Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
Mary’s song consists of thanks, for who God is, and praise, worship for what he has done. What God does is personal with Mary, but its implications are absolute and universal.
Mary miraculously bears Jesus, the Christ, the God-man, which means she is theototkos, God-bearer. In that sense she plays a unique role in redemptive history. But Mary is also a person like us in need of salvation, God extends his grace to her, that is, she is favored, and in response she models a humble, gracious trust in “God my [and our] Savior” (1:47).
With this historical backdrop and with Mary’s humble heart overflowing with praise and thanks to God, she responds in worship (for a comparison, cf. Hannah’s song, 1 Sam. 2:1-10).
The Theological and Doxological Response
Mary glorifies the Lord and rejoices in God her Savior (1:46b-47). Mary begins her song with worship: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” “My soul” is that personal praise that comes from deep within a person. It is singing from the heart, the depth of one’s being. Mary lifts up the Lord God as she praises his providential work on her behalf (1:38). The reference to “the Lord” addresses God as the sovereign Master and Ruler of the world. This address reveals May’s approach to God is that of a humble servant.
Mary repeats her praise as her “spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” She praises God for who he is and for what he has done to save in/through Christ, her son. Many have misunderstood Mary. The Roman Catholic Church overestimates her and claim she is more than what she actually is. The RCC fosters a Marian piety that can only be called idolatrous.
This leads to the other side of the problem. Protestants, on the other hand, underestimate Mary, in that she does not, for many, even serve as a model and example of a humble servant, dependent on God for his grace and mercy for her salvation. God is, indeed, her Savior.
Mary is truly like us, though she played a unique role in redemptive history. She is a sinner used by God to be bear the God-man, Jesus Christ, and who was in need of the saving work of Jesus Christ as all other humanity. Mary acknowledges this by recognizing her humble state, the impossible task before her, which required a sovereign and miraculous work of God, which is also reflective of salvation and her receiving the expression of “favored one” (1:28), and her worshipful and dependent response to God as “my Savior” (1:47). Later Jesus is identified as the Savior, the God-man who came to “save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21): “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (2:11).
When we restrict ourselves to what is clearly taught in the Scriptures, we find in Mary a beautiful woman of character, uniquely blessed of God. She is a model of faith in God, one who believed what the Lord said (1:45), and a model for the church. Mary stands in the Gospels as a mark or sign of the true humanity of Jesus Christ and a model of the Christian devoted to God her Savior (1:47).
The basis of Mary’s praise is God and his grace (1:48-50). In his grace, he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. Mary knew her own need for a Savior. She also knew that she, humanly speaking was an insignificant person. Additionally, Mary was aware she had nothing to offer spiritually to God. And yet, God in his grace bestowed on her the great privilege of giving birth to the Savior, both her own personal Savior and the Savior of the world. Because of this blessing from God, all nations will call Mary blessed (1:48; cf. 1:42). Why? Not because she was perfect like some teach, but rather she was a model of humility, obedience, belief, submission to God. She was truly “poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3).
In our spiritual birth, we must realize we had nothing to offer spiritually speaking, and God, too, has been mindful of the humble state of his servants in his grace.
In this humble state, Mary worships the Mighty One because he has done great things for her. The reference to the Mighty One in the Old Testament alludes to God who fights on behalf of his people to deliver them. God is a warrior who delivers his people through victorious power (Zeph. 3:17). Here God exercised his power to create the child. What God promised and what seemed impossible was possible for God, the Mighty One, for he exercises his power to deliver his people through the birth of a Son, Jesus Christ.
Three of God’s attributes are highlighted: Mighty, as noted above, Holy and Mercy. Mary’s reason for praising God focuses on his being, for he is worthy of our worship for who he is. Because of who God is he acts a certain way. Specifically, Mary focuses on God’s attributes of power, exalted holiness and mercy, descriptions of God’s attributes which are designed to highlight his specific attributes most prominently displayed in this miraculous work in salvation history. All of this places our focus on God, not Mary.
God’s mercy is given to all those who fear him (1:50-53). God’s “mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation” (1:50) is included in both key truths in Mary’s song since it serves as a transitional verse. It draws to a conclusion Mary’s statement about herself, and it serves as an introduction to what is stated about the widespread impact of the birth of Jesus Christ. Additionally, in the last section, God was praised for his attributes. They reflect who he is, and based on who he is he responds in certain ways. So the transition is from focusing on God’s nature to his works, and he is praised for both.
Being a God-fearer is a requirement to receive God’s mercy. And being a God-fearer is reflective of having received God’s mercy. These twin truths are not in competition with one another but are, rather, reflective of the outworking of the gospel in a person’s life. There is no place for pride.
God the Mighty One has performed mighty deeds leading to salvation and judgment. This is accomplished through his arm – a common metaphor/reference (an anthropomorphism – a figure of speech that describes God as having a human form or characteristic) in the Old Testament to the power of God, especially regarding his deliverance of his people from bondage in Egypt in the Exodus. Thus, God’s arm becomes an image of the second exodus, deliverance of his people from spiritual death and bondage to sin.
His coming means two things to two groups of people – one to the arrogant and proud, and another to the humble. He has scattered the proud, brought down rulers, and sent the rich away empty. He has lifted up the humble and filled the hungry with good things. The coming of the king to establish his kingdom sets things right according to his norms and standards, not ours or any human king.
The ground of God’s acting for his people is the covenant, which finds its fulfillment in the arrival of the Messiah (1:54-55). Reflective of the king’s kingdom, there is a reversal of what is expected of an earthly king and kingdom. In contrast to the proud and arrogant, the poor and marginalized receive God’s blessings (Lk. 4:18; 6:20-22; 7:22; 14:13, 21).
In God’s mercy, his servant Israel is remembered. God remembers his covenantal promises spoken to Abraham and the fathers. This is now the redemptive historical fulfillment of God’s promises. Jesus’ birth is the redemptive historical fulfillment of God’s promises (cf. 2 Cor. 1:20).
Not only does Israel receive God’s mercy and blessing, not only are they the recipients of God’s covenantal promises, so are “his offspring forever.” There is a universality to this fulfillment. All those who are Abraham’s offspring will be remembered and extended mercy by God. All those who have faith in Christ “are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:29).
Ponder the following questions as you prepare your mind and heart to worship the Lord Jesus Christ this Christmas season through Mary’s song: