Lectionary This Week: December 20

In the lectionary this week, the gospel reading is one of my favorite passages of scripture – the Magnificat. Mary, the pregnant mother of Jesus, goes to the home of her cousin Elizabeth. It’s a noteworthy passage because we hear so little of Mary’s voice in scripture. Aside from this week’s reading, Mary’s actual words are confined to just three other passages:

  • The bewildered, yet willing, response of a young virgin to an angel at the annunciation  (Luke 1:34-38)
  • Chastising young Jesus who left his family during the Passover festival (Luke 2:48)
  • Encouraging her son’s first public miracle at the wedding at Cana (John 2:3-5)

But this passage is different.  In Luke 1:39-55, the Magnificat (or “Mary’s Song”), we hear the prophetic voice of Mary proclaiming God’s great reversal — justice for the poor.

The Passage: Luke 1:39-55 (NRSV)

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

And Mary said,

“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.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.

His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,

according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

The Magnificat: God’s Great Reversal

The Magnificat is a hymn of justice.  The mother of Jesus — the theotokos or “God bearer” — reveals what God will do through her son.  Her words are a prophecy of what is to come, proclaiming a series of reversals that go against the established order and wisdom.

Mary redefines the winners. It’s not the 1% that ultimately win, but the poor. In Mary’s words, the powerful will be made low, while the lowly will be lifted up.  The rich will be made empty, while the hungry will be filled. Essentially, God will turn the world on its end and bring justice where there is corruption and greed. The last will be first and the first will be last.

The Magnificat  reminds us that Jesus didn’t come exclusively for the salvation of individuals, but to redeem the whole world — including the systems, powers and economic structures that stand in the way of justice for the poor and marginalized.

Who are the hungry that need to be filled? Who are the low that need to be lifted up? The Magnificat says that if we want to see where God is at work and if we want to partner with God in that work, we need to start looking in the right places.