Prepare to be scandalized, fellow Liturgicals: My church follows the Revised Common Lectionary, but we don’t normally read the Psalm – just the Gospel and either the Old or New Testament reading designated for that week.
In my opinion, two full readings still provides us with more Scripture than the average pew warmer can receive, digest, retain and implement in a given week. It also provides plenty of material for the preacher to unpack in the sermon – and frees up more time for the pastor to dig a little deeper in the two texts we do get. So there are some definite advantages to skipping the Psalm.
And if we Bible Geeks want to spend some time in the Psalm, there’s nothing stopping us from doing so on our own, foreign as the concept may seem to many of us (New Year’s Resolution alert!).
But you might not want to wait until January to try it out. The Lectionary gives churches a choice for today’s Psalm reading: either Psalm 146:5-10 or Luke 1:46b-55 – the latter of which is known as Mary’s Song, or the Magnificat. (That’s right: in some seasons, the Psalm reading isn’t taken from the Psalter. Who knew!)
The Magnificat is the song that pregnant-with-Jesus Mary sings after entering the house of Elizabeth and Zechariah, immediately after Elizabeth’s own baby (John the Baptist) leaps in her womb, after hearing Mary’s voice.
In a loud voice she [Elizabeth] exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” – Luke 1:42-45
Now, imagine you’re Mary. Not long ago, an angel burst in on you and announced that you’re pregnant with the Son of God, despite the fact you’re a virgin. After an entirely understandable bit of hesitation, you accept the idea and in the holiest, scariest moment of your young life, you hear yourself say, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”
Then, the angel leaves you and everything returns to normal. Your house looks the same, your town, your neighbors – they’re all the same. And yet everything’s different for you.
Or is it?
Was that really an angel, or something else? Did it even really happen, or did I dream it somehow? Whatever it was, did it speak the truth? Am I really pregnant? I don’t feel pregnant. But how would I know what pregnant even feels like? And if I am pregnant, am I really carrying God’s Son? How can this be so? And yet, after that experience with the angel – which was either the most unreal or the most real experience of my life – how can it not be so?
Overcome with fear, indecision and anxiety about how her family and community will react when she reveals the news that she’s pregnant and Who the Father is, she does what any teenage girl would want to do: she escapes. She decides to get out of Dodge, and go visit her cousin Elizabeth.
Wise Elizabeth. Kindly Elizabeth. Godly Elizabeth. She won’t judge me, and she might even have some good advice. At the very least, she makes the best cookies…
After making the journey, Mary tentatively, hesitantly enters her cousin’s home, expecting the usual hugs and pleasantries: how’s your family, how was the trip, what’s kooky Uncle Herschel up to these days. And instead, as soon as she crosses the threshold, she’s immediately flattened by what she really came for (probably without realizing it): confirmation that she’s not crazy, she didn’t imagine it, her encounter with the angel was real and the message he delivered was true.
That’s what I would have said. But according to Luke in the New King James Version, Mary put it a bit more poetically…
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
48 For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
49 For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.
50 And His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
52 He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.
54 He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy,
55 As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.”
Amen, Sister … I mean Mother.
† † †
We Anglicans use this word quite a bit in our liturgy, and it pops up fairly often in Christian worship songs as well. (A quick search of the word in CCLI’s SongSelect tool produced about 1,000 hits.)
And as is often the case with words you see a lot in Christian contexts, the M-Word has a special, churchy meaning. It means to praise or glorify. (In fact, the New International Version of Mary’s Song begins ‘My soul glorifies the Lord’ – but I don’t think they’ve started calling the song the Glorificat just yet).
And, obviously, we should praise and give God glory at every opportunity; indeed our entire lives should serve to laud and magnify Thy glorious name, e-he-hever praising Thee-ee and say-ay-ing…
But I think we need to be careful when we talk about magnifying God in our lives, that we don’t drift and default to using the more common definition of the M-Word: to make something look bigger.
And since God is always everywhere, we don’t need a crude, clumsy magnifying glass, telescope or microscope to get a good look at Him.
Ready, waiting and eager to connect with us and bless us. Anytime and anywhere.
Or to put it more poetically…
My soul magnifies the Lord…
Thanks be to God.
Peace be with you.