Christianity 201

December 3, 2019

Mary: Did She Know?

With the continued popularity of a certain Christmas song I won’t name, the announcement to Mary that she was the one who would bear the promised Savior stands apart from all other personal revelations given in scripture. The Roman Catholic Church has a special word for this, “The Annunciation.” You can read more about that at Wikipedia.

Luke 1:26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

From ten years ago at Internet Monk, these questions:

Mary was more than likely no more than 13 or 14 years old when the angel appeared to her. She had her whole life in front of her—a marriage to a man who would be able to provide for her, and that was not something to take for granted in those days. And then … and then God came and turned her whole world upside down.

Was this fair? Shouldn’t God knock before entering someone’s life? How would you have responded if the angel had come to you with this news? And does God still move in impossible ways today? Is God still coming and turning people’s lives upside-down?

And these responses:

  • Karin: Being told that you are favored by God would make saying ‘yes’ a whole lot easier and saying ‘no’ a whole lot harder. Mary seemed wise beyond her years and said, “I am the Lord’s servant.” At age 13 or 14 one usually does not have preconceived ideas about the consequences of such a life changing decision. Perhaps this kind of visitation by an angel and being chosen to be the mother of the long awaited Messiah was every young spiritually minded Israelite girl’s dream!If my daughter had come and told me that she experienced the same as what Mary experienced, I would probably have needed a visitation from an angel to confirm it, just as Joseph did!
  • Joanie: I have noticed that when Zechariah questioned the angel about how his wife could possibly become pregnant, he was made unable to speak until John was born. But Mary questioned the angel about how she could possibly get pregnant and the angel explained. I have read that Zechariah was a priest, was old and should have known that God could do whatever God wanted to do. Mary was a young girl and as such, was treated more…patiently. Do you often wonder what it would be like to encounter an angel? Do you think angels take on human-like properties so that they can communicate with us? I wonder how long it took for Jesus as he was growing up to fully realize who he was, why he was and what he had to do? And how much of that would Mary have understood? When they were at the wedding in Cana together, she obviously knew that he could turn water into wine. How did she know he could do that and would do that?
  • Hannah: Mary’s response of submission to God is so beautiful. I wonder if this was, completely and utterly out of the blue for her, or if, in some way, God had been preparing her for what He needed her to do? He doesn’t test us beyond what we can bear, so says the word, and she must have trusted God so much to just submit to him like that, not knowing at that time if Joseph would stick by her or not. And if God was preparing Mary in some small way, would He have been preparing Joseph too then, to do the right thing and stay with her. Did they risk small town humiliation and unbelief, or was the culture of the time open to what they said to curious neighbors and family friends about Mary’s pregnancy? They had to be so strong, it seems to me, in their commitment to God and each other and their trust in what God had told them. I wonder what Mary and Joseph’s individual relationships to God had been like up to that time?
  • John: I think when God speaks to people in these more direct and miraculous ways, we encounter more closely just what the nature of his kingdom is and how it operates. And because of that, things like having our lives turned upside down tend to pale in comparison. It’s not that there aren’t real effects on our lives, but that we have encountered in some very real way an intersection between our earthly plodding and the fuller reality of God’s eternal kingdom and purpose. When that happens, priorities get shifted a bit. In other words, the reality of God with us begins to take hold and change things, starting with us. “Shouldn’t God knock before entering someone’s life?” I think God does, but in our dullness and distraction we aren’t always listening. And even if we are, he still tends to look and act a little different than we imagined before the actual encounter.God still turns lives upside down and moves in impossible ways today, but it’s easy to miss if I’m not looking and listening. Lord, give me the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

Read the other comments at Internet Monk.

December 3, 2017

Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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This Sunday morning, being the season of Advent, many churches may have looked at the announcement to Mary by the angel Gabriel that goes by the title, The Magnificat. That name is based on the first word of the text in Latin, and three other prayers or exultations with regard to the birth of Christ have names based on the first word in Latin. The passage in Luke 1 begins:

Magnificat anima mea Dominum;
Et exultavit spiritus meus in Deo salutari meo,

This announcement is also sometimes referred to as the annunciation, again based on a Latin word annuntiatio.
The full text in English reads:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.”

