Mary’s poetic statement of praise in
The Magnificat is both conservative and revolutionary, both personal and social in perspective. It is conservative because it affirms the fulfillment of ancient promises to Israel but revolutionary because it proclaims the overturn of society. It is personal because it initially focuses on Mary, but it suggests that God’s choice of her—a person of low status—represents in miniature what God is doing for the poor and powerless in general.
The poetic structure of the Magnificat creates a dynamic combination of the four contrasting perspectives mentioned above. The Magnificat falls into two sections (
The first section of the Magnificat celebrates the surprising choice of a girl of low status for the honor of bearing the Messiah. There is an immense gap in status between the “lowliness” of the girl and “the Mighty One” who has chosen her, enhancing the wonder of the event. The key concepts of lowly and mighty are developed in the second section, but a third party is introduced: humans who are “proud,” “powerful,” and “rich.” God’s strength appears in bringing down the human powers and lifting up the “lowly” and “hungry.” Both social status and economic status are in mind, and the powerful and rich are regarded as oppressors of the poor. The development of the Magnificat from section one to section two shows that God’s choice of a girl of low status to bear the Messiah is emblematic of what God is doing in society more broadly, where God is intervening to bring down oppressors and lift up the socially abased and poverty stricken.
The Magnificat is one of a series of angelic announcements and prophetic hymns in Luke’s infancy narrative. Together these texts provide a theological context for understanding the whole of Luke-Acts. In particular, they link this long narrative to the Hebrew Scripture’s hopes for redemption of God’s people. God’s salvation will be offered to the Gentiles later in Luke’s story, but this salvation must also embrace the Jews in order to fulfill what Mary is proclaiming.
- Brown, Raymond E. The Birth of the Messiah. Updated ed. New York: Doubleday, 1993.
- Reid, Barbara. “An Overture to the Gospel of Luke.” Currents in Theology and Mission 39 (2012): 428-434.
- O’Day, Gail. “Singing Woman’s Song: A Hermeneutic of Liberation.” Currents in Theology and Mission 12 (1985): 203-210.