Magnify

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

Mary sings of the magnifying gaze of God. She sings of the Holy One of Israel who looks with favor on what is small and poor, easily overlooked or ignored. She sings of God’s magnifying gaze that has changed her life and the course of the world.

An angel came to her and told her that she would get pregnant and give birth to a boy, and that she would name him Jesus. And that was only the beginning; the surprise kept unfolding. God would give to her boy the throne of David, and of his kingdom there would be no end. And this child of hers would be called the Son of the Most High.

Then the angel lingered a little, didn’t just depart, having delivered the divine birth announcement. The angel lingered a little, because this pregnancy was not just a matter of divine fiat. The angel waited to hear what Mary would have to say. The angel waited because the good news for all people does not overwhelm us, manipulate or coerce us. God speaks and patiently awaits our response, our consent to let our lives serve God’s saving purpose.

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord,” Mary said. “Let it be with me according to your word.”

Under the magnifying gaze of God we become fully visible in our dignity and freedom as creatures made in the image of God. None of us are mere means chosen and used for God’s ends. We are partners whose consent God desires and honors.

“Let it be with me according to your word,” Mary said.

Then the angel departed, and Mary departed as well, with haste, to go and see Elizabeth down south, in the hill country. It’s with Elizabeth, that Mary finds words beyond her courageous, “Let it be.”

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

My dictionary defines to magnify as to 1. praise highly; glorify; extol; esp. render honour to (God); 2. make greater in size, status, importance, etc.; 3. increase the apparent size of (a thing) as with a lense or microscope. Mary glorifies and extols God her Savior, because the Mighty One of Israel doesn’t act like the mighty ones of the world. God’s merciful gaze magnifies small things and seemingly insignificant people, making them greater in size, status, importance, etc. Mary has spoken her world-changing “Let it be” and now she magnifies the Lord because God has looked with favor on her lowliness and asked her to participate in the great work of salvation.

“Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me,” she sings, but her song quickly moves from the very personal to the horizon of God’s promise to Abraham: all generations will call her blessed for her faith and her participation, and in the end all the families of the earth will be blessed because God is faithful.

The prophet Micah reminds us that God’s magnifying gaze is by no means a new thing, but the way God looks at the world.

“You, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel … He shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, … he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.”

Of all the towns and clans of Judah, God chose Bethlehem. Of all the sons of Jesse, God chose David. Of all the nations, God chose Israel. Of all the women, God chose Mary, a teenager from some town called Nazareth that nobody had ever heard of. Under the magnifying gaze of God, what we easily ignore or overlook or dismiss as marginal and insignificant becomes fully visible in its true stature and dignity.

Wendy Farley wrote,

When we expect the power of redemption to mimic the power we see around us every day in fathers, judges, rulers, warriors, or captains of industry, it is because we have not been able to digest the shocking images of power we celebrate every Christmas and Easter.

Christ has always been a terribly offensive icon of the Holy, not least because he is perhaps the poorest display of power one sees in any of the world’s religions. In him, we see immortal, invisible God birthed into this world through an impoverished and nearly outcast young woman. We watch Jesus wander around a little rag-tag occupied country for a while and then leave it by one of Rome’s most hideous methods of execution. Although we love these stories and tell them over and over again, they capture something about divine power that [many of us] often find indigestible. Our love of power finds little satisfaction in Jesus.

Our love of power finds little satisfaction in Jesus, and we are tempted, forever tempted, it seems, to fashion God in the image of imperial and autocratic rulers.

For centuries, Christians have recited Mary’s song in their evening prayers, with the desire to join her exuberant praise of God’s world-flipping redemption and with the hope of having their own vision of life, of power, of the world shaped by God’s own magnifying gaze.

You have shown strength with your arm;

you have scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

You have brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly.

You have filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty.

You have helped your servant Israel,

in remembrance of your mercy,

according to the promise you made to our ancestors,

to Abraham and to his descendants forever.

The song reaches far into the past, into the time of promise, and it reaches deep into the time of fulfillment, even as the time of fulfillment reaches into the present with the birth of Mary’s child. We sing with Mary, because we trust that the Spirit who filled Elizabeth and came upon Mary is at work among us. We sing with Mary, because we trust that the God she birthed into this world is moving creation toward its consummation with redeeming mercy. We sing Mary’s words of confidence and courage, because in the singing our own hearts become a little more confident and courageous and willing to follow Jesus on the way. We sing justice. We sing redemption. We sing the end of hunger and war. We sing the resurrection. We sing the power of love overcoming the love of power.

During the years of military rule and civil war in Guatemala and El Salvador, those in power banned the public reading of Mary’s song because to their ears it sounded subversive. When Martin Luther first translated the Bible into German, the princes who gladly supported Luther in his struggles with the Holy Roman Empire, were nervous about the peasants singing too lustily with mother Mary of the One who has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. Luther was convinced he needed the princes’ support, and so he left Mary’s song in Latin. Only that kind of maneuvering did not then nor will it ever prevent God’s merciful gaze from lifting up the lowly. In the late 80’s, before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Christians in Leipzig gathered on Monday evenings in and around St. Nikolai church to pray for peace and to sing. They lit candles, week after week, and they sang songs of hope and protest, and their numbers grew from a few dozen to more than a thousand and eventually to more than three hundred thousand men, women, and children. After the fall of the Wall, a reporter asked an officer of the Stasi, the dreaded secret police, why they did not crush this protest like they had so many others. The officer replied, “We had no contingency plan for song.”

In the darkness of injustice, lovelessness and hatred we sing the birth of Jesus. Soon we will set out once again and go to Bethlehem to see what God has done for us. We will enter the house where the promises of God come true and new life comes into the world. We will kneel next to the manger, and all that is proud and powerful in us will be brought down and scattered. And all that is lowly and poor, humble and hungry in us will be lifted up and strengthened and filled. And the hungry will eat. And those who flee for their lives will find refuge. And those who thirst for righteousness will drink. All of us will know and live the good news of great joy. And together we will magnify the Lord and rejoice in God our Savior.

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