Summary: Mary’s Song is her response to her calling to be the mother of the Messiah and is a Personal Testimony to God’s grace and a Prophetic Testament to God’s redemptive purposes.
The Magnificat is one of the most beautiful songs of the Christian faith - it’s Mary’s Song. William Barclay writes: "There’s a loveliness in the Magnificat but in that loveliness there’s dynamite." It’s revolutionary because the world’s values are turned upside down. I read that in the last days of British India a Christian community was sometimes visited by the police because of its known sympathies with Indian nationalism. The then archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, warned the church leader not to include the Magnificat in his church services, telling him, "It’s a most revolutionary canticle!" We shall see.
To understand Mary’s Song we have to go back a week or two before it was composed to see it’s significance. Mary was a simple peasant girl who lived in Nazareth. But there was a gleam in her eyes and a spring in her step as she was looking forward to her wedding day. She was already engaged and soon would be married to Joseph, the local carpenter. But not only was he a solid craftsman, he was rather special because he was descended from the royal line of David, the great king of Israel of a thousand years before.
I wonder if you’ve had the experience when quite alone and suddenly being conscious that someone is there? It can be frightening! That happened to Mary. She had a visitor, someone she’d never seen before. The ordinary little room was filled with an awesome presence making her feel small and insignificant and afraid. She’d been visited by a heavenly being, the archangel Gabriel.
"Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you" (Luke 1:28). She was troubled! Why did he address her as if she were someone of importance? A few moments ago she had felt herself to be the happiest girl in town - she was going to be the bride of the man she loved. But now some strange otherworldly being had singled her out for a role that she was utterly unprepared for. "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God." He went on to tell her that she was going to have a baby, but no ordinary baby. She was going to give birth to "the Son of the Most High." He would be given "the throne of his father David ... his kingdom will never end."
This was something mind-blowing; it’s beyond her understanding. We can imagine her asking anxiously, "How will this happen? I am still a virgin." The answer was quite clear: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you." Gabriel reassured her that "nothing is impossible with God" as he announced some startling family news: Mary’s much older cousin, Elizabeth, who had given up hope of bearing children, was in fact expecting a baby! There was only one thing for Mary to do - to go and see Elizabeth. What a wise decision that was!
Human beings are not self-sufficient. Especially in the crises of life, it’s wise to have someone to turn to for advice. Let’s face it, we’re all going to meet some dilemma when we’ll feel confused and uncertain. Of course we’re still responsible for our own decisions but it’s often beneficial "to bounce off" ideas and problems with an experienced Christian, someone who may well have trodden the same path in their own spiritual pilgrimage and who can stand back and appraise the situation and give confidential advice. Nowadays this person is often known as a mentor, a spiritual director, and could easily be a pastor or elder.
Mary certainly had a lot to talk over with Elizabeth. She’d been told she was to have a child but Joseph, her fiancée wasn’t to be the father! What would be the implications? The Jewish Law was quite explicit in condemning this. Every Jewish girl knew of the promised Messiah. But such thoughts were not remotely part of her agenda. Why should she be the one to be the mother of the Messiah, and especially in these extraordinary circumstances? And so Mary journeyed south to Jerusalem to Elizabeth and her husband, Zechariah, a priest who himself had had an unexpected angelic visitation.
That’s the fascinating background to Mary’s Song, the Magnificat. In thinking about it, there are two important aspects. The first is that it’s a record of Mary’s:
Listening to someone’s account of how they came to faith is most interesting and instructive. The end result, the reaching of the goal of trust in God, is the same, but the pathway varies with each individual. There are often stages to be passed through. When Gabriel made his announcement to Mary, quite frankly, she was incredulous; she was sceptical. The thing was so staggering, so amazing that she couldn’t receive it. She began to question the archangel, "How will this be...?" she gasped. In fact, she virtually suggested that what he was saying was quite impossible.