Summary: What do mercy, helping the poor and feeding the hungry have to do with celebrating the birth of Jesus? Let’s discuss the Ode of Mary, the Latin Magificat, the Greek Megalynalion in Luke 1:39-55.
What do mercy, helping the poor and feeding the hungry have to do with celebrating the birth of Jesus? Let’s discuss the Ode of Mary, the Latin Magificat, the Greek Megalynalion in Luke 1:39-55.
Luke includes three canticles or songs, written like Psalms, Mary’s Song, Zechariah’s Song, and Simeon’s Song. In Latin: the Magnificat (“magnifies”, often sung at Vespers or evening prayer), the Benedictus (“blessed”, often sung at Lauds or morning prayer), and the Nunc Dimittis (“now you dismiss”, often sung right after Communion).
Luke 1:39-41 “Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Biblical descriptions of evidence of being spirit-filled varies. Elizabeth prophesied in her own language (Luke 1:39-56). Others were given craftsmanship skills (Exodus 31:3; 35:31), or leapt in a mother’s womb (Luke 1:15), uttered a prophecy (Luke 1:67-68), were led into the wilderness (Luke 4:1).
Others spoke in known tongues (Acts 2:4), received wisdom (Acts 6:3-5), saw visions (Acts 7:55), had healing (Acts 9:17-20), did missionary feats (Acts 11:24), experienced insight (Acts 13:9-10) and joy (Acts 13:52). Non-Christian religions experience tongues. It’s not always evidence of being spirit-filled.
Luke 1:42-43 And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me?”
Mary’s long journey to Elizabeth in the hill country was dangerous for a bride-to-be. Once there, John the Baptist filled with the Holy Spirit before birth leaped in his mother’s womb, and Elizabeth filled with the Holy Spirit prophesied. Elizabeth the older of them, humbly addressing Mary in deferential terms.
Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah the high priest, doubted Gabriel and was speechless until his son, John the Baptist was born. Mary believed Gabriel about Christ’s birth. She said, let it be according to your word. She believed and was blessed. The message of Christmas includes mercy, humility and feeding the hungry.
Luke 1:44-48 “For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord. And Mary said: ‘My soul exalts the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.’”
Although Luke says nothing about Mary speaking this by the Holy Spirit, almost everything she said was from the Scriptures. It is heartfelt public praise to “the Lord”, a common Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew word for God, YHWH. In this context, soul and spirit mean the same thing.
Mary’s outrageous faith dares to believe that the poor will be saved, a message of hope in continuing oppression by the world’s powerful. Riches are empty but humility brings us good things. Our Savior born in a stable to poor people continually reminds us that God turns things upside down.
Luke 1:49-51 “For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name. And His mercy is upon generation after generation Toward those who fear Him. He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.”
The immaculate deception presumes Mary was born without sin. The truth is God did great things through an ordinary human being. Only one human being has ever been described in the Bible as sinless (Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:23; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5), Jesus.
Luke 1:52-55 “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble. He has filled the hungry with good things; And sent away the rich empty-handed. He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy, As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his descendants forever.”
There is a hunger that physical food cannot satisfy, but Jesus can. There is a wealth that Christmas commercialism cannot satisfy, but God can. Let’s go against the culture and teach our children the excitement of giving, not just getting. Let’s not teach our children to become spiritually empty materialists.
Jesus was not born among the wealthy and powerful but in humble circumstances. Mary was not a celebrity, but a modest peasant girl. Mary’s ode praises God for his acts of mercy, lifting up the humble and filling the hungry with good things. This is a real theme of Christmas.