Luke 1:46–56 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me — holy is his name. 50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.” 56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.
Magnificat anima mea Dominum. I suppose that by opening this sermon with Latin words I might be admitting a little too much about myself. Like the fact that I’m a total nerd. I even went to a preppy high school where I studied classical languages like Latin. But I didn’t start with Latin words to make myself look nerdy. I did it to make the point that even the Latin version of Mary’s song has gained so much traction that when I say Magnificat to you it refers to one thing and one thing alone: Mary’s song. The Latin I quoted you is actually the Latin translation of Mary’s opening words here in Luke. Magnificat. Magnifies. Anima mea. My soul. Dominum. Lord. Or as we say in English, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” Magnificat anima mea Dominum.
You know what I think is the greatest testament to the Magnificat’s power though? That it’s never played at the mall. Despite the fact that it’s actually the first ever Christmas carol, it isn’t ever played alongside Jingle Bells or White Christmas. Not to be too trite about this, but it turns out that Belk isn’t a fan of the idea of sending the rich away empty handed. It turns out that the Magnificat is just far too subversive. By the way, that’s not my word for it, that’s what people generally say about it. It’s subversive. It’s undermining. It fundamentally threatens not just consumerism as we know it, but also wrecks our current social fabric and endangers governmental powers all over the world. In Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was later executed by the Third Reich preached this about the Magnificat, “It’s the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about the power of God.” In Argentina in the 1970’s, any public display of the Magnificat was outlawed. Want to know why? People were putting its words on posters in the capital plaza to rebel against their brutal military government. So it was outlawed. It was too subversive.
And it always was. Even for its author. Mary had to come to the Magnificat. Or, rather, it had to come to her. It took an awful lot of intervention in her life when you think about it. You remember that whole Gabriel confrontation that we worked through last week? In case you didn’t notice it then, notice now that that left Mary hanging. She wasn’t singing when Gabriel left. Not yet. In fact, Luke sort of brazenly points out how lonely and probably even heartbroken this little fifteen-year-old Jewish girl was. Did you catch that last week? I’m not saying she wasn’t trusting. I’m not saying she wasn’t obedient or willing after Gabriel came. I’m just saying she hadn’t yet arrived to the singing. Luke makes it quite clear how abrupt and quick the interaction was; and how that confrontation left Mary hanging and wanting. Luke makes it a big deal at the end of the Gabriel confrontation saying, “Then the angel left her.” (v. 38) So Mary experiences this disorienting spiritual dump. It all happened in the space of about thirty seconds and then Gabriel was gone. And left behind was this poor fifteen-year-old who was all alone in the world dealing with all the immensity of Gabriel’s message.
Which is, of course, why the angel pointed Mary in the direction of her older relative, Elizabeth. And, thankfully, Mary took the hint and this sad and spiritually hurting teenager “hurried,” (v. 39) to her. Mary wanted to make some spiritual and emotional sense of what was happening to her. And she couldn’t do it alone. That much is clear. She could not have done it alone. So when she shows up to Elizabeth’s house, the Holy Spirit fills Elizabeth with joy and speaks truth to Mary’s troubled, young heart saying, “No, seriously, this is good, Mary. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” (v. 42) It’s only after that intervention. It’s only after that interaction and that comfort that Mary finally sings. She had to arrive to the Magnificat. Or, rather, it had to arrive to her. And why? It was subversive. Just as it is subversive and dangerous to every human spirit. At least, it is to its status quo. The Magnificat flips how we see ourselves and totally undermines our egos. That’s why it’s never where we start. It’s always where we arrive. Or, rather, it’s what arrives to us.
And why? In the song, wealthy oppressors get sent packing and ruling authorities get ransacked and tossed from the positions. To quote Mary, they get, “brought down from their thrones.” (v. 52) Which on it’s face sounds just fine and even nice. None of us would really mind seeing our tyrannical bosses and our nasty, unfaithful government officials get dealt with. And, finally, this song does say that will happen. You know what the trouble is? The Magnificat is not just talking about those kind of tyrants or social justice. You know which tyrant Mary goes after first? Your inner you. Did you catch that? As she sets up the part of the song that’s all about us she starts by making it personal. She says, “let me tell you about the Lord’s ‘mighty deeds’ (v. 51).” “He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.” (v. 51) So her first take down isn’t of Castro’s Cuba, Hitler’s Germany, bad federal social policy, or even your cranky boss. It’s a take down of my inner self. It’s a take down of whatever me that’s in there that pats itself on the back for its own goodness or thinks highly of itself; sits on its throne looking down on all the lesser mortals of the world; or is a tyrant willing to use the people around me and even God to advance its own agenda.
It’s actually not that surprising that that’s where Mary started her song. It’s what had just happened to her. Any illusions that she had of her ample holiness had vanished when Gabriel had showed her what real holiness looked like. Any misconceptions that she was the real queen and controller of her life had gotten thrown out the window when the Holy Spirit had hovered over her womb. And, honestly, that’s what always happens when we authentically confront the truths of the Magnificat. They threaten our inner tyrant. And make no mistake. It’s there. I’ll be the sacrificial victim on this one. I was thinking about this so I asked my wife earlier this week, “What are you proud about?” I immediately took the question back realizing that ironically it was my pride that had made me ask it. I asked it to dodge the much more difficult and personal question about pride I should’ve asked. So I took the question back and asked instead, “What I am proud about?” And after I asked it, I remember physically wanting to duck because I knew the answer would come. Not that Melanie doesn’t love me. She does. Enough to tell me the truth. You know what the most telling part of that moment was for me when I played it back in my mind? It’s that it took her absolutely no time to reply. None. She didn’t say, “You know. You’re awfully humble. Let me get back to you. I’m going to have to think about that for a while.” It’s that she was able to dig right in.
