DELIVER Magnificat Isaiah 61.1-7
It’s an upside down world when God gets involved. Everything that happens confronts our our carefully constructed human priorities and values. The poor and the oppressed get his attention and preference, while the proud and privileged are put in their place, which is not at all where they think they belong.
However the reality is that the world is upside down without God involved. We value the wrong people, we give low-priority to children and the old, we disrespect creation (we call it nature to distance ourselves from God), we put ourselves at the centre when God tells us to put others first, just as he does. In God’s world the undeserving, even the disgraceful, get saved and welcomed home as children, loved and cherished – because of the One who in His surprising birth brought in the “Upside Down World”.
The Spirit’s song of restoration is one that Jesus quotes as his manifesto in Luke 4.18, as he joins the song of the “upside down”. In summary the song means that God and his movement to save is good news for the downtrodden. This song declares that those for whom it is sung are oppressed, broken-hearted, captives, imprisoned, mourners, the despairing faint of spirit. Not just in Israel’s exile but for all time. These poor, destitute souls are addressed in visionary terms as oaks of righteousness (saving justice), the rebuilders and repairers of the ruined and devastated home of faith. Instead of slaves to oppressors they will be employers of those who produce the wealth from the land. Their salvation, their deliverance is coming, is imminent, and none can prevent it. Best of all they will possess an assailable joy that goes on forever. This is a promise to an exiled people, far from the promise and the freedom they believed to be their God-given destiny. No more second class, no more needing permission to breathe, or laugh, or enjoy the God who is eternally faithful.
The maiden’s anthem of liberation this song was borrowed from an older that was sung by Hannah, newly pregnant with Samuel, but because this version starts with the words “My soul magnifies the Lord” it has become called the Magnificat. [when I’m composing a sermon, I often set my computer to show the file at 150%, magnifying it – not making the ultimate document any larger just making it clearer and easier to perceive.] So look at what Mary sings in this extraordinary song of liberation, celebration and thanksgiving. I wonder how many pregnant women sing this song when the “good news” comes to them, how many see it as the beginning of an era of deliverance. Notice how she starts with “I’m bursting with God-news” or “my soul magnifies the Lord”. Rather than making God any bigger, what Mary means is that she is bringing a focus on the Lord and those qualities of freedom and elevation for the lowly in society. What does she sing about?
First about the surprise of finding herself in such a place of favour with God I’m the most fortunate of women on earth! She has gladly surrendered to God’s purpose in her life, but is nonetheless astonished that it is her that He has chosen. Just as we should be when, having surrendered our lives to Him, we become aware of how much he had wanted this relationship with us.Then she addresses God’s holiness (the mighty One has done great things for me, holy is His name) and goes on to sing of God’s mercy and his power in equal measure. (Funny how these are the themes of many of our songs of praise.)That God would bring down the powerful and lift up the poor speaks both of God’s kindness and his awe inspiring authority, and Mary sees this evident in being chosen to bear this special child and in the advent of this child himself who the angel told her would be holy; the son of God and who Joseph was told he will save his people from their sins. All of these songs of liberation in Mary’s mouth and that of Isaiah are because in this little one God is coming to save the lost, the sin-bound, the hopelessly addicted, those oppressed by more than foreign occupiers. These songs, these magnificats are for events that had yet to unfold, that would lead to the salvation of all people in any place and time who accept God’s plan for their lives in the name and work of Jesus Messiah, Deliverer and King.
Celebrating and communicating Given such a startling reality that has unfolded around us it is the role of the Church, the followers of Jesus in faithfulness to God’s vision to lift up praise and to live in a way that express the wonderful work and being of this God-in-the-flesh. Celebrating, in song and creativity, the love, holiness, power and mercy of God is to witness to our love for him and to say this is the best news ever. Like Mary we should be bursting with God-news, irrepressible, unstoppable, glad and gracious, agents of deliverance ourselves.
To celebrate and communicate this reality, our use of the medium of the arts should be of the highest quality and deepest creativity full of the scent and taste of the bread of life with which we have been claimed and liberated. When Bernie and I wandered through glorious and ancient cathedrals we realised the depth and extravagance of the devotion to God with which these people, high and low both, constructed these centres for devotion and service.
The other aspect of communication is in individual and corporate lifestyles that in themselves are works of Divine art. Lives that are other-focussed, seeing evident need as a God-given opportunity to express all he has done for us.