And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And 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 mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things;
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
Luke 1:46-55 ESV
The opening of Luke’s Gospel ought to sound familiar to students of Scripture: a godly older couple lamenting their childlessness. Abraham and Sarah are the most famous such couple, but then their son Isaac and his wife Rebekah also faced barrenness. In 1 Samuel, we also find Elkanah and Hannah, the parents of the prophet Samuel. Thus, we ought first to read of Zechariah and Elizabeth with great expectation, and sure enough, they were miraculously given a son who would grow into a great prophet.
But Luke’s Gospel is not about their son, John. Indeed, John, like the prophets before him, was only the forerunner to the Christ, who was coming into the world. The Christ’s birth, like His life and certainly His death, was a surprising twist on the miraculous birth motif. You see, rather than being born to elderly parents, the Christ was to be born of a young woman, in fact, a virgin. Indeed, the irony is heightened by Zechariah’s disbelief, though he has the testimony of Abraham and Sarah before him, while Mary embraced impossibility of her pregnancy by faith, saying, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Upon visiting Elizabeth, who calls the baby in her womb her Lord, Mary burst into this song, which is commonly called the Magnificat, being the first word of the song in Latin. The theme of this song of praise is God’s gracious exalting of the humble and humbling of the proud.
The song is bookended by two examples of God’s exaltation of the humble. Mary herself is the first example as she rejoices that God looked upon “the humble state of his servant” (v. 48). Israel is second example at the end of the song. Deuteronomy testifies of Israel’s humble estate with God saying, “It is not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples” (Deuteronomy 7:7). The central verses declare how God brings up and strengthens the lowly, while casting down the mighty and proud.
Again, this song is a celebration of God’ delight in exalting the humble and opposing the proud. Jesus Himself taught this principle, saying, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11). Christ’s humiliation to the point of death on a cross and subsequent exaltation (see Philippians 2:6-11) is the greatest example of all time. But in the wonder of all wonders, our Lord also looked upon our lowly estate as traitors and rebels to His eternal throne, yet He chose to redeem us back to Himself and adopt us as His children through that very cross of Christ. Thus, this song is rightly the song of all God’s redeemed servants: “for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name” (v. 49). We who are in Christ ought to say with gladness and thanksgiving, “Amen!”