Described as one of the most radical theological descriptions of God’s redeeming work, the Magnificat lyrically expresses Mary’s astonishment at her role. Mary can well be our teacher, for she well understands the great contrast between her lowliness and God’s grandeur as the holy and mighty Savior. Thus, she magnifies God.
I wish we knew more about Mary—her family, her education, her great faith. Tradition has filled in around the spare biblical narratives, ascribing to her unparalleled virtues and the indispensible human role in bearing Jesus. The early church (after considerable debate) agreed to call her Theotokos, God-bearer.
Mary is the first disciple. She believes “according to the word” offered by God’s messenger. She marvels at God’s selection of her, and she offers a considered “yes.” Luke scripts her response: “Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48b). She gave her whole self to the service of God.
The third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, calls us to rejoice, along with Mary. She acclaims God’s faithfulness to all generations, which were her own forebears. She also declares what God intends to do for those who most need mercy and justice. “He [God] has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:53). God will bring “down the powerful from their thrones,” for they are the chief abusers of God’s own people.
Too much of our energy flows into self-magnification, I fear. Even our gift selection at this time of year is about how others will view us. Will the recipients regard us as generous and thoughtful enough? Will they be impressed with our creativity and good taste?
Magnifying God requires the disposition of John the Baptist, i.e., the willingness to point beyond ourselves to the Holy One. When self-regard fills up all the relational space, there is little aptitude for exultation directed toward God. Mary’s hymn of praise wells up from a soul filled with wonder and gratitude for the “Mighty One who has done great things for me . . .” (1:49).
As we continue the vigil of Advent, rejoicing is birthed in us as we recognize God’s great identification with humanity. God enters the world like every other human—“through the belly of a woman,” as my friend Bill Leonard put it recently. In the insistent cry of the newborn, we encounter God’s help and remembrance of mercy (v. 53).
Molly T. Marshall
Central is a school that probes the biblical narratives to understand better God’s faithfulness to all generations. To learn more, visit www.cbts.edu