I remember the first time I read Chapter 1 of Luke’s Gospel in the New Testament. The words, like so many of the words in Sacred Scripture, were beautiful, and the sentiments they expressed, like so many of the sentiments expressed in the Word of God, were profound. But I did not understand. As a young man with little life experience, I could not understand.
It all happened in the context of a visit between cousins. Elizabeth, the elderly wife of a Jewish priest named Zechariah, was believed to be barren. They had no children, but then, suddenly, she conceived. His name would be John, and we would come to know him as John the Baptist (Luke 1:5-25, 57-80).
Elizabeth’s cousin was Mary. Mary of Nazareth. She was a young woman, hardly more than a child, and she was engaged to a man named Joseph. Suddenly, she, too, was with child. However, in her case, there was no earthly father, no normal actions to have caused her to become pregnant. Unlike Elizabeth, she had conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. And, unlike Elizabeth, her son would be called the Son of God – Jesus (Luke 1:26-38, Matthew 1:18-25).
Shortly after these miraculous events, Mary traveled to the home of Elizabeth and Zechariah and greeted her elderly cousin. They could have exchanged pleasantries or certainly words of wonder and amazement. Instead, Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, exclaimed, “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” Then she simply and humbly asked, “And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:39-43, KJV).
Mary could have – perhaps should have – stood in silence. She would have recalled the words of Gabriel, the angel, who announced that she would bear a child, a son, and that He would save the world. What did Elizabeth know about this? What did she need to know from Mary?
Before we read Mary’s response, remember that she knew full well what would be waiting for her when she returned to Nazareth. Cruel stories. Gossip. Raised eyebrows and judgmental stares. Pointing fingers and frowning faces. She was with child, but she and Joseph were not yet married, and Joseph knew that the child was not his (Matthew 1:18-19). Most people would have tried to explain the situation or at least divert Elizabeth’s attention.
But God does not think as we do (Isaiah 55:8-9), so He did not move Mary to offer a defense. Instead, she proclaimed:
My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour, for he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.
Luke 1:46-48, KJV
That was the word which first caught my attention – “magnify.” Why would God ever need to be magnified, that is, made to appear larger? He is already greater than anything this world has to offer. He is already bigger than the universe and grander than the most majestic mountains or the starriest night sky.
The problem lies within
The problem with my failure to understand Mary’s words was not a lack of theology (trust me, theology is no guarantee of understanding), nor was it a lack of Biblical awareness (I certainly believed that Jesus was my Lord and Savior).
The problem was me. More precisely, the problem was my lack of suffering.
“The man who has not suffered,” Abraham Heschel once wrote, “what can he possibly know, anyway?”
Mary knew differently. And, now, so do I.
And, my guess is, so do you.
Please accept my most sincere acknowledgment that I do not know your circumstances or your pain. I have not walked a single step, much less a mile, in your shoes. I have not experienced your dark night of the soul or trembled with the helplessness or hopelessness you have felt. But I have experienced my own corner of hell on this earth. I have felt alone and abandoned. I have been judged and condemned. I have endured my own helplessness and my own hopelessness.
“The man who has not suffered – what can he possibly know, anyway?”
But through it all, indeed, despite it all, I am still here. I have not given up, and, with the grace of God, I shall not give up.
And there is one, and only one, reason for my survival: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, my Savior.
The answer lies in Christ
When Mary proclaimed her praise that day, when she offered her magnificat so long ago, her circumstances did not change – but her perspective did. The people of Nazareth would say whatever they were going to say, and they would do whatever they were going to do. From then on, Mary needed only one other on her side: Almighty God. And she and God would make a majority.
Through it all, like a light shining into the darkness, Mary came to know, in an instant, that her peace and joy, her present and future, lay not in the hands of other people but in the heart of God Himself. Her deliverance would not come from her neighbors or so-called friends but from her own son – the Son of God – the Savior of the world.
What changed was not her circumstances but her perspective.
And, by the power of the Holy Spirit, it can change for you as well.
In your life, and for your life
“My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour, for he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.”
The Word of God gives us the power of God. Just as importantly, it gives us the perspective of God.
And what God wants for you is peace and joy, hope and faith, love and strength.
The next time this world tries to push you down or push you away, when Satan, its ruler (John 12:31, 14:30), seeks to take hold of your life or steal your soul, do not change your weapons or your tactics. Instead, change your perspective. Focus on God, not your problems, and certainly not the bill of goods that Satan and this fallen world are trying to sell you.
The next time, don’t magnify your problems; magnify your God.
And then hold on, because the Creator of the universe is coming to your rescue.
-- Dr. John Morris