Luke 1:39-80: Magnificat of Mary and Canticle of Zechariah

The Journey begins a new series titled, “Luke: Jesus for Everyone”

Sunday Cory and I are going to tag team on the second part of Luke 1, where the stories of Zechariah and Elizabeth and Mary converge after both receive a stunning message from the angel Gabriel.

Having received the shocking news that Mary will have a son, she wonders aloud, “How can this be? Since I am a virgin.” And the angel says that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and the Most High God will overshadow her, and the baby that will be born to her will also be holy and called the Son of God.

Mary pays a visit to her relative, Elizabeth. When six month pregnant Elizabeth hears Mary’s greeting, the baby in her womb moves so that she says he’s leapt in her womb! We can imagine relatives Mary and Elizabeth falling into one another’s arms, weeping and laughing.

Through scriptures, songs have been attributed to people like Miriam, Moses, Aaron, David, Deborah, and after the world changing events Gabriel has announced, both Zechariah and Mary sing songs Luke records that can be combination of their own words and psalms of old.

Mary’s song has come to be titled, “Magnificat,” after the first word in the Latin version, meaning magnify. “My soul magnifies the Lord!”

Elizabeth somehow knows that the baby’s name is to be John, but the family pushes back, saying they don’t have any family members by that name, and that breaks custom. They motioned to Zechariah, who has been silent for the whole gestation period of his son in Elizabeth’s womb, and they give him something to write with. He writes, “his name is John.” Suddenly his tongue loosened and his ears opened on the day they take their baby to the temple for dedication and circumcision.

The period between the Old Testament and New Testament has often been called a four hundred year period of silence, where prophecies have been few, and so Zechariah’s nine months on mute and his sudden opening of his mouth to speak and sing this song makes this a prophetic word, filled with hopes of Israel for salvation over oppressors. Mary’s song is also filled with a kind of reversal of the sadness of Israel and desire for overthrow of the powers that seem to control their destiny. Salvation is much more than political, but the political freedom is a big part of what they want—they would not be celebrating if earthly powers still oppressed them. Salvation for Israel is a combination of spiritual and political, physical and spiritual freedom from the evil powers that have kept Israel from living out the true calling as God’s people shining the light of the Lord.

The reason it’s so important to have this background is that now the Magnificat and Zechariah’s song make more sense in light of this period of silence and political oppression. When they speak or sing these words, the words are prophetic. God is concerned to accomplish God’s own purposes, but the beautiful thing about this, says N.T. Wright, is that God also looks upon the needs and desires of individuals in need like Zechariah and Elizabeth, looks on a young girl Mary with favor, and does the big purposes through ordinary people who are beloved.

I’m posting a ZOE version of the Magnificat, and Cory Legg and the Journey worship team plans to sing this Sunday, Dec 16, 2018. Come hear this song and my sermon, and you’ll also hear our children singing three Christmas songs as well.

I’m also posting a Matt Maher version of “Zechariah’s Canticle.”

Dr. Gary Holloway is guest writing for The Journey Bible Project Blog.Dr. Gary Holloway is guest writing for The Journey Bible Project Blog.

Greg Taylor, M.Div.

Greg Taylor is the preacher for The Journey. He holds degrees in Print Journalism from Harding University and a Master of Divinity from Harding School of Theology. Greg is working on his Doctor of Ministry at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where The Journey is located. Greg is married to Jill, who is a math teacher at Broken Arrow High School. They have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob, and of course they are very proud of each of what God has done in each one of their lives. Greg is author of several books you can order from your favorite bookseller.