Saturday, December 13, 2008

My Soul Magnifies the Lord! (Luke 1:47-55)

“Magnificat” seems like such a big name to give a song that a Jewish teenager sang in praise to God, but this particular Jewish teenager has had a big impact on our world in other ways, too.

Mary sings this song when she visits her kinswoman Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s unborn son John leaps inside her when the mother of the Lord arrives. The translation of the Greek word megaluno into Latin gave us a word like our “magnify,” which is where the song’s name came from.

The obvious meaning is that Mary is saying her soul praises God for all his great deeds, and she goes on to list some of them. But the translated word we use, “magnify,” started me thinking about something else Mary’s soul might do for us when we read this passage. We all know that “magnify” means to make something larger or make it appear to be larger. When we use a magnifying glass, we want to see something that’s too small to make out clearly or has details we can’t see with our eyes alone. I think Mary’s experience here does some of the same thing for us.

One thing we need to understand is that Mary, like most of the people who lived in her place and time, didn’t separate body from soul the way we sometimes tend to when we talk about them.

We sometimes look at things as though we have a true self, our soul, which is separate from the bodies we live in. As the great philosopher Yoda put it, “Luminous beings are we. Not this crude matter.”

But in the ancient world, people were more likely to see their true selves as a combination of their bodies and their spirits, in addition to their experiences and the things they had learned. They saw the true self as a unity of all of these things, and counted the physical part of existence as just as much a part of a person’s true nature as the spirit or the soul.

So Mary suggests everything about her, from her spirit to her body to her experience and more, serves to magnify the Lord and maybe show us something about God we might not see without her story. What might that be? What did Mary do that might gives us a picture of God? Well, obviously, she agreed to God’s plan that she be the mother of the Savior. She had the choice to refuse, the same choice God gives every person to reject him. But she didn’t.

Even though, when we consider the whole thing, she might have had good reason to. For one, there’s her husband Joseph. They haven’t had their final wedding ceremony yet, but legally they are husband and wife. Whether or not they had any romantic feelings for one another was not nearly as big a deal for marriages in their day and time, but I don’t think it’s wrong to assume she respected, liked or maybe even loved him. And if she did, she would know that her pregnancy, which would not be by him, would be an insult to him and maybe even a deep wound to his spirit. Not to mention how she will explain this to her parents.

And for another, there’s the problem that in Mary’s culture, adultery is a capital crime. Have that today and Las Vegas would be the world’s biggest cemetery and the Billy Graham Association would be the only studio making movies.

Sure, there were probably couples that came to the final wedding ceremony having gotten a couple of the steps of the process out of order, but Joseph would know that wasn’t the case and he could denounce her as an adulteress.

At the very least, she was subject to a lifetime of shame. But she might have suffered worse and been stoned to death. That’s when the village dragged you outsde of town and threw rocks at you until you died. It sometimes took a couple of days, so the rock throwers would rotate and take a break. You didn’t get one.

There are plenty of common sense reasons for Mary to say no to God’s plan, but she doesn’t hesitate. She asks one technical question, gets her answer, and says, “Let it be with me as you have said. I am God’s servant.” No hesitation, second thoughts, weighing the options, figuring out the pros and cons, whatever. It’s almost impulsive, isn’t it? Almost reckless, even.

Hmmm…you know, Mary, because of the way marriage functioned in her culture, was probably at most 16, maybe 17. Youth and strength were a woman’s best chance of surviving childbirth, so women often married much younger than men did.

So Mary’s a teenager…and she’s done something impulsive, something where she just steps out in complete faith that God will do what he has said. Remember, the angel told her she will bear his Son. Not, “Now, if everything falls just right,” or “If we get lucky,” or something like that. So she just takes God’s messenger at his word and agrees, without an apparent thought for the consequences.

Anyone who’s ever been a teenager ever remember Mom and Dad looking at you and saying, “What were you thinking?” Think those words may have been part of the conversation Mary’s parents had with her before the truth became apparent?

There’s really a simple reason we all had so much trouble thinking about the consequences of our actions when we were younger. Our forebrains, the part that says, “Are you sure this is a good idea?” doesn’t finish developing until we’re in our mid-20s. Of course, plenty of people choose not to use it anyway, but all the equipment’s in working order by then. Before then, it’s like a baby learning to walk. We might use our forebrains, but they’re still developing and sometimes don’t work as they ought, just like a toddler’s legs don’t.

For the mother of his Son, God picked someone who was prone to snap decisions, impulsive judgments and actions she might not have thought through completely, because he knew those qualities would make her more likely to trust him. He used her willingness to trust Him without second thoughts to accomplish his greatest work. He didn’t pick a wealthy woman of wisdom or a great lady of philosophy. Nor did he transform Mary so that she was wealthy or wise beyond her years.

He used her as she was, and his strength was made perfect in her limitations. So the next time you may feel God leading you to do something for him, don’t demur because you’re not a speaker or a worker or have a great track record of holy living. As Mary’s soul has magnified the details for us, we can see that God will use us as we are, weaknesses and all, to do his work. In fact, it may even be the weaknesses that he covets most.

And that’s plenty good news to me.

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