Luke1: 46-56 has become one of the great hymns of the church known as the Magnificat. I remember having to chant it quite regularly as a Choir Boy in my youth. It is saturated in Old Testament: and is especially akin to Hannah’s song of praise in 1Samual 2:1-10 for which Mary’s song could be understood as prophetic affirmation. As we approach Advent let us examine this song.
The Magnificat is one of the most beautiful songs of the Christian faith. William Barclay writes: “There’s a loveliness in the Magnificat but in that loveliness there’s dynamite.” For in its Prophetic message there is a call to revolution. 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!”
Jesus, the ultimate revolutionary, completely reverses all human values. What Mary was prophesying about her unborn son is terrifying to the establishment, whoever and wherever they are. They cannot hear these words gladly. We may attempt instead to spiritualize these verses, but deep down we all know that Jesus has come to instigate the kind of revolution we still need today!
Marty’s song inspired by the Holy Spirit speaks prophetically of three of the revolutions of God.
- He scatters the proud in the plans of the heart. He casts down the mighty. A moral and political revolution.
“(God), the Mighty One … has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their innermost thoughts.” Just think of what God had done over the previous millennia. Right back in the formative days of civilisation, the early Babylonians, in their proud hearts, had tried to dethrone God by symbolically building the Tower of Babel. But God thwarted their pathetic scheming by confusing their language, resulting in their being scattered over the earth.
Many centuries later the God [the Lord] had to deal with the stubborn Pharaoh when he tried to prevent the young Israelite nation from regaining its freedom. Even a series of plagues failed to break this cruel man’s determination to hold on to his source of cheap labour. Ultimately he met his “Waterloo” in the waters of the Red Sea. It’s true to say “Man proposes but God disposes!” Psalm 2 asks “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? … The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them” (1,3).
We see man’s arrogance rearing its ugly head in Daniel where the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is brought crashing down by the rock “not cut with human hands” (2:34), symbolising the kingdom of God. The proud king failed to learn his lesson and was brought down to the state of a brute animal, losing his sanity until he repented (ch 4). His son, Belshazzer, too, “was weighed in the scales and found wanting,” losing his throne and his life (ch 5). And so the human story goes on, illustrating Mary’s words, “He (God) has brought down rulers from their thrones.”
He always has the last word – still in the 20 & 21st century. In our lifetime we’ve seen many dictators arrogantly strutting the world stage but eventually they are discredited and topple from power. The Lord God scatters the proud and the mighty in the imagination of their hearts! He brings about political revolution.
The coming of Jesus into our own individual lives means the death of pride. Let us ask ourselves how often pride has prevented us from seeing ourselves as the main obstacle to developing relationships, to learning, of giving rather than taking and to growing closer to God . How often are we proud of things because ‘We did it our way.’ Christ enables a man to see himself as he really is. It is the deathblow to pride and the birth of selflessness. The moral and social revolution has begun in our own lives.
- An economic revolution. “He has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.”
These are exactly the terms of the Beatitudes, the opening sentences of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus condemned those who thought that, by their own actions, they merited God’s praise. In fact their so-called righteousness was fatally flawed; they were the “rich” who were sent empty away. God’s values are in reverse to those of this world. A non-Christian society is an acquisitive society where each man is out to amass as much as he can get. A truly Christian society is a society where no man dares to have too much while others have too little, where every man must get only to give away. Does such a society exist? Could this be the basis for a world wide economic revolution? As we indulge this Christmas let us give some thought to those who can’t indulge and let us share something of what we have with them so as to further this economic revolution.
- A Revolution of Mercy & Love. “He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants for ever, even as he said to our fathers.”
Mary’s Song is full of hope for mankind. The second part of this Prophetic Testament is an account of God’s mercy, love and faithfulness to “the humble.” Mary tells us why and how it happened and is still happening: Mary’s message is that the coming of Jesus into the world is the fulfilment of God’s promises. We who believe in Jesus are now the family of God, and can call Abraham our ancestor.
