3rd Sunday of Advent – December 17, 2017
46 And Mary said, ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked upon his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed; 49 the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. 54 He has come to the help of his servant Israel, 55 for he has remembered his promise of mercy to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
This week we have a special reading as the Psalm. Much of it, in fact, comes from the Psalms. Some say that the Magnificat could not have been spoken by a young Jewish woman in the first century. Sometimes our pride in our literacy hides treasures from our eyes. I suggest we set aside our judgment, born of our own moment in time. We must view the Magnificat from a time when many, if not most, people routinely learned long quotations from Scripture in the absence of being able to read. Having memorized it, they meditated on it, turning it over and over in their minds; it became part of who they were and how they lived. We, on the other hand, tend to read but not remember; we hear but do not listen. We say the words but our understanding does not grow.
Just for a few moments, immerse yourself in this incredible poetic outcry that most certainly was formed with the help of the Holy Spirit. I want to show you where the Magnificat verses came from and the enormous power that is embedded in them.
The Magnificat is a blend of multiple references from the Old Testament Scriptures listed below and many others. It was profoundly different from the social order of the day and could have been considered to be anarchy or treason against the government. It was, at that time, considered to be what we might call extremely “leftist”, or “socialist”. It seems to advocate for the upheaval of government, and threatens those in power. It portrays God as being on the side of the poor, the hungry and the helpless – those called “a burden on society”. God will take from those filled with greed and self-worship and give to those clinging to faith. There is a message that class structure- however disguised or justified-will be reversed. It is, in a word, revolutionary in the classic sense. Above all it underlines that God will fulfill the promises we find in the Scriptures.
It has been described as a song of thanksgiving for the immense graces given in salvation; a song of the poor whose hope is met only as God fulfills those promises. But we cannot ignore that it reminds us that salvation will bring a world with structure very unlike past or present governments and, too often, even the church. Consider that Luke put these powerful verses in the mouth of a very amazing woman of great faith and purity of heart who is frequently portrayed as “meek and mild”!
Verse 46– Psalm 35, 9: “Then I will rejoice in the Lord, exult in God’s Salvation.” Isaiah 61, 10: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul; for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation, and wrapped me in a mantle of justice.”
Verse 47 – Psalm 34, 1-3: “I will bless the Lord at all times… My soul shall make its boast in the Lord; the humble shall hear it and rejoice… let us exalt His name together.”
Verse 48 – 1 Samuel 1, 11: “O Lord of hosts, if you look with pity on the misery of your servant, if you remember me and do not forget me…” Psalm 113, 7: “The Lord raises the needy from the dust, lifts the poor from the ash heap…” Psalm 138, 6: “For though the Lord is exalted, yet he regards the lowly; but the haughty he knows from afar.”
Verse 49 – Psalm 71, 19: “…that I may proclaim your might to all generations yet to come, your power and justice, God, to the highest heaven. You have done great things…” Psalm 111, 9: “You have sent deliverance to your people…and awesome is your name.” Psalm 126, 2-3: “It was said, ‘The Lord has done great things for them’.”
Verse 50 – Psalm 103, 13 &17: “…so the Lord has compassion on the faithful. But the Lord’s kindness is forever, toward the faithful from age to age.”
Verse 51 – Psalm 118, 15: “The Lord’s right hand strikes with power; the Lord’s right hand is raised…” Jeremiah 32, 17: “Ah, Lord God, you have made heaven and earth by your great might, with your outstretched arm; nothing is impossible to you.” Isaiah 40, 10: “Behold, the Lord God will come with might, with his arm ruling for him.”
Verse 52 – Isaiah 2, 11 &12: “The haughty eyes of man will be lowered, the arrogance of men will be abased, and the Lord alone will be exalted on that day. For the Lord of hosts will have his day against all that is proud and arrogant… and it will be brought low.” 2 Samuel 22, 28: “You save lowly people, though on the lofty your eyes look down.” Job 5, 11: “He sets up on high the lowly…” Job 12, 18 & 19: “He loosens the bonds imposed by kings, and binds a waistcloth on their loins (like a slave). He leads counselors (priests) away barefoot and overthrows the mighty.” Psalm 147, 6: “The Lord sustains the poor, but casts the wicked to the ground.” Sirach 10, 14: “God overturns the thrones of the arrogant and establishes the lowly in their place.”
Verse 53 – 1 Samuel 2:4 & 5: “The bows of the mighty are broken, while the tottering gird on strength. The well-fed hire themselves out for bread, while the hungry thrive on spoil.” Psalm 107, 9: “For he satisfied the thirsty, filled the hungry with good things.”
Verse 54 – Psalm 98, 3: “The Lord has remembered faithful love toward the house of Israel.” Isaiah 41, 8-10: “But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, offspring of Abraham my friend – You… whom I have chosen and will not cast off – fear not, I am with you…”
Verse 55 –Psalm 105, 8-9: God is mindful of his covenant for ever, the covenant which he made with Abraham, his sworn promise to Isaac… Micah 7, 20: “You will show faithfulness to Jacob, and grace to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from days of old.”