That’s why the Magnificat is so subversive. You can’t sing it. You can’t read it without it getting at the real you and saying, “I see your inmost thoughts. I see how you struggle with vanity. I see that you want to see yourself in a good light so badly that you’ll do just about anything to get others to see yourself that way too. I see how you think whatever hardship you have in your life isn’t really deserved; how you think God owes you more and so much better. I see how you see the Planned Parenthood people as morally inferior and how intellectually challenged you think people are of a different political persuasion.” Do you see it now? Oppression isn’t something that largely happens to us from the outside in. The greatest oppression we experience is our inmost pride - the idolatry of self. And by the way, people who are able to make these spiritual observations about themselves? They are, “the humble,” (v. 52) Mary was talking about. The humble are the people who admit their inner tyrants and quake and their monstrosity. The humble are those who are bothered and upset the dark power. The humble are those who yearn and hope and pray not just for perfect and ultimate reversal of the social structures of the world, but first and primarily – to borrow Mary’s words – the humble are people who hunger for their own inner dictators to get tossed down and be truly filled with good things.
That’s really what the Magnificat is all about. It’s about being filled. With Jesus. And who better to teach us how that happens than the woman in whom the oh-so-subversive Jesus was literally was growing? Probably at this point just as an embryonic, pencil-point-sized human. And it’s this tiny, fetal Jesus about whom Mary claims that he, “has lifted up the humble and filled the hungry with good things.” (v. 52) Reversal Jesus. Status changing Jesus. 180 degree Jesus. Table flipping Jesus. That’s who Mary says Jesus is. Mary’s Jesus does reversals. He lifts up the humble. He fills up the hungry with good things. And don’t you just love how she talks about these reversals. Here she is barely even pregnant. I’m telling you. She sprinted to Elizabeth after Gabriel. I can almost guarantee you that she wasn’t showing yet. It’s like I told you. Jesus was pencil-point-sized in her. Nothing more. And look at how she talks about him. It’s crazy, crazy faith. She says this embryonic Jesus has lifted up the humbled. And has filled the hungry with good things. Like it he had already pulled it off. I mean, honestly, this was a human Jesus who if you want to give him any resume at all can only list one feat: he had managed to become a multi-celled human. And here Mary’s already crediting him with the greatest spiritual victories of all.
She hadn’t started with that kind of faith. It’s a faith she arrived to. Or, rather, it’s a faith that was given her. And not to be too cliché, but that is the Christmas gift that just keeps on giving as we come back to the manger year after year after year. You just can’t stare again into that manger and not deepen in faith. You just can’t. You just can’t imagine that Jesus came down because one day he said, “Hey dad, can I go play with the earthlings? I’d like to see what it’s like. I think it might be fun.” He came because the earthlings were something more than a hot mess. We were all walking totalitarians needing to be unseated – obsessed with ourselves. So he reversed the situation and became obsessed with us, which was the first reversal. More reversals followed. God became a creature. God was conceived. God was born. Reversal. Reversal. Reversal. And then God died. Reversal. And then death died and Jesus lived again. Reversal. The lowly become exalted. Sinners become saints and those headed for death live on. These are Jesus’ reversals. But before any of that ever happened, Mary saw another reversal happening inside her: faith. It had unseated her pride. And here she was singing and celebrating that with all her heart. Magnificat anima mea Dominum. The reversals had begun. They had begun with her. And she couldn’t stop thrilling.
And so Mary sang. I hope you sing her subversive song with her this Christmas. And I hope you’ll sing with me. I hope you’ll sing the Magnificat. I hope you’ll let it so fill your soul that even as you continue to wrestle your inner tyrant you’ll already believe he’s been dealt with. I hope you’ll joy in the Spirit believing he will one day own you and perfectly fill you with all of his gifts. I hope you sing about the God who made you deserving of that reversal by making the first one. God became one of us. I hope you sing about the pencil-sized, fetal Jesus whose commitment to forgiving your pride not only led him to attach himself to Mary through an umbilical cord, but led him to attach his adult divine self to a cross. I hope you sing and I hope you sing with joy about the God who so profoundly raises the lowly that you’re not only thinking of the life you have here, but especially about the resurrection you’ll have there. I hope you sing about these truths with so much confidence that you talk about them just the way Mary did. Like it’s already done.
And I hope you keep on singing. I hope you never stop. I hope you sing through the tears here. I hope you sing through the grief here. I hope you keep on singing right through everything right on into eternity. That’s what this song is for. It’s for lifting up the humble. It’s for filling the hungry with good things. It’s for carrying us all the way to the great and final reversal – where the hungry are all forever filled and the humble are all eternally exalted. Until then, Peace family, we’ll just keep on singing. We’ll sing the subversive, the world-shaking and soul-transforming Magnificat until the Great Reverser even reverses Christmas. When it won’t be God coming to live with us for only a time. It will be us going to live with God forever. We’ll sing until that last reversal has happened. We’ll sing with Mary. We’ll sing Magnificat anima mea Dominum. Amen.