The text contains allusions to at least a dozen Old Testament scriptures with which Mary would have been familiar. (Some set the number much higher.) Mary is conscious of the implications of the role to which she has been called, saying “Many will call me blessed.” But there is no arrogance in this. Rather it is preceded by a statement of great humility:

  • He has looked with favor on the humble condition of His slave (HCSB)
  • he has shown his concern for his humble servant girl (New Century Version)
  • he hath beheld the meekness of his handmaiden (Wycliffe)
  • he took notice of his lowly servant girl (New Living Translation)

Similarly, later verses have given rise to this being called a “song of reversals.” A new order is about to take place; a new paradigm is about to be introduced.

Some additional resources:

Here is a somewhat recent version of the prayer set to music by Keith and Kristyn Getty.

Second, the following resource was posted, with permission at the source linked, but the link in the introduction itself is no longer working. We felt this work was worthy of further exposure.

The Magnificat: A Prayer

Here’s a prayer based on Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:47-55). It was written by Janet Morley, and posted on the Canadian Foodgrains Bank website.

The Magnificat: A Prayer

(based on Luke 1: 47-55)

O God, whose word is fruitless
when the mighty are not put down,
the humble remain humiliated,
the hungry are not filled,
and the rich are;
make good your word,
and begin with us.

Open our hearts and unblock our ears
to hear the voices of the poor
and share their struggle;
and send us away empty with longing
for your promise to come true
in Jesus Christ.

—Janet Morley, in Tell Out My Soul, Christian Aid, 1990. Reprinted by permission.
From Bread of Tomorrow: Prayer for the Church Year, ed. Janet Morley
Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1992, p. 151.

Go Deeper: We looked at The Magnificat in much greater detail in 2013 at this article.

December 10, 2013

Mary’s Prayer: The Magnificat

This article by K.W. Leslie is probably the best treatment of Mary’s prayer that I’ve seen, insomuch as it addresses several popular misconceptions.  I encourage you to read it as his blog, More Christ, but also to send your friends and family to the article as it appeared.

The prophecy Mary gave to Elizabeth during her visit is called the Magnificat [män•YĒ•fē•kät] from the first word in its Latin translation, Magnificat anima mea Dominum…. It’s a Hebrew poem in that it repeats concepts. Some have wondered whether it’s a hymn which Mary composed on the spot. Or maybe she composed it beforehand, and came out with it now.

Those who don’t understand how prophecy and inspiration work, tend to think of the Magnificat as something the Holy Spirit said through Mary, rather than something Mary said, empowered by the Spirit. They see her as some illiterate, uneducated peasant girl. In reality, the Spirit takes our innate abilities—the ones we have all the time, not just when we’re inspired—and points them at God. The Magnificat isn’t just a one-time freak of nature. Turns out Mary was a poet. Perhaps even a musician. Maybe untrained, with strong natural talents God put in her long before she said this. But maybe someone had trained her; we don’t know. All we have is her poem.

Mary said,

“My soul knows how great the Lord is.
My spirit rejoices over the God who saves me,
because he looked at the lowness of his slave.
Look: From now on, every woman will call me awesome,
because the Almighty did a great thing to me.
His name is holy.
His mercy, to those who fear him, lasts for generations.
His arm performed powerful things.
He scattered those who were overconfident in their thinking.
He pulled dynasties from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.
He filled the hungry with good things.
He sent the wealthy away empty.
He supported his child Israel,
remembering mercy as he spoke to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his perpetual descendants.”

Mary stayed with Elizabeth three months, and returned to her house.

Luke 1.46-56 KWL

Mary’s education.

Most of the Magnificat comes from Old Testament concepts. Sometimes direct and indirect quotes. Those who think Mary was an ignorant peasant clearly don’t understand her culture: Mary went to synagogue.

In the first century, synagogue wasn’t simply a Jewish church, like it often is today. Synagogue was school. The Pharisees had invented the synagogue system to teach the Law, the bible, to the general public. They wanted to encourage men to become bible scholars, grammatís, “scribes.” But if they didn’t go so far, they wanted the men to have a functional understanding of the scriptures.

