We may not know what Mary's opinion was about Elvis or horses, but we know that she was a good girl who loved Jesus, and her boyfriend (or her betrothed, Joseph) too. We might call him a fiancé even if by our standards she was way too young to have such a thing. She was as old as 15 or as young as 13 when she got the news for which all generations would call her blessed (Luke 1:48). We would all agree no matter her exact age, she was mature beyond her years. Her faith was especially mature. She took the news of her unexpected pregnancy as a blessing. "Behold I am the servant of the Lord, let it be according to your word" (Luke 1:38).
Yet there is no doubt Mary’s was a difficult blessing. We all want to be blessed but this was not the sort of thing that warrants a “hashtag blessed” shoutout on Instagram. I checked. Nowhere did I see an image labelled #blessed that captured a pregnant teenager jumping for joy at the prospect of breaking the news to her parents, or explaining to her fiancé that, "No, it really was the Holy Spirit! I didn't cheat on you!" This is the sort of blessing most of us pray to do without. Being the Lord's servant is rarely easy.
Mary’s aunt, also pregnant and living in the hill country, was what we would call a Godsend, a nice excuse to leave town for a bit while Joseph and her parents sorted things out and decided what to do. But the rumors would start in any case, rumors that would last. Even today, people greet her with the same suspicions as the wise old maids of Nazareth. Mature beyond her years? More like thirteen going on thirty-five, as my mom used to say when trying to warn me of girls I only wanted to get to know all the better.
But at her Aunt Elizabeth's house, she could let her hair down and rejoice. Her aunt had none of the suspicions that clouded the judgment of spinsters in Nazareth. Elizabeth greeted Mary with a warm joy filled with honor that the Mother of her Lord would deign to visit her. Here, she could revel in the news and riff on the song of Hannah found in 1 Samuel 2. The mother of Samuel, Hannah was both one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament as well as a Christ figure. She had long been barren when the Lord answered her prayer for a child. Her husband, Elkanah, had many sons and daughters by his other wife, Peninnah, who would taunt Hannah with her children out of jealousy for the attention Hannah received from Elkanah. So she too broke out in song chiding the haughty when she had a child. Mary’s song, the Magnificat, is a joyous tune that still graces many a retreat, monastery and evensong calling the Virgin Mary blessed because of the blessing she bore for all of us.
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble
estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name."
The distych nature and parallelisms of Mary's song betray the Aramaic in which it was originally composed. Hebrew and Aramaic poetry, such as that recorded by Hannah, or throughout the Psalms, is not characterized by rhyme and meter to be sung in harmony, but rather by trying to say the same thing in two different ways, which lends itself to chanting or call and response. The Magnificat is poetry on a grand scale. Here, Mary praises her God for all that He has done for her. He is her Savior, and it is His salvation that she carries in her womb. He has done mighty things for her, so she recognizes that He is holy. Here in the refuge of her uncle Zechariah's house and the shadow of her aunt's praise, she has been rescued from the proud who would bring her to shame. The joy of shared faith overwhelms her. It is the sort of joy that is brought about by the mutual consolation of the saints when they encourage one another through hard times.
In his sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent, Swedish Pastor and Theologian, Bo Giertz, maintains that Luke first heard these words from Mary herself. Thus we too, hear the story from Mary’s own lips. We hear her sing for joy and join her in praising our Lord who exalts the humble.
"And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts"
The proud are scattered, yet the God of the universe shows mercy to those who fear Him. In this life, those who fear Him are often scoffed at and taken advantage of by the proud. Hannah and Peninnah’s own story played out in this very same hill country where Mary visits Elizabeth. Many would scoff at an old, barren lady and consider her cursed. Many would think it a hard thing for Mary to be with child of dubious patronage. But here, amidst the suffering of this world, these women find great joy in the power of His arm who promises and delivers blessings against all odds. God shames the proud with foolishness and shames the strong in the world with what is weak, whether it’s young virgins or old maids (1 Cor. 1:7).
"He has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;"
The Prince of the air, Beelzebul has claimed the earthly throne. He sits within the house armed with his minions. He gets drunk and abuses the servants that do not belong to him. There is nothing anyone can do (Luke 11: 14ff). But the stronger one has come to play the game of thrones with him. He has taken on the form of a servant, humbled Himself to be born of a virgin. Beelzebul will retaliate, but not even his great servant Herod will be able to upset the plan of a babe, born in a manger. One little Word will fell him, the Word made flesh in a little child who comes, "to bear, and fight and die." And when He comes again He will be "crowned with glory like the sun that lights the morning sky" (“The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns”). Then all the petty games of thrones we play will be exposed, and we will see the flies circling the hills upon which we fight. The humble will be exalted with He who sits at the right hand of God.
"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,"
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matt. 5:6). These words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount echo his mother's song. Here too we are reminded of Hannah's complaint. She could not eat no matter how much she hungered. No matter how much food her husband lavished upon her at the yearly feast, she felt empty without the vindication of a son. Feasting is for the merry. But now the hungry are fed a feast at a table in the midst of their enemies. The Son of Mary comes to bring righteousness to those that hunger that they might be satisfied. He helps His servant Israel as often as they eat His bread and drink His cup in remembrance of Him. There they receive His forgiveness and His righteousness as they proclaim His death until He comes.
"as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever."
So the testament to Abraham is fulfilled: out with the old and in with the new. The promise of salvation will be shared with the seed of Abraham ever anew. The innumerable stars that shine in heavens at night, the grains of sand on the seashore a constant testimony to all of the heavenly host beyond number, the answer to the question, shall those who are saved be so few? No, they shall not be so few who are numbered among the saints, for this Son of Mary shed His blood for all, and gave His life for the world His Father loves.