My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior . . . (Luke 1:46-47).
Few of us can manage a song in the upside down.
The Psalmists were skilled in taking their confusion and disorientation and giving expression to it in poems or songs of lament. Most of us lack those gifts. Still, in the upside down our complaints and questions come easily, flooding the brain and often spilling from our mouth. With some effort we might choke out a prayer – usually a plea for help, groping for some guidance that will take us back to upright. Or perhaps we withdraw and curl up into our own silence. But singing? Not likely.
In the Christmas stories we find in scripture, there’s hardly a more upside-down narrative than the story of Mary. This unmarried young woman learns from the angel Gabriel that she has “found favor with God.” But what this means might have sounded like anything but favor. She “will be with child and give birth to a son . . . and he will be called Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:31-32). This conversation changed the trajectory of her life. What God was doing in her and through her didn’t fit the accepted order of events.
Follow the story the closely and you’ll see Mary move from “greatly troubled” (1:29) to a submissive yielding to God’s word and will (1:38), and eventually to a song (1:46-55). And her song was not a lament. Mary’s song was praise from start to finish – and that’s what’s so remarkable about the way she responds to the upside down.
Look at the words she sings, and you’ll not see the slightest hint of complaint or question. There’s not one word about her reputation or her future. Mary gives voice to her awe of God’s mighty works, both for her and for his people.
Mary’s song is widely known as The Magnificat. You don’t need an advanced degree in classics to see that ‘Magnificat’ is a Latin form of a word found in the very first line of the song. Mary opens by declaring “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Luke 1:46-47).
Our English ‘magnify’ renders the Greek word megaluno and it means exactly what you might guess: to make large. The verb shows up eight times in the Greek New Testament with a varied but similar shades of meaning: to exalt, to highly regard, to show as great. The NIV Bible translates Mary’s opening line “my soul glorifies the Lord.” We find the same idea in the Hebrew scriptures at Psalm 34:3. “O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.”
So now that we know what Mary is saying we’re left with the obvious question. How does the soul magnify the Lord? Can we do that? And if we can, what will it look like?
Let’s begin here: Every soul magnifies something. And whatever we look to for our sense of well-being, wherever we find our deepest satisfaction and fulfillment, whatever gives us our greatest joy – that’s what we magnify. Mary helps us understand ‘magnify’ when she adds the words “and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”
What’s the Big Deal?
Honestly, I find that Mary’s song forces me to take hard look at where I find my sense of well-being and satisfaction – and her song leads me to confession.
Sometimes my soul magnifies my iPhone. When mine stopped charging a few weeks ago I felt mild panic taking root in some deep place. And when the car went to the shop for something minor, only to discover a major and costly repair, my soul magnified my Honda Accord.
The human soul can magnify things: it can magnify work, it can magnify an important relationship, it can magnify a football team. The soul is capable of rejoicing in so many things that are not God.
Here’s a clue for us: whatever feels like a big deal is probably what our soul magnifies.
The point of Mary’s song is not to rebuke us for all the joy we might find in people or work or good food or even something we own. It does remind us that none of those things can bear the weight of our happiness in the upside down. None of those can pull a song from our heart.
In the upside down we need more than an iPhone or a reliable car.
What’s going on in your life right now that seems large, imposing, a big deal? And how do you live in the middle of that and yet magnify the Lord? Mary’s song holds an answer to that, and we’ll take a closer look in the next post.
My soul can magnify so many things, O God. Make me grateful for all your gifts – but help me to find my deepest joy and satisfaction in you alone. Whatever the big deal is that confronts me today, show yourself greater, sufficient for me in all things, I ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.