Third Week of Advent
December 10, 2007
And Mary said, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is His name.” – Luke 1.46-49
The Magnificat of Mary is one of the most beautiful songs of Scripture, a hymn of praise and adoration virtually unrivaled in its expression of raw faith and confidence in God. The TNIV translation above uses the word glorifies, but ancient Latin translations use the word magnificat which means magnifies. “My soul magnifies the Lord…” Personally, I like magnifies. It more closely reflects Mary’s experience.
As the story goes, there is this young woman going about her business in her hometown of Nazareth, when one day the angel Gabriel drops by and tells her she is going to conceive the Son of God by the Holy Spirit. Scholars believe that Mary was probably as young as twelve or thirteen years old when she conceived, mostly because that was the appropriate age of engagement and marriage in her time. (Adolescence as a stage of life is actually a relatively late development unique to Western civilization.) Mary, who was engaged but not yet married, was still a virgin at a time and place where extra-marital encounters result in stonings. Joseph’s intent to divorce her quietly is a testimony to his mercy and compassion.
Basically, Mary’s story can be summed up justly as: her life stretched out in front of her exactly as young women her age expected, when an angel showed up and announced she was to be the mother of the Son of God, putting her at risk of death, minimally guaranteeing ostracization from her family and community and potentially destroying her chances of marriage and any sort of normalcy in life at all. And Mary’s response was to sing, “My soul magnifies the Lord…” There is a reason Mary is held up as an example of faith.
The single, most important, ingredient in faith is so obvious that we often overlook it. Faith is born from the encounter with God, not from vague promises – or specific promises – about what is going to happen. Mary’s confidence in God came not from what He promised but from Who He is. The Magnificat is full of Old Testament references to God’s mercy, goodness, faithfulness and strength, with almost no reference to what is happening in Mary’s own life.
This is where so many of us take a wrong turn in our understanding today. We diligently strive to have faith and to trust God, but our confidence wanes in the face of circumstances, often understandably so. The answer to floundering faith is not greater determination but a louder cry. Certainty comes not from what we know but Who we know. Tremendous consolation and encouragement can be found in the faith of Biblical people and from the faith of family and friends today, but unshakable certainty comes only from meeting God.
So often we find ourselves in difficult or painful situations and we begin to call out to God to make things right. We want Christ to come and repair what is, rather than institute what He desires to be. We look to Him for answers for our lives, struggling to believe and trust, when authentic, certain faith is a result of knowing God, not knowing answers. Mary’s confidence came from the character of God, not from the promises He made. Her gratitude was for Him, not for His works.
Really, this should not be hard for us to understand. Who among us wants to be loved for what we can do rather than for who we are? We understand the difference in our own lives, but we regularly fail to apply that same understanding to our relationship with Christ. He is the One with all the answers, but the deepest yearning of our souls is not finally for answers. The only One Who can satisfy our greatest longings and quell our deepest fears is Christ Himself. All of the answers and great circumstances imaginable do not compare to the presence of the Holy One.
Mary rightly claimed that ‘all generations would call her blessed.’ She trusted with absolute certainty the exact opposite of what was immediately visible in her life. Such is the power of knowing God. To know Him is to be certain of what He can do rather than to be certain of what we can see. Time in His presence assures us that He is Master of all and will not fail to keep His promises. He is able to do what He has said, and we can know that only if we know Him and experience the reality that is God. The Lord was magnified by Mary; He was increased in the world through her and in her soul. His mighty works were about to be revealed in her and through her body, but the Lord Himself was revealed in Mary’s soul. She was filled with His Spirit, and God could be seen in her.
Faith is not the sort of thing we can drum up for ourselves, as if we can talk ourselves into releasing our fears and trusting. Faith is the inevitable result of knowing God. His character is such that we cannot fail to know that He is both willing and able to do what He desires and to fulfill what He promises. When faith is failing in light of events, that is the time to seek God. Our inclination is to seek His help, His blessing, His advice, and the like, but to have an unshakable faith we must seek Him.
Mary’s soul magnified the Lord because her soul was filled with His Spirit. He was quite literally magnified in the world through her. We are given the same opportunity and potential to magnify the Lord in our own lives. The only way possible is through faith – confidence and certainty – that comes from knowing God.
In Christ –
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