Synagogues had a women’s section. That’s right: The Pharisees permitted women’s education. They didn’t expect (nor did they want) women to become scholars. But they did expect them to know the Law, same as the men: “A man is required to teach the Law to his daughter.” (Mishna, Sota 3.4e) You can’t obey it, or pass it down to your kids, if you don’t yourself know it. And throughout the Magnificat, Mary demonstrated she did know it. ’Cause, you know, all the quotes.

For I’m your god, the LORD.
I’m El-Qanná/‘Possessive God.’
I have children suffer consequences for their parents’ evil
—and the grandchildren, and great-grandchildren—
when they hate me.
But I show love to a thousand generations
when they love me and observe my commands.

—The LORD,

My heart is happy in the LORD. […]
The experts’ bows are cracked.
The stumblers are belted with courage.
The well-fed have hired themselves out for bread.
The hungry have stopped being hungry. […]
The LORD makes people either destitute or rich.
Some he lays low; some he exalts.
He lifts the poor from the dirt.
He exalts the needy from the landfill.
He puts them in the seat of rich patrons.
He assigns them positions of honor.
For the things which hold up the earth are the LORD’s.
He set them up.

—Hannah, 1 Samuel 2.1, 4-5, 7-8 KWL

My life exults in the LORD.
His salvation thrills it.

—David, Psalm 35.9 KWL

The prowling life is satisfied.
He’s filled the starving life with goodness.

Psalm 107.9 KWL

He sent the ransom for his people:
He instructed his child in his holy covenant.
His name is respected.

Psalm 111.9 KWL

You’ll give Jacob the truth.
You’ll show love to Abraham.
You swore these things to our ancestors long ago.

—Micah, Micah 7.20 KWL

Of course there are other verses. But even if you’re taking your imagery from the bible, you still have to put it all together, as Mary did.

The structure of the poem.

People tend to divide the Magnificat into two parts. First, Mary spoke on how God blessed her personally. Lk 1.46-50 Second, Mary spoke on how God turns the world upside down in order to make it right. Lk 1.51-55 The key to Mary’s thinking is in her statement, “He scattered those who were overconfident in their thinking.” If you think you know how the world works, but your thinking is entirely based on your own comfortable position, are you in for a shocker. (Fellow Americans: Pay attention.)

Mary began by pointing out how her soul and spirit—the immaterial parts of her, which moderns refer to as our “consciousness”—recognize God’s greatness. Partly in comparison with her position, “the lowness of his slave,” because it’s how she thought of herself. Lk 1.38 Partly because she realized she’s now part of salvation history: She referred to “the God who saves me,” for she of course believed, as Jews did, the whole point of Messiah is salvation. Her son’s name Jesus Lk 1.31 means “the LORD saves.” She didn’t yet know how he’d save them; only that the first step was to get born and raised. And she got to raise him.

Much too much emphasis is made on how Mary birthed Jesus, and not enough on how she raised Jesus. Probably that’s because a lot of Christians unconsciously think since Jesus is God, he needed no one to raise him: He already knew everything, and knew better. They point to how he taught the scribes in Jerusalem when he was only 12, Lk 2.41-51 or how the folks in his homeland wondered where he got all his wisdom. Mk 6.2 Or they even borrow some stories out of the ridiculous apocryphal gospels. They don’t understand how, when Jesus gave up his divine privileges, Pp 2.7 this includes his all-knowingness. The only knowledge he took with him was that of the Father. Jn 7.29 The rest he had to learn—from his parents.

Mary appreciated all God had done for her, and the honor he’d given her, and said “His mercy, to those who fear him, lasts for generations,” loosely quoting Exodus. Ex 20.6

Her lowliness led her to recall God likes to use the lowly to accomplish his goals. They recognize their achievements are only done through God’s power, not their own. They appreciate him more. So Mary proclaimed a few of the things God does to put the world topsy-turvy to establish his Kingdom. He scatters the overconfident, knocks down dynasties, fills the hungry and empties the wealthy, and looks out for Israel—an occupied vassal state of the mighty Roman Empire—because it was founded on God’s relationship with their trusting ancestor Abraham.

Yep, Mary understood how God worked. It’s why she was well-equipped to raise him.