“Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” 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 shall call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me–holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant, Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.” Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home. (Luke 1: 45-56)
Which passage of Scripture is referenced the most? Which would we say is most popular? If the answer is Psalm 23, “the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” then a close second place might be this song of Mary, the Magnificat, sung in response to being chosen to carry the Christ child. For centuries this song of Mary has been set to music. Notable composers Bach, Vivaldi, and Rachmaninoff have famous arrangements, and today our Director Lisa Bond has chosen a very challenging contemporary arrangement by John Rutter. Virtually every art museum features medieval depictions of the angel Gabriel visiting Mary and whispering in her ear the message from God or floating in majesty and reading from a scroll. Mary’s influence goes beyond any other great woman of history- she has been called more beautiful than Helen of Troy, stronger than Cleopatra of Alexandria, more regal than Queen Elizabeth the First, and more elegant than Lady Diana. Centuries of adoration follow Mary.
What was it about Mary that made her God’s choice to carry the Christ child? Mary was not a privileged princess. She was a poor peasant girl living in an occupied land. She would put herself at risk (we know how the Romans reacted when news of a messiah broke- later Herod ordered the murder of male children that matched the age of Jesus. Her father and village could stone her because it was not proper for a woman to become pregnant before marriage) if she accepted God’s request, but she did accept.
Mary’s heart was open for God’s message. She was receptive to God. Remember when the shepherds were telling people of the angels’ announcement? “So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:16-20)
Mary was someone who pondered the things of God in her heart. When she asked Gabriel, “How can this be?” and received the answer, “Nothing is impossible for God,” she seemed to accept this powerful fact immediately.
Her heart and spirit were lifted up to rejoice in God’s blessing. We can understand this language because we know when our spirits are lifted when we feel down in the dumps. God found Mary and gave her a personal message that she had been chosen for a special task. Mary sings, “My soul magnifies the Lord…” Her soul….Have you ever heard language that refers to your soul being affected?
Mary’s soul magnifies God and it is not momentary. It is not a one-time event. The verb tense is continuous and ongoing. Scripture could say, “My soul magnifies and magnifies…” Mary’s soul was perfectly prepared for a life raising the Christ child and her soul was receptive to God’s call.
Mary was connected to the calm of God because she was willing to ponder the mysteries of heaven in her heart. She found a certain calm of God and it overflowed into rejoicing. Out of the silence of God her life burst into rejoicing song.
Do you remember when Elijah, chased by an army, was hiding in a cave listening for God’s voice? “God said, Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the God, for God is about to pass by. Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the God, but the God was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but God was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, What are you doing here, Elijah?” (I Kings 19:11)
This gentle whisper is most often translated “a still small voice.” I remember my Hebrew professor was trying to explain to us how subtle the Hebrew was. We offered suggestions and he kept saying, “more subtle than that..” Finally someone said, “God’s voice was like the sound of falling snow…” and he said, “Yes, I think that might work.” There is an ancient Japanese legend called The Silk Drum about Lady Yumiyo who did not want to be married, but her father, an aging Lord, kept encouraging her. Finally she agreed to marry the suitor who could hear her drum- but it was a unique drum- silk wrapped across bamboo. The Lord was distraught as many suitors left disappointed. “How foolish you are. Your drum of silk will make no sound — and I will surely die without having seen my grandchildren,” he said.
Finally a calm suitor arrived and lingered. “She is only for the man who can hear her silk drum. Do not tell me that you have heard its sound in your far-off kingdom, across the mountains and the seas,” said the father. The young man answered, “You are correct, my Lord, no sound of the drum has reached me. Yet I hear its silence.” Lady Yumiyo smiled and put away her silken drum, since she had no further use for it.
Scripture mentions that God’s voice thunders in creation, but it also mentions the soft voice that Elijah heard, a voice like the silence of a silken drum. In this busy Christmas season, we must be like Mary. We must seek the silence of God that prepared her for Jesus so we will hear that personal message from God, so our hearts will be filled with rejoicing, and our souls will literally change- our souls will magnify the Lord day after day after day after day.
The Magnificat reaches out to us across time since Mary was first visited by the angel Gabriel. It reaches all generations who need God’s mercy and forgiveness. Let us find God’s silence until our soul spills over to sing Mary’s Song with the generations of God’s people down through the centuries who revere God and receive God’s mercy. Receive the Lord’s great mercy and sing with Mary, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Be still, God’s calm will find you, and then sing. Sing, you saints! Amen.