Better than any greeting card or bright package was the news that Mary received that she was going to bear Jesus, the Savior. Her humble response—“Be it unto me according to Your Word”—is called “the Fiat,” or “may it be so.”
Then she ran off to share the news with her cousin Elizabeth. “Now follows,” says Calvin in his commentary on the gospel of Luke, “a remarkable and interesting song of the holy virgin….”
This was her song (called the Magnificat):
And Mary said,
“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 blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
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;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
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 offspring forever.”
One thing you may notice from the Magnificat is how many references to the Psalms float within this holy cloud of words.
James says, “Is any merry? let [her] sing psalms”—and Mary was merry! We note here just a few of the Psalms echoed in the passage: Psalm 34:2-3, 69:30, 35:9, 138:6,111:9, 113:7-8, 81:10. I could go on, but I’m getting giddy.
How could Mary be so joyful when she had just been told she was becoming pregnant before marriage, in a culture where that was punishable by death? Partly because she realized she was bearing a Lord and Savior—not just a Savior for herself, but for the whole world. Calvin says, “Till God has been recognized as a Savior, the minds of men [and women] are not free to indulge in true and full joy, but will remain in doubt and anxiety.”
So we see that the Fiat—“God, I submit to Your will and Your salvation,” has to come before the Magnificat. We will not experience rejoicing in God our Lord and Savior if we are not acknowledging our need of a Lord and Savior. If you have ever tried to rejoice when you have something weighing on your conscience, or you are fearful about something, you know the truth of this.
It can be easy for women to live in doubt and anxiety at this time of year. Will the relatives get here—or even get along? What explains all the evil in this dark world? How can I possibly get everything done? Why does it matter? How much will it cost? Again, Calvin gives us some guidance, saying:
“There are three clauses in this song. First, Mary offers solemn thanksgiving for that mercy of God which she had experienced in her own person. Next, she celebrates in general terms God’s power and judgments. Lastly, she applies these to the matter in hand, treating of the redemption formerly promised, and now granted to the church.”
That makes a fine prayer guide for us in this season:
First, offer thanksgiving for God’s mercy to you. He has given you His Word, the offer of eternal salvation—and even “all things pertaining to life and godliness,” (2 Peter 1:3). That’s a bounty of gifts! He gave us His Son at Christmas. We killed Him—and He gave Him to us again at his resurrection. What mercy indeed.
Next, celebrate in general terms God’s power and judgments. That’s also called praising Him! His power is infinite, and His judgments are perfect.
Then apply these thoughts to the matter in hand! What is troubling you today? Is there someone you need to forgive? A self-indulgence or idol you need to forsake? Perhaps worry is cramping your style? Apply these thoughts to the matter in hand—remember Christ’s goodness, His creativity, His power. Then respond with your own personal Magnificat.
About the Author:
Leah Farish teaches college courses on law, language, and public speaking in Oklahoma. She also heads a nonprofit which encourages volunteerism. Leah and her husband are members of Christ Presbyterian in Tulsa, where, being party animals, they are also preparing to celebrate the church’s 50th birthday.