‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
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 powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’
And Mary remained with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned to her home.
One of the aspects of church life that has been put on hold over the last nine months has been the use of song in our worship and praise of God. All sorts of ingenious technical strategies have been employed to keep the singing going, but …! There is no doubt that we have all missed congregational singing … something that is going to make Christmas 2020 feel very strange indeed. Today’s reading serves to emphasize that sense of strangeness, and loss.
We know Mary’s words as The Magnificat, her great song of praise and hope which is repeated at Evening Prayer (or Evensong) every single day of the year. In cathedrals and parish churches alike it is sung in an increasingly inventive kaleidoscope of musical genres. Where there is not the capacity to sing, the words are repeated in the prayerful spirit in which they were first offered by the young and newly pregnant Mary. These words should never be said in a spirit of dutiful repetition because they are some of the most exciting and hopeful words of scripture. In these few verses, this paean of great praise and thankfulness, Mary sums up the realisation of God’s plan for humanity that will manifest itself in her, as yet, unborn child. Mary’s encounter with the angel and then with her elderly relative, Elizabeth, joined up the dots for this young woman, whose acquiescence to God’s plan was destined to change the course of human history. Mary saw and sang of that fulfilment of ancient divine promises.
Yesterday, I highlighted Mary’s self-giving response to God’s call in her life. Today, I am urging us all to set aside the negativity that has become associated with 2020 and join in Mary’s great song of praise, thankfulness and hope. We will not be able to gather and sing our Christmas carols this year, but that does not mean that we cannot sing in our hearts. Let us step outside our self-imposed feelings of hopelessness and join Mary as we sing loudly, lustily and with all our strength: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.