The Magnificat

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Mitchellville, December 14, 2003

And Mary said: My soul magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. (Luke 1:46-47)

During most of the history of the Jewish Church the people were in nearly constant contact with Jehovah through a series of prophets. The prophets reminded them of the Covenant, gave them directions, and, when necessary, gave them dire warnings. It must have been a great comfort to them to know that Jehovah was watching over them so closely and personally. But after king Solomon, the kingdom divided again and fell into idolatry and many other sins. The second book of Kings documents their fall away from power as king after king turned away from the path set for them by Jehovah, as king after king ignores the words of the prophets, until finally the kingdom was gone, the people scattered, and there was no one to hear Jehovah’s voice. Even the beautiful temple, built by Solomon, had been destroyed.

After hundreds of years the silence is suddenly and dramatically broken when an elderly priest named Zacharias is chosen to burn incense in the temple in Jerusalem, rebuilt by Herod in an attempt to appease the difficult people he’d been sent to govern. While alone in the temple, Gabriel appeared to Zacharias and told him that he and Elisabeth, in their old age, will become parents. He further told them that they are to name the child "John." Because Zacharias is unable to respond to this announcement, the angel caused him to be mute until the child is born.

Zacharias finished his duties at the temple, and returned home with Elisabeth. There, in due course, the prophecy was fulfilled and she conceived in her old age. In the sixth month of Elisabeth’s pregnancy, Gabriel made another appearance, this time to Mary, and young woman preparing for her upcoming marriage to Joseph. Unlike Zacharias, Mary seemed composed – even prepared – when she is suddenly confronted by an angel. She asked a few questions to clarify things in her own mind, and then humbly responded, behold the maidservant of the Lord. Let it be unto me according to your word. (LUK 1:38) Gabriel, in explaining what was going to happen, had told Mary about her cousin Elisabeth’s miraculous pregnancy. The gospel of Luke tells us that after speaking to Gabriel, Mary arose … with haste (LUK 1:39) and went to visit Elisabeth and Zacharias in their home.

At that moment, Mary too was pregnant, carrying the child of the Holy Spirit. When she arrived and greeted Elizabeth, the special bond between these two as yet unborn infants was demonstrated. We read in AE 710:31,

It is said of John the Baptist: That he was filled with the Holy Spirit in his mother’s womb; and that the babe leaped in the womb at the salutation of Mary (Luke 1:15, 41, 44). This signified that he was to represent the Lord in relation to the Word, as Elijah did; for in the Word, which is Divine truth, there is everywhere the marriage of Divine good and Divine truth, and Divine good united with Divine truth is the Divine proceeding from the Lord, which is called the Holy Spirit. The leaping in the womb at the salutation of Mary represented the joy arising from the love of the conjunction of good and truth, thus the joy of celestial conjugial love, which is in every particular of the Word.

Elisabeth greeted Mary joyfully and told her how her unborn child had leapt for joy at her coming. Luke records that Mary responded with a prophecy of her own, the speech that is usually called "the Magnificat" because it begins with the phrase, "My soul magnifies the Lord."

And Mary said: "My soul magnifies the Lord (LUK 1:46)

In this context, the word "magnifies" means to "make great" or to "praise." The reason for saying this was, of course, that Mary was becoming aware of the implications of what was happening to her and to Elisabeth. On the one hand there was the normal excitement and joy that would accompany the news of a pregnancy. On the other hand, there is reason to believe that both Mary and Elisabeth would have been well aware of the various prophecies about the coming of the Messiah. It may be that their excitement and joy was not just for themselves and each other, but a dawning awareness of what these events might mean for their own people.

And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him From generation to generation. (1:47-50)

When Mary said that His mercy is on those who fear Him, in the literal sense it meant just the children of Israel. Since the beginning of the Lord’s public ministry is still more than 30 years in the future when she says this, it is safe to assume that for herself, in the literal sense, she is thinking about what all this will mean to her own people. But in addition to being a statement of her own understanding and hopes for the future, it is also a prophecy that contains within it a message that applies representatively to all people who fear and obey the Lord. Those who do will enjoy the blessings of His compassion, and will be preserved as to their spirits by Him.

This is so because the fear mentioned here is "holy fear." We read concerning "holy fear" in the Apocalypse Explained,

AE 696:21 "The fear of Jehovah" signifies worship in which there is holiness through truths, in the following passages also. In Luke: The mercy of God is unto generation of generations to them that fear Him (Luke 1:50).

