Mary’s Magnificat and ‘I am a thought in God.’

Magnificat

by Macha Chmakoff
Magnificat
The magnificat is beautiful and celebratory song. It is known as the magnificat, because that is the opening word of Mary’s famous song in Latin. In Greek it is Megalunei, which means to magnify, grow, enlarge! It is thought to be one of the earliest Christian hymns ever recorded and it is one of four found in the Gospel of Luke. It is the subject of much art throughout history and composers have loved to set music to the words: most notably Vivaldi and Johann Sebastian Bach.

For most of us, our experience of the announcement of a Child’s birth is cause for excitement. Even mores with Mary – the birth of Jesus, foretold by Gabriel is shocking news that causes the Singer song-writer in Mary to break out into a powerful number.

Just like her belly pregnant with the Son of God, she says her soul is growing, getting bigger because of what God has chosen to do through her.

This celebratory language, the specific imagery that the Magnificat records gives us some picture into how Mary experienced the first “Christmas.”

Mary sees that not only her fortunes, but the fortunes of the whole world are about to change. Her song sings of the role reversals of the powerful and the weak, the rich and the hungry. Her folk song sings of an old world that is passing a way, and the birthing of a new world where God’s justice and mercy will prevail.

God has looked down on his lowly servant – a young unwed peasant girl from a little town called Bethlehem. A little town on the outskirts of empire, “a city of dubious distinction” as one commentator put it. In other words, she is from a place where it would have been easy to go unnoticed by God.

He could have chosen a woman of power, a woman of wealth and prestige, but he selected a young girl from an occupied Palestine. A girl who meant nothing to history moments before. A girl who wouldn’t make roll-call in many of today’s churches. We are supposed to get that Mary is in all obvious ways a “bad selection,” an insignificant person from an insignificant place. You could say that Mary was a young girl living with her family in a parking lot somewhere.

The Magnificat is Mary’s response to the fact that God has selected a nobody, from a no place to be the vehicle through which he would be liberation to all of humanity.

And in fact, this is what the Christmas story is about. Elizabeth and Zechariah two child-less elderly people who are given a son who will be the prophet paving the way for the Messiah. And Mary and Jesus’ step-dad Joseph, who we know even less about. And these are the people God chooses to as his representatives and care-takers of his son.

So, I would say wild celebration is rather fitting from this perspective.

We’ve spent a lot of time focusing on advent as a cycle, a period of waiting, a period of healing, and (last week) a period of movement towards suffering. But at some point, if it truly is a cycle, and if we are able to hold on through the process then we do get to experience transformation. We are transformed – not necessarily our circumstances, but what we do with our circumstances, how we talk about them, how we understand them and the words we use to express its meaning. More importantly, we are transformed as we draw into the movements of God in the present moment. And it is that recognition of God in the present that gives rise to celebration.

Mary shouts ‘magnificat’ because her entire way of understanding and perceiving the world has been transformed.

She shouts ‘magnificat’ because it is her body after as a sacrament to God which will birth a revolution of love.

She shouts ‘magnificat’ because Mary learns one of the deepest truths in the Christian story – God is for us, all of us, and especially those who are broken, downtrodden, lost, and without a hope.

In Mary’s story we see that God takes one of us. A normal, ordinary person, even less-than ordinary, a young unwed girl who lives in an occupied territory and takes her and says you are favored.

All Mary does is say yes:

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”” (Luke 1:38 NRSV)

These are the words and experiences that shape how Mary thinks about Christmas.

Here is another way to think about Mary’s, and I believe our, understanding of Christmas.

I am a thought in God by Oscar Romero

This is the Christian’s joy:
I know that I am a thought in God,
no matter how insignificant I may be – the most abandoned of beings,
one no one thinks of.
Today, when we think of Christmas gifts,
how many outcasts no one thinks of!
Think to yourselves, you that are outcasts,
**you that feel you are nothing in history**:
“I know that I am a thought in God.”
Would that my voice might reach the imprisoned like a ray of light, of Christmas hope –
might say also to you, the sick,
the elderly in the home for the aged,
the hospital patients,
you that live in shacks and shantytowns,
you coffee harvesters trying to garner your only wage
for the whole year, you that are tortured:
God’s eternal purpose has thought of all of you.
He loves you,
and, like Mary, he incarnates that thought in his womb.

