This portion of Scripture is often called the “Magnificat” after the first word in the Latin translation.  It is an adoration song that is given by Mary to Elisabeth upon their meeting.  The Christ child has yet to be born, yet creation is jumping with anticipation at news of his soon-arrival, including the unborn John the Baptist (Luke 1:44).

There are no less than 15 allusions to the OT in these few verses.  While I am convinced of Mary’s inspiration at the utterance of these words, I’m also confident in her familiarity with the passages in question.  Many of the allusions come from the Psalms, so they were perhaps sung by Mary in the synagogue and at the Temple.  You will also see a parallel between Mary’s Magnificat and Hannah Song in 1 Samuel 2.  The circumstances are completely different, but the praise unto the Lord and His mercies are very similar.  A heart of thankfulness to God permeates through both of these songs to the Lord for His greatness and kindness.

I call them allusions because they are not direct quotations of the OT text, merely parallel thoughts and snippets that Mary sings in her joy.  It is as if Mary is so steeped in Scripture that as she breaks into the praises of God, these words come naturally to her lips[1]  I want to take a few moments this morning and look at the Magnificat or the Canticle of Mary as it is also known and glean from it the humility and thankfulness she pours forth to God.  It is my hope that by hearing Mary’s praise, the Holy Spirit will attune our hearts to praise the Lord, not only in this holiday season, but in all seasons.

God’s Present Blessings Upon Mary (vv. 46-49)

The Depths of Her Praise (vv. 46-47) – “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.” – Martin Luther believed there was a categorical distinction between soul and spirit as it is used in these verse.  I do not see any indication that Mary was making such a point.  I do believe we see the outpouring of thankfulness and praise from a heart that is at peace with God.  Mary’s heart is lifting up the Lord to the utmost heights and her spirit is rejoicing in this relationship between Creator and creation.  This is not a superficial praise, but an admiration that springs from the very depths of Mary’s being.

Psa. 34:2-3 – My soul shall make her boast in the LORD at all times:  his praise shall continually be in my mouth.  O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together.

The Direction of Her Praise (vv. 46-48) – “. . . the Lord” and “. . . in God my Savior.” – There is a misconception among some that Mary is heaping praises upon herself and her blessedness.  They use verse 48 as their ammunition where Mary says, “from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.”  In doing this, they ignore to whom Mary addresses her praise from the very beginning of this song.  Note with me what she says again.  “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.”  There are to be no misconceptions here.  Mary’s praise and adoration is not for herself, but to an Almighty God.  She finds nothing to boast of in her own condition.  She even recognizes and states here station before God.  She notes her own “low estate” and calls herself the handmaiden or servant of the Lord.

Martin Luther describes Mary “Hence she does not glory in her worthiness nor yet in her unworthiness, but solely in the divine regard, which is so exceedingly good and gracious that He deigned to look upon such a lowly maiden, and to look upon her in so glorious and honorable a fashion. They, therefore, do her an injustice who hold that she gloried, not indeed in her virginity, but in her humility. She gloried neither in the one nor in the other, but only in the gracious regard of God. Hence the stress lies not on the word “low estate” but on the word “regarded.” For not her humility but God’s regard is to be praised. When a prince takes a poor beggar by the hand, it is not the beggar’s lowliness but the prince’s grace and goodness that is to be commended.”[2]

Psa.  138:6 – Though the LORD be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly:  but the proud he knoweth afar off.

The Declaration of Her Praise (v. 47) – Sometimes as Fundamentalists, we are afraid to say too much about Mary.  The Roman Catholics have venerated her to realm of perpetual purity, sinlessness, and assumption.  You will find none of these elements in the NT.  Mary did have more children according to the NT, she did sin, and she did die as a natural death.  We have little time to discuss all those issues, so we will just tackle the one discussed in this song.