But the great covenant promise concerning redemption was made in its most explicit form to Abraham. This founding father of the nation of Israel went much through the same process as Mary in coming to a realisation of what God was going to do in and through him.
God made a tremendous statement to Abraham at the commencement of his journey: “I will make you into a great nation … and you will be a blessing … and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen 12:2) and it was reinforced years later. He called Abraham one night and said “Come out of your tent; stand here, look at the stars in the heavens: can you count them? Imagine that you are looking at the sand on the seashore: can you count the individual granules?” “Then he said to him, ’So shall your offspring be’” (15:5). The writer of the book of Genesis was inspired to write, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (15:6). The same words were quoted approvingly by the apostle Paul (Rom 4:3). For many years it seemed impossible that the promise would be fulfilled but eventually Isaac was born, and so the route map of salvation history was confirmed. Promises of His redemptive purposes were repeated in similar terms to Abraham’s immediate descendants and demonstrated by the Exodus deliverance. They are reiterated in the Psalms and the prophetic books. Of course many hundred of years elapsed and the Messiah hadn’t appeared. At the time when Mary was visiting Elizabeth the Jews and their land had been conquered and trodden down by the great Roman Empire. Had God forgotten his promises? Mary says “No! God is ’remembering to be merciful’ … He hasn’t forgotten!”
In Abraham’s case it was over a period of many years from his being called to leave his Chaldean homeland to emigrate to Canaan. Abraham’s spiritual pilgrimage was by no means straightforward, for he often stumbled in carrying out the vision God had given him. But God remains faithful to His promises. This comes out in the words used by Mary: “He has helped his servant.”
How reassuring for us, too, in our pilgrimage in our failures and falling short of God’s standards. C S Lewis said perceptively: “A Christian isn’t one who never goes wrong, but one who is enabled to repent and begin again after each stumble because of the inner working of Christ.” Because God loves us he continually forgives us when we fall short and helps to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and continue our journey.
God’s timing doesn’t coincide with our expectations. It’s foolish to judge God in terms of our calendars.
Mary was sure that God had remembered “to be merciful … even as he said to our fathers.” God never forgets, he cannot forget!
We may pass through wilderness experiences but the Magnificat is a powerful reminder not to despair. God is a covenant-keeping God. In the Incarnation, He has given the final proof that all His promises are sure, that He is faithful to everything He has ever promised. It is a revolution of mercy and love bringing about the redemption of his creation of which we are supremely part. We must play our part by being merciful, forgiving and showing sacrificial love to all. To reflect the love that Jesus demonstrated in his life, death and resurrection.
Mary’s song is her hearts cry at the wonder of all that God was going to do through the child she would bear. He would come to reconcile us to God and institute a revolution of radical love! We have been enlisted into this revolution of love by the sovereign decree of God who has called us, given us the gift of faith, and even now is working within us for His glory!
How do you participate in the revolution you ask? Surely, it sounds too high and lofty for daily life in the midst of job, family, and all of the rest that goes with this life. Hear and take heed of the words of John Wesley in “Revival and Revolution.”
John Wesley’s rule for Christian living: “Do All the Good You Can, By All the Means You Can, In All the Ways You Can, In All the Places You Can, At All the Times You Can, To All the People You Can, As long as Ever … You Can!”
The Christmas story is one of the birth of a revolutionary; a revolutionary of love. What we celebrate has little to do with mangers, stables, and shepherds; these are but mere details of a most world-shattering birth, the defining moment in human history.
We need not be scholar, evangelist, missionary, pastor, or any other kind of full time dedicated worker of the Lord to participate in the revolution. We need only to be willing to reflect the heart’s cry of Mary, “My soul magnifies the Lord” and then live that out in each moment by moment interaction with the world around us.
Join the revolution, stay in the revolution, run the race to win. Amen.