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  • Writer's pictureRev Kalantha Brewis

Mary Magnifies God


Luke 1.46-55

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowly state 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; indeed, 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 imagination 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 come to the aid of his child Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

 

In the fifth week of our sermon series on prayer- we are looking at some of the many prayers from the Bible, seeking to deepen our knowledge of scriptural prayer and to reflect on the many different circumstances in which prayer has been offered, by people who, just like us, were trying to live lives directed by God, and focused towards God, learning from those who have come before us about the centrality of prayer and the variety of prayer. My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour.


Today’s text is- apart from the Lords Prayer - probably one of the best known in Christian scripture. 


Mary has been told that she is to carry and give birth to a saviour for God’s people. She has also been told that her aged, barren cousin Elizabeth, is 6 months pregnant, and she has rushed from Bethlehem down to the hill country to visit Elizabeth and see for herself. As Elizabeth greets her, Mary responds with this great prayer of praise. The prayer is known as the Magnificat because that is the first word of the prayer in its Latin version. It won’t surprise you to learn that the word Magnificat means magnifies.

When I was about 11, in my first year of secondary school, I remember being introduced to the mystery and delight of a microscope. Of course I had heard about microscopes at primary school, but I’d never actually had my hands on one. I enjoyed sciences, especially biology, although I was never terribly good at them, and one day in class, we went into the lab to find microscopes and little glass slides set up on our benches. We were shown how to place the slides and adjust the lenses, and then we fiddled about with them until things came into focus. What had looked like a little scrap of muck on the first slide turned out to be a piece of onion skin- an incredible structure. The next slide was the ferociously hairy leg of some insect - I can’t remember what. 

But what I do remember, what I have always remembered, is that in focusing on and magnifying these images, I was able to see and appreciate detail, complexity, design, beauty and structure that I could never have imagined. The sheer wonder of it touched me and captivated my imagination. And what had previously been invisible to me became real. When we magnify something, we make it great, literally we make it appear larger, but we also make it easier to see its intricacy and beauty. When we pray, as Christians, we may wish to magnify the Lord, but we can’t make God appear greater than God really is. What we can do however, by God’s Grace, is to be still and focus, looking carefully through the lens of God’s grace, and come to appreciate more fully the intricacy and beauty of God’s creative love. 


This is what Mary does. Mary takes one detail of the life of a peasant girl who has found herself unexpectedly pregnant, and she looks at it, focusing on it through the lens of God’s love. And as she looks at it, she sees the depth and breadth of God’s desire to bring justice and help, to bring hope and salvation to the whole people of Israel. 

He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the imagination 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.

She takes this unexpected pregnancy, which potentially could be the ruin of her, and which certainly upsets her plans and expectations, and she scrutinises it, focuses on it, holds it in the light of God. She finds within it the incredibly precious gift of life and liberation. And she finds it within it a revelation of God’s character. 


She prays, and she praises, seeing through God’s lens a new life ahead. It is a most extraordinary prayer.


Even 2000 years later, its exuberance and its revolutionary power resound for us. The lifting up of the lowly, the scattering of those who are proud and conceited. How we long for that.


Food for the hungry- just a fortnight ago we were raising money for the local Food Bank at the concert held in Hallow church. This prayer is the voice of hope and victory- and it is, paradoxically, the voice of the voiceless, because an unmarried pregnant peasant girl would have been the last person to be granted a hearing in the society of her day. Things haven’t changed all that much have they? 


Perhaps most importantly, it is the voice of vocation - Mary finds herself called into a life so rich- unexpected, challenging, consuming but ultimately holy and beautiful - she is captivated by the call of God on her life. And she proclaims her confidence in God’s goodness and power at the very moment when she might well have reflected on her pregnancy as a disaster and a disgrace. Instead she says “ all generations shall call me blessed, because he who is mighty has magnified me and holy is his name”.Here is another thing about Mary’s prayer . Not only does she seek to magnify God in her praises, but she recognises that, as she responds to God’s calling on her life, God magnifies her.She is no longer an insignificant figure on the stage of history- under the lens of God’s loving intention she becomes an agent of revolutionary joy, salvation and hope. 


God doesn’t need to look at you through a microscope to see your beauty, your complexity or your potential- God already knows, sees and loves all of it. God magnifies us.


When we see others with God’s perspective and through God’s lens we will see and appreciate them in new ways, we will love them more profoundly and understand them with greater compassion. 


But what does any of that have to do with prayer? Mary’s prayer is a declaration of praise which arises from her experience of what it is to encounter God’s presence, and from her knowledge of God’s character.


When the angel first greets her to tell her that she is going to have a child, she is described as highly favoured. So perhaps it’s not far-fetched to assume that she is someone who worships God faithfully, and who knows the narrative of God’s provision for her people. 

 

This - a regular practice of worship and reflection on God’s character is what leads her to say “my soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour”. 

It’s not just her mind or her mouth praising God- it’s her soul and spirit- that praise rising up from the innermost self. 

 

When we offer our time faithfully and regularly to worship and the word, we also will find this happens to us. As we go deeper into God our soul does catch a magnified glimpse of the one we worship. And that itself can feed into our devotion and take us yet another step. 

 

I wonder how this speaks to us today, this beautiful prayer- does it energise us to praise God ourselves? Even if things seem not to be going to plan- maybe it’s not an unplanned pregnancy but perhaps it’s an unexpected illness, a financial crisis, the loss of a relationship or the closing of a chapter? Can we refocus on it through the lens of God’s love and find something there to praise and rejoice in?

Or is there something about a particular word of Mary’s that inspires us to Godly action? Action for the hungry? Action to lift up the lowly, empower the weak, or hold the powerful to account?


Can we reflect on something- an experience of our own which, when we look at it through the magnifying lens of God’s love,  is full of wonder and beauty, a captivating design and structure which we had not seen before?


My prayer for all of us is that our lives of prayer will enable others to see a magnified image of God, that we ourselves will have a magnified understanding of our own lives, and that we will know ourselves magnified by God’s love as, like Mary, we seek to carry within ourselves, in our bodies, our lives and our words, the good news of our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen

 

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