In an exegesis of the passage, Curtis A. Jahn states, “Mary found her highest joy in God her Savior. The genitive pronoun “my” is objective. Mary is applying the gospel to herself; she sees herself as the recipient of God’s saving work. What does Mary see God saving her from and saving her for? From the context of her song, the angel’s message to her, Elizabeth’s greeting, and the broader context of the Old Testament Scriptures’ plan of salvation, it is clear that Mary looked to the Lord as her Savior from sin, from the curse of the law, from death and damnation, and from all the evil brought upon his world because of sin.[3]

Psa. 35:9 – And my soul shall be joyful in the LORD:  it shall rejoice in his salvation.

Hab. 3:18 – Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

Luke 11:27-28 – And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the papa which thou has sucked.  But he said, Yea, rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.

God’s Promise of Future Blessings Upon Humanity (v. 50)

Promise of Salvation — “And his mercy is on them that fear him . . .” – God’s mercy is upon those that are continually following Him.  The idea of fear here is not a horror-filled reality that should fill the heart of the unbeliever, but it is a child-like reverence and awe that is to be possessed by every child of God.  It is respectful and solemn concerning the person of God and the work of God.  Mary is singing because she knows of the mercy and grace of the Lord.

Psa. 98:1-3 – O sing unto the LORD a new song; for he hath done marvelous things:  his right hand, and his holy arm hath gotten him the victory.  The LORD hath made known his salvation:  his righteousness hath he openly shewed in the sight of the heathen.  He hath remembered his mercy and his truth toward the house of Israel:  all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

Promise of Continuation – “. . .  from generation to generation.” – God’s mercy is not a radiant sun that shines bright one day and dims the next.  His mercy and grace continue on and on.  Mary understood that the mercy and grace she had received of God would continue to bless those that came after her.

Psa. 103:17-18 – But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children; to such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them.

She knew from the announcement of the angel Gabriel that the child she now carried would save his people from their sins (Mat. 1:21).  We now have a better understanding of this promise to Mary and how far-reaching the Word of God was to become.  Not only did Jesus offer salvation to the nation of Israel, but to the entire world.

God’s Past Testimony of Blessings for Abraham (vv. 51-56)

God Showed His Strength (v. 51) – As I have researched this month for the Christmas season, I have been surprised at the number of times the term “arm” has appeared in the various texts I studied.  The coming of the Christ in prophecy, description, and promise is filled with references to the “arm” of the Lord.  This is a show of strength to the watchful nation of Israel.  They do not quite understand how this strength will be unleashed in the form of Jesus, but they are looking for it.

Isa. 40:10 – Behold, the Lord GOD will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him:  behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him.

Isa. 52:10 – The LORD hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

God Supplied the Need (vv. 52-54) – Often when we think of God supplying needs, we always think in the positive.  This is certainly a reality, but have we ever considered that sometimes God supplies our true need by what he removes.  These verses show both the positive and the negative means by which God supplies for needs.

  • Scatters the Proud
  • Put Down the Mighty
  • Exalted the Low
  • Filled the Hungry
  • Emptied the Rich

God Secured His Promises (vv. 55) – Do I believe that Mary understood the far-reaching implications of Jesus and His mission?  No.  She understood only as far as God gave her understanding.  As the church, we also have a limited understanding of God’s complete mission in redemption of creation and the salvation of man.  We understand as much as God has revealed to us through His Word.  Mary was not giving a theology lesson with her song, not intentionally.  She was singing the praises of her God and his faithfulness to her and His people.  Mary’s song is pregnant with theological truth and timeless truth concerning God, but Mary did not approach Elisabeth with the intent of giving a discourse.  Everything Mary said and knew about God was based upon one simple principle—God kept His promises.

Gal. 3:16 – Now to Abraham and his seed were the promise made.  He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.


[1] John Piper, Meditation on the Magnificat, sermon preached 12-7-1980, found at http://www.soundofgrace.com/piper80/120780.htm, accessed 12-17-2011.

[2] Martin Luther, “The Magnificat,” Luther’s Works, American Edition, Vol. 21 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1956), 314 (Op. Cited from Curtis A. John).

[3] Curtis A. Jahn, “Exegesis and Sermon Study of Luke 1:46-55,” (City Unknown:  Publisher Unknown, 1997), 4.

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