Luke 1: 46—56:
And Mary said:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaidens.
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is from generation to generation on those who fear him.
He has shown strength with his arm.
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of low degree.
He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich empty away.
He has helped his servant Israel in the remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever.”
And Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months, then returned home.
It has begun: the song that the prophet Habakkuk sang centuries ago it being fulfilled!
Habakkuk’s hymn ends:
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
I will joy in the God of my salvation!
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like hinds’ feet;
he makes me walk on my high places!
Mary’s words “God, my Savior” are the same in Greek as Habakkuk’s, “God of my salvation.”
From two sides of the promises of God, a man and a woman sing duet. He has heard the promise-word, and believes it. She’s been told of promise-keeping, and believes it. Salvation is surely coming to the people of God, and time itself collapses, all chronology contracts into that single fierce and burning moment when God acts among us.
But even as she sings across the times a duet with the prophet of old, Mary is singing across the worlds a duet with another figure altogether.
What, when God communicates a blessed message, is the first best thing to do with it? Why, tell it.
And how shall your joy affect the telling? How shall faith and gladness send the message straight to the hearts of your hearers? O Christian, sing it with highest delight!
Listen with remembering ears to the song that Mary sings, and you will find that Gabriel’s message has swiftly been given a human voice (both for Elizabeth and for “all generations” thereafter). It never is just the intellectual meaning of the words that captures the messages of the Almighty! The messages consist as well of things that must be felt, experienced: God’s ineffable love, our emotional and spiritual responses, elements whose truth cannot be objectively analyzed nor reduced to doctrine.
Praise and thanksgiving require more than our brains. They want our laughter, our capering bodies, our trembling delight, smiles and the sweet flush of delight—and song. Praise must be sung.
So Mary sings a duet with the angel, a celestial song that transcends all worlds, for the flaming servants of God do join our grateful, faithful choirs:
The power of the Most High will overshadow you, sang Gabriel, and Mary refrains that word “power” in the word “mighty”: He who is mighty has done great things for me.
Of the child to be born, Gabriel sang, He will be great, and Mary echoes the word: Great things for me!
Well, and we know what great things, don’t we? We ought to. We, too, are recipients.
In her life and in her child—they become great things for “all who fear him.” Her praise is generous. What is being done for Mary personally will embrace the faithful generally.
And as Gabriel sang: Therefore, the child to be born will be called holy—Son of God, so Mary sings: And holy is his name!
And as Gabriel sang: Of his kingdom there will be no end, so Mary sings the same endlessness—again, embracing the many: His mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation.
So Mary sings with the prophet of old to show what promises God is keeping in her present.
And Mary sings with the angel of heaven to show how the events of her present shall embrace all future generations.
We are that future. We are embraced.
But who are we?
The proud look down on others because they do not look up to God.
We are, apart from God, those of low degree. We must be the hungry and the poor. It cannot be otherwise! No, it can’t—or we would never, when God exalts us after all, sing as Mary sang: spontaneous praises and thanksgivings.
Now praise we Christ, the holy one,
The blessed virgin Mary’s son,
Far as the glorious sun doth shine
E’en to the world’s remote confine.
All honor unto Christ be paid,
Pure offspring of the favored maid,
With Father and with Holy Ghost,
Till time in endless time be lost.
(Coelius Sedulius, c. 450; German version, Luther, 1524)