely with their Savior who always rewards those who their lot in with Him (Matthew 5:3-12). Blessed are the hungry and empty are the rich because the hungry suffer no impediment to what they most deeply crave: Jesus' love in their depths, depths deeper than the belly. Never have I been more happy or at peace than the times in my life when I was most spiritually and financially empty while trusting completely in Him to fill the gaps. "Having nothing, and yet possessing everything" (2 Corinthians 6:10b).


Soli Jesu gloria.


From Illustrated Ministry's Advent Journey Coloring Pages & Devotional Guide


Christ is all,

Rev. Mike “Sully” Sullivan

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