Luke 1: 46 – 56 Mary’s song
Mary has been told by an angel that she is to bear a son by the power of the Holy Spirit. As quickly as possible she has hurried to see her relative, Elizabeth, who is also expecting a child despite being old and barren. When they met, Elizabeth spoke prophecy to Mary.
Mary replies with the song below.
And Mary said:
‘My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will 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 for ever, just as he promised our ancestors.’
There is another song of praise sung in response to a son given by God, and that is Hannah’s Prayer. Hannah was barren, and, after much prayer she became pregnant with Samuel. When Samuel was still a small child, Hannah took him to the temple, and dedicated him to serve the Lord for the whole of his life. This is the prayer she made. You’ll find it in 1 Samuel 2: 1 – 10
Then Hannah prayed and said:
‘My heart rejoices in the LORD; in the LORD my horn (i.e. ‘strength’) is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies for I delight in your deliverance.
‘There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.
‘Do not keep talking so proudly or let your mouth speak such arrogance, for the LORD is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed.
‘The bows off the warriors are broken, but those who stumble are armed with strength. Those who were full hire themselves out for food, but those who were hungry are hungry no more. She who was barren has borne seven children, But she who has had many sons pines away.
‘The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up. The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and makes them inherit a throne of honour.
‘For the foundations of the earth are the LORD’S; on them he has set the world. He will guard the feet of his faithful servants, But the wicked will be silenced in the place of darkness.
‘It is not by strength that one prevails; those who oppose the LORD will be broken. The Most High will thunder from heaven; the LORD will judge the ends of the earth.
He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.’
These songs have many things in common. They are both prayers of rejoicing for a child given by God. They both acknowledge God as the source of goodness and life. They both recognise God as powerful, and capable of toppling the rulers of this world. They both talk about the humble being raised and those who have good things now, being stripped of them in the future.
We can see from a comparison of Mary’s Song with Hannah’s Prayer that they fall within the same tradition. St Luke’s gospel is firmly rooted in a variant of Judaism that emphasizes social justice.
By that, I don’t mean that St Luke says all individual prosperity is bad – although he comes close to that at times – but that wealth and power are often obtained at the cost of disobeying God.
Look at this sentence from Mary’s Song
‘His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.’
What does this word ‘fear’ mean? God is merciful and loving. What part does fear play in a loving relationship? I suggest that, in the sense that it’s used here, it means obedience to God. It is what we do that shows whether we ‘fear’ God. And to do God’s will requires us to place it above our own desires and wishes. It takes humility to do God’s will. If we do God’s will, we are humble, and we are showing, by the way we live, that we ‘fear’ God.
Perhaps the most important thing we can do to deepen our Christian life is to practise listening to God’s Holy Spirit and doing what he says.
If we do this, far from cowering, we can do God’s will joyfully, and exult when we see his purposes working out.
One final comment. Hannah’s Prayer contains prophecy. In verse 6 she says, ‘The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up’ and in verse 10 she says, ‘He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.’ Who was raised by God? Who is the king given strength by God? Why, Jesus of course!
Thank you for your indwelling Holy Spirit who leads us into the truth. Thank you for Mary and Hannah, humble women of faith, who proclaimed your goodness to them so fervently that we still read their words today.
In Jesus name, Amen