46And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” Luke 1:46b-55
This passage from Luke is known as “The Magnificat”, (the Latin for “magnifies”) or “The Prayer of Mary”. This passage of scripture has been set to music by many different composers throughout history. When I was an undergraduate studying music, the university choir I was a part of learned a setting of this text by John Rutter to sing in our annual Holiday Concert. I, being the class clown that I have always been, (troublemaker, according to some of my teachers…) “convinced” the rest of the choir that it was actually Magnifi- CAT, as in the furry creature who purrs and chases mice. I hatched a plan to have a little fun with the song. On a specified day, when the conductor told us to pull out the piece of music, we would play a little joke. The piece opens with the word “Magnificat”. Instead of this, we would replace the words with “Meow, meow, meow, meow”. I got everyone to buy in, and sure enough, when the conductor dropped the baton, the entire choir of almost 100 collegiate singers began singing like cats. Thankfully, the conductor had a sense of humor, and it was a moment we all enjoyed thoroughly.
While I doubt the joke would translate for Mary, we see a sense of joy in this song of praise. Keep in mind that she (an unmarried woman) has just found out that she is pregnant with the Messiah. She says, “He (the Lord) has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed:” (NRSV) I find it amazing that Mary had such faith and hope, knowing how a pregnant unwed woman would be viewed by society at that time. I am sure that Mary had a few doubts at some point in her pregnancy, but those doubts are not recorded in Scripture. Instead, we only see this picture of steadfast faith in what God had planned for her, a hope in promises not yet fulfilled, and an abounding joy about the path that she had been given.
This holiday season, it might be difficult to find the joy that usually comes naturally this time of year for most of us. Perhaps, though, this year is a good reminder for us that not everyone experiences joy during the holidays. For some, the holidays are a time of stress and anxiety. This time of year can be especially difficult for those with mental illnesses. Even though we might not have a sense of joy this year that comes from “meowing” at your conductor, or being able to see loved ones, or experiencing our usual holiday traditions, I pray that we can all at least have the faith and hope that Mary had. Our holidays may be far from “normal” but let us have faith and hope that God is in control.