A Rejoicing Hymn

Mary’s song literally leaps off the page of the Lukan Gospel (1:46-55).  It just might be the most joyful hymn ever as she celebrates the great good news that she will bring God’s own Son into the world.  It is breathtaking in its sweep, recounting God’s faithfulness to all generations. Her spirit rejoices, and she invites us to share her joy.


Wikipedia Public Domain Image


Mary’s canticle sets the tone for the whole of this Gospel, and its theological themes will reverberate in the preaching and ministry of Jesus.  It appears that Jesus learned some of this theology from his mamma! Listen to his first sermon in Nazareth to catch an echo of her song.

Similar to Hannah’s prayer as she desperately longed for a child, this hymn of prophetic thanks stirs our gratitude.  The birth announcement to Mary comes as a surprise, and it discloses God’s mighty power. Like creation in the beginning, bringing the world into being out of nothing, the emptiness of the virgin’s womb is no hindrance to God’s creative act.


Pontormo, Jacopo da, 1494-1556 Annunciation to the Virgin Mary (detail), from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.




Sometimes called the first disciple, Mary believed before she conceived.  She trusted the messenger of God, Gabriel, and gave thanks that she had a blessed role to play in God’s great redemptive project. She was willing to face the contempt of her community to be faithful to her unique calling from God.  Far from the domesticated docile image of quiet maternity, Mary is a courageous and strong woman who is able to perceive the mystery of God’s handiwork.

Known through the Christian world as the Magnificat, this rejoicing hymn not only celebrates God’s great gift in her life, but also magnifies God’s plan to put the world to rights.  Generations who have longed for justice will see the mighty cast down, the proud scattered, and the lowly lifted up.  God will fill the hungry with good things, and the rich will be sent away empty.


Sakai, Kimiko. Mary Praying, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.


These are radical words, and it is clear that Mary represents the faithful people of the land, a remnant, who continue to look for the coming of the Messiah. Her song tells forth the ancient hope of her forebears, which trusted that God’s own anointed One will save the people.

The arrogant of heart and mind will not endure; the humble will ultimately endure. God will show mercy, and God’s might will conquer those who oppose justice.


Dürer, Albrecht, 1471-1528. Mary, Mother of Jesus, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.


Luke is surely up to something as he places this liberating canticle in the midst of a conversation between two women, both pregnant with promise.  Could it be that God is more at work in them than in the palace of power?

As we continue in these days of Advent expectation, let us rejoice with Mary that God keeps promises and will ultimately conquer all that tramples the weak and outcast. The Mighty One did great things for her—and will for us.


Molly T. Marshall

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