Mary’s prophecy continues, He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, And exalted the lowly. (1:51-52)

Again, in the literal sense, when a woman living in that place at that time said that the Messiah would "put down the mighty from their thrones" we have to believe that she was referring to the Romans. However, we can also know that in the representative sense the passage is speaking about those people who are like the Romans in their spiritual qualities, that is, people led by the loves of self and the world. This is confirmed by the fact that the "thrones" that these people are ruling from represent hell in respect to all falsity (See AE 253).

Mary said again, He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty. (1:53)

In the sense of the letter, she is once again thinking about the sad state of the Jewish people under the cruel and harsh government of Herod the Great. It was the hope of everyone in those days that when the Messiah came He would give them all kinds of material gifts.

Representatively, the prophecy is speaking about how the Messiah will restore the doctrine of the church into the world. Those who are hungry are those without good and truth, and who desire to have both good and truth. The "rich" represent those who have good and truth, but do not desire to use them. AC 4744:3 says,

‘The rich’ stands for those who know a great deal, for in the spiritual sense factual knowledge, matters of doctrine, and cognitions of good and truth are meant by ‘riches’ .People are called ‘rich’ but ‘empty’ if they know these things but do not carry them out; for with them truths are not truths because these are devoid of good.

She continues with her prophecy, He has helped His servant Israel, In remembrance of His mercy, As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and to his seed forever." (1:54-55)

As is the case with so many of the prophecies in the Old Testament, Mary’s contained a reference to the Covenant that existed between Jehovah and the Jewish Church. First established with Noah and symbolized by the rainbow, the Covenant is a recurrent theme throughout the Old Testament. In the literal sense, the Covenant meant to them that Jehovah had promised to Abraham that his descendants would rule the natural world.

One of the many reasons for the Lord to come into the natural world and take on the Human was to open this Covenant up and show that it was not intended to be just for the children of Israel, but that the Lord was making the promise that all His children, that is everyone who loved and obeyed Him, would inherit His heavenly kingdom.

The prophecy ends with the reminder that Jehovah is a loving father, calling to mind His mercy, that is, His compassion and willingness to preserve them as a nation (see AC 9849:2). And the phrase, "as He spoke to our fathers" reminds us that everything that was happening to Zacharias and Elisabeth, and to Mary and Joseph was a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.

The passage from Luke ends with the words, And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house. (1:56) Gabriel told Mary that Elisabeth was in her sixth month (1:36), and here we are told that she stayed with Elisabeth for about three months. Adding in the time Mary needed to travel from her home to Elisabeth’s, this passage strongly suggests that Mary stayed on to help with the birth, and perhaps was even present at the christening when Zacharias named the child John, only returning home when she was certain that all was well with Elisabeth and the child.

In summary then, we can see that Mary’s prophecy is a powerful and beautiful statement of the spiritual state of the church at that time, and the Lord’s promise to come and restore order. We know from other sources that the state of the church on earth was caused by the states of disorder in the world of spirits. In order to bring the longed-for states of peace to the church on earth, He had to first present Himself in a lowly human form and submit to their attacks. Then, through victories over the hells, He would restore spiritual order, not just for the Jewish Church, but for all people in the whole world.

The evil spirits who, in their pride and love of self, were trying to rule in the world of spirits, would indeed be cast down from their imaginary thrones built on falsities when the truth was revealed. The good people who had hungered and thirsted for the goods and truths that the Church should have been providing them, would now be filled. All would know that the Covenant between Jehovah and His people would be kept in a much more complete way than any of the people alive at that time could have imagined.

As we continue our celebration of the miracles of Christmas, let us reflect on how something that seemed so personal and limited to just the Jewish Church at the time was in fact a miracle above all others, and one that would effect the spiritual freedom of every person alive, in every generation. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him From generation to generation. (Luke 1:49-50) Amen.


First Lesson: Gen 9:8-17

Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying: {9} "And as for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you, {10} "and with every living creature that is with you: the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ark, every beast of the earth. {11} "Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth." {12} And God said: "This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: {13} "I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. {14} "It shall be, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow shall be seen in the cloud; {15} "and I will remember My covenant which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. {16} "The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth." {17} And God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth." Amen.

Second Lesson: Luke 1:46-56

And Mary said: "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." {56} And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house. Amen.

Third Lesson: AE 710:31

It is said of John the Baptist: That he was filled with the Holy Spirit in his mother’s womb; and that the babe leaped in the womb at the salutation of Mary (Luke 1:15, 41, 44). This signified that he was to represent the Lord in relation to the Word, as Elijah did; for in the Word, which is Divine truth, there is everywhere the marriage of Divine good and Divine truth, and Divine good united with Divine truth is the Divine proceeding from the Lord, which is called the Holy Spirit. The leaping in the womb at the salutation of Mary represented the joy arising from the love of the conjunction of good and truth, thus the joy of celestial conjugial love, which is in every particular of the Word. Amen.


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