This is what I think was going through Mary’s head.
This is what we should be thinking too.
These words, more than any other, that should describe for us the heart of what Christmas hope is.

“I know that I am a thought in God.”

No matter how insignificant you may think you are – the most abandoned of beings, and you feel you are nothing to history – “I know that I am a thought in God.”

Even when you feel despised, unwelcome or judged others – “I know that I am a thought in God.”

You who have lost loved ones in the last year – “I know that I am a thought in God.”

You who are struck with deep feelings of loneliness – “I know that I am a thought in God.”

You who feel misunderstood, disregarded, pushed to the side – “I know that I am a thought in God.”

You who are wrestling with fear, uncertainty or letting go – “I know that I am a thought in God.”

You who are dealing with life threatening illnesses – “I know that I am a thought in God.”

You for whom Christmas is not a celebration but a time of grieving – “I know that I am a thought in God.”

You for whom having bread to eat is an extravagant Christmas gift – “I know that I am a thought in God.”

You who are sure you have lost your way – “I know that I am a thought in God.”

You who have given up on God – “I know that I am a thought in God.”

You who are tired, worn-out, struck down – “I know that I am a thought in God.”

You who are a long way from home – “I know that I am a thought in God.”

We all say together with Mary – “I know that I am a thought in God.”

Mary’s song is our song. Mary’s pre-Christmas celebration is a celebration of “the gospel before the gospel.” Her words should shape our words, images and understanding of the meaning of Jesus’ birth.

Her song shows us that the Christmas story isn’t about all the holiday hustle and bustle, it’s not about the decorations, or the gifts under the tree, it’s not about Santa, and it’s not really even just about “giving.”

It is about God choosing the poor, the simple and the insignificant in the world to change the world for the better.

It is about our ability to pay attention and wait, and when our time comes to say yes and make ourselves available just like Mary.

It is about our being made whole and finding healing through God’s mercy.

It is about our movement towards suffering. Given courage to face a difficult world and to stand strong for love, peace, and forgiveness.

And it is about celebrating the transformation of the world through a little baby would would lead a peaceful revolution made up of the Mary’s, Joseph’s, Elizabeth’s, and Zachariah’s of the world.

Christmas is not just an event that happens but a meaningful experience that is meant to continually shape how we understand ourselves, God, our neighbors and our world…

So that all people, everywhere will come to hear God’s voice inside them, and say along with us:

“I know that I am a thought in God.”

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

3 thoughts on “Mary’s Magnificat and ‘I am a thought in God.’”

  1. I guess one of the paradoxes or puzzlements regarding the “Christmas” stories is even with the “Magnificat” and all the “signs” that are associated with the birth that when Mary and Joseph go to the temple and Simeon (Luke 2) says that Jesus is bound to do great things, Mary and Joseph were surprised. (Luke 2:33) and then instead of going to Egypt, they returned to Nazareth.

    I am not so much of a “Bah, Humbug” person, but much more of a “Keep Christmas with you, all through the year” and that celebrating the birth of Jesus with all the attending stories seems to take away the celebration of Christ as present teacher.

    1. Thanks Tom – I guess for me these are not mutually exclusive and by reflecting on these narratives, I am given language and a shape to the kind of work I might except to see and hear from Jesus.

      I believe that intentionality is always important, especially in our culture of so much hurriedness and inattention.

    2. I think I’d add that you need to do what helps you. This is what helps me. I know the more I can dig into these stories, the more I can be shaped by them the better. I find paying attention to the lectionary readings and church calendar helpful for me, otherwise I leave my spirituality up to “what feels right to me,” which is often the path of least resistance. But that’s me. As a released minister I feel it’s important to give people as many “handles” as possible so that they too might be able to learn what works best for them.

      Thanks again.

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