Luke chapters one and two

Luke 1:39-56

Why am I so favoured?

Context

Elizabeth, a Jewish priest’s wife, has become pregnant in her old age after a lifetime of barrenness. Mary, her cousin, has been promised to bear a son, not by human means but through the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth’s son will be named John and Mary’s child will be named Jesus. The former will prepare the world for the coming of the latter. Jesus will be the promised king of Israel whose throne will endure forever.

When Elizabeth became pregnant, she began to live in seclusion and five months later, Mary was given her news from God. While Elizabeth’s husband doubted the new he received from God, Mary submitted to the news and believed that God would do it.

Observation

Structure

  • 39-45 Elizabeth’s song
  • 46-56 Mary’s song

39-45 Elizabeth’s song

“…got ready and hurried…” Mary travelled to Elizabeth and Zechariah’s home as quickly as she could. She was told by the angel Gabriel that Elizabeth was also carrying a miraculous child and so who better to visit than an older female relative who can give her comfort and guidance and zero grief. If Mary was in any doubt about the news, she may have gone nowhere and waited to see results. But she rushed to see Elizabeth without a hint of being pregnant. Did she rush because of the news of her own child or because of the news that Elizabeth was pregnant? This is unclear but Elizabeth makes it clear that she is the one privileged to have Mary visit her and not the other way around.

“…Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb…” It’s clear from the context (see verse 44) that it was John who leaped in the womb rather than Jesus. Gabriel told Zechariah that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit even in the womb. Here we have the evidence that the Spirit of God was igniting the emotions of the baby to be in the very presence of Jesus’ mother. We don’t have the details of Mary’s greeting but it need not have contained any details of Mary’s encounter with Gabriel for the rest of the story to make sense since the Holy Spirit drives the knowledge of John and Elizabeth.

“…Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” One of the primary gifts of the Holy Spirit is the blessing of insight, revelation, enlightenment and such. The prophets only knew what they knew by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It is implied that John leaped for joy because of the Holy Spirit in him. It doesn’t take a genius, a doctor, a minister of religion to know and respond to God. It takes the Holy Spirit to see.

“In a loud voice she exclaimed…” The ESV reads, “she exclaimed with a loud cry…” We must register the volume of Elizabeth in her joy! What follows is no monotone statement!

“…the child you will bear!” The NIV implies a future child and would make it possible that Mary is yet to conceive. While it’s not necessary for Jesus to be present or not for the contexts to make sense (since the praise goes to the Lord blessing Mary), the ESV reads better, “blessed is the fruit of your womb”.

“…why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” This reminds me of what John will say in his adult ministry, “…one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie” (Luke 3:16). Elizabeth feels unworthy to have even the mother of Jesus stand before her. Or perhaps more accurately, she cannot believe that she has seen the day when the Lord has come.

“Blessed are you among women…Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” We see here that Elizabeth is beside herself because she is witnessing the promises of God being fulfilled in her presence. Mary is to be blessed among women because of the amazing privilege to be the mother of God’s Messiah. Whether it was every Jewish girl’s prayer to be the mother of the Messiah or not, I do not know and shouldn’t be romanticized.

46-56 Mary’s song

Traditionally, this song is known as the Magnificat (because of the first word in the Latin translation meaning ‘magnifies’). There are four hymns in Luke’s birth narratives and this is the first. It follows the style and themes of Hannah’s song of praise in 1 Samuel 2:1-10.

“And Mary said…” It’s not important to know if Mary said this right there and then or not. Luke has recorded words that came from Mary.

“My soul glorifies the Lord…my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour…” This poetic form gives two parallel statements. The Lord equals God who is the Saviour. Mary’s soul equals her spirit. She glorifies the Lord God by rejoicing and this will translate into expressions of what God has done later in the song. The point here is that glorifying God is about expressing what he has done. The word for glory is the same for the word magnify. Mary doesn’t aim to make God bigger by inventing amazing truths about him. She is stirred up in her inmost being to praise him for what he has done. God is already big and Mary can’t help but sing about him.

“…for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.” God’s glory is not that he stands with the strong but that he is merciful to the lowly. Like Hannah’s song of 1 Samuel 2, Mary boasts how God flips people’s situations around. See verses 50 to 54 where it is the humble that are raised and the poor who are filled.

“…all generations will call me blessed.” Mary is the receiver of blessings, not the giver. All generations ought to take note.

“…for the Mighty One has done great things…” Verses 46 to 49 make up the introduction to Mary’s song which introduce glory and praise to the Lord because he is great and has done great things. Mary is his humble servant. The rest of the song declare what God has done for people such as Mary.

“His mercy…” Glory goes to God because he is merciful and that is credited to him from generation to generation. God is unchanging in that we can be sure about him. He doesn’t reward the great and powerful in their own eyes but rather he shows mercy to those who revere him.

“He has performed mighty deeds…” AKA His deeds are great and can squash the high and mighty. He knows the inmost thoughts of a person and if there is no fear of the Lord in them, they do not receive mercy.

“…brought down…lifted up…” The humble revere the Lord and are lifted up. Rulers may be in power briefly, but they do not stay there. In God’s economy, the powerful are shown to be weak and the weak are shown mercy.

“…filled…empty.” Mary was a poor girl with nothing worldly to offer and yet God has blessed her with the honour of carrying Jesus to birth. He is not interested in wealth or power but in the humble and reverential heart.

“…remembering to be merciful to Abraham…just as he promised…” The theme of promise and fulfillment has been constant in Luke from the very beginning of the chapter. He is writing of all that had been fulfilled in his lifetime. All the promises of a forever king were being fulfilled in Jesus’ birth. Mary is now reminding us that this has been the hope of the Jewish people since the time of Abraham. Israel is described as a single person – a servant of God – who is now being helped, lifted up, filled and shown mercy by the God who keeps his word. God promised Abraham’s descendants in Genesis 12, 15 and 17 that Israel would be great and the world would be blessed through them. A humble nation with nothing to offer, has been shown mercy by God to be able to carry the saviour of the world.

“Mary stayed…three months and then returned home.” This section ends with the small detail that just before Elizabeth was about to give birth, Mary leaves. More of Mary’s story is to continue but it won’t be with Elizabeth. This verse acts as a transition from the song and the two mothers to their separate stories.

Meaning

Who are we that we should be shown favour by God? There are no riches, or gifts, power or promises big enough to obtain the generosity and blessings of God. Mary received grace to be blessed with the saviour. Elizabeth was blessed to be in the presence of the Saviour. Israel, was blessed to be the recipients of the child of God. All Christians who fear the Lord and humble themselves before God receive grace through the promises of God fulfilled in Jesus. Blessed are those who have believed that God will and has fulfilled his promises.

Application

  • Pray through Mary’s song by taking each phrase and speaking to God about them in your own words.
  • The relationship we have with God runs deep. It is our spirit or inmost thoughts which God reads and it is our spirit that yearns to know him and be pleased with him. Mary glorified the Lord with her spirit by reflecting on all that God has done. Be mindful of all that God has done for you, your group, your Christian community and for the salvation of all Christians. Sharing stories of God’s goodness to you personally can help one another rejoice in him.
  • Although Mary didn’t sing this song (I don’t think), it might help to think about the songs we sing as a Christian community since they are our poetic expression of God’s word sung together. Perhaps discuss which songs you particularly like and why. Also, do we need to cultivate our singing more?

Prayer of the Week

Father, we praise you for all that you have done and ask that you would create in us a spirit of thankfulness. Amen.