November 20, 2017

The Magnificat vs. Today’s Gospel (3)

Madonna of the Magnificat, Botticelli

Today we conclude our posts on Mary’s Magnificat.

In the first post, we contrasted Mary’s song with the “soterian” gospel that focuses primarily (if not solely) on personal salvation. In contrast, we affirmed that in the Magnificat, “Mary proclaims the Gospel. As we will see, it is no mere ‘personal plan of salvation,’ no ‘steps’ by which we find peace with God, no ‘bridge’ to reconciliation with God, no set of ‘laws’ or principles by which we must make a decision. Mary’s song proclaims the climactic moment in a Story, the resolution of issues larger than my personal sin, a hope that stretches beyond the bliss of heaven.”

In our second post, we looked at how Mary’s Magnificat announces the climactic movement of the entire Biblical Story and the answer to the laments and cries of God’s people. This is no mere personal testimony, but a song raised up by an Israelite who recognizes her people are in spiritual exile, under the dominion of their enemies. Like Hannah, whose son Samuel introduced King David, Mary sings a “glad song of gratitude that she has been given a key role in God’s story, and proclaims that this story is reaching its climax in her own day. God’s promises are coming to pass. His King will be enthroned. God’s enemies will fall. His people will be gathered. God will put things right. All is being made new.”

Today, we’ll look at the text of the Magnificat itself. I will make four statements that summarize my observations of what this song teaches and how it relates to the Gospel. Then I will draw out several implications for today. What implications does Mary’s song have for the way we understand and communicate the Gospel in our generation?

Mary’s Magnificat

Mary said:
“My soul declares that the Lord is great,
My spirit exults in my savior, my God.
He saw his servant-girl in her humility;
From now on, I’ll be blessed by all peoples to come.
The Powerful One, whose name is Holy,
Has done great things for me, for me.
His mercy extends from father to son,
From mother to daughter for those who fear him.
Powerful things he has done with his arm:
He routed the arrogant through their own cunning.
Down from their thrones he hurled the rulers,
Up from the earth he raised the humble.
The hungry he filled with the fat of the land,
But the rich he sent off with nothing to eat.
He has rescued his servant, Israel his child,
Because he remembered his mercy of old,
Just as he said to our long-ago ancestors —
Abraham and his descendants forever.”

• Luke 1:46-55, Kingdom NT

Observations about Mary’s song:

  1. She sees what God has done for as personal but not private.
  2. She sees herself in God’s Story, not just God in her story.
  3. She sees Jesus’ coming as the dawning of The Great Reversal.
  4. She sees Jesus’ coming as the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham.

Implications about how we should understand and communicate the Gospel:

1. I must never view the salvation that comes through the Gospel as merely about my own personal piety or peace with God. God does meet us and work in our lives personally, but he does so to draw us into his Kingdom, his New Creation. The Gospel proclaims that he is bringing his Rule to pass on earth as it is in heaven, and we have the privilege of participating in that.

2. Another way to put this is that the Gospel calls me to take my part in God’s Story, not merely to say that God has come to be an actor in my own personal narrative. He has not only “done great things for me,” but “his mercy extends to those who fear him from generation to generation.” The Divine Author has written me into his grand narrative! I am now a member of that great communion of saints that is living out “His-Story” in the world. The Bible and church history is the record of my family heritage. I share in its successes and shortcomings, its accounts of God’s faithfulness and human failure. God calls me to link my life, my sense of meaning, purpose, and significance, and the living out of my vocations to that Story. Because Jesus is the Ultimate Actor and his work the climactic, decisive movement of the Story, he calls me to center my life in Christ. He comes to me as my “Savior,” putting to death the old, sinful, self-centered me and resurrecting me to walk in newness of life in Christ. I do not invite him to come into my life, he invites me into his. He transfers me from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of his beloved Son. In Christ, I enter and become part of his New Creation!

Magnificat, Maulbertsch

3. Mary expresses the longing for justice that King Jesus came to provide. Those who hold to a soterian gospel relish what has been called, “The Great Exchange” — I am a guilty sinner, Jesus the Righteous One. Through his atoning sacrifice, he takes my sin and guilt upon himself and gives me his righteousness. Through this exchange, I am justified: accepted by God and counted righteous in his sight. I want to affirm this as an important part of the Gospel, but it does not represent its entirety.

The Gospel Mary sings about focuses instead on “The Great Reversal.” The words “my savior” may speak of Mary’s own personal sense of forgiveness and acceptance by God. But most of the song is about how the powerful, rich, and arrogant are cast down while the hungry are satisfied, the poor are taken care of, and the humble are lifted up. This song is not merely about personal righteousness, but about justice being established throughout the entire human community — with a strong emphasis on the latter rather than the former. In other words, Mary’s Gospel answers a much bigger problem than the problem of individuals and their sins. The decisive event in Mary’s Gospel — the coming of King Jesus — grows out of a narrative that includes the entire history of Israel — a story about individuals, yes — but also about communities, nations, kings, conquerors, judicial systems, slaves and masters, exile and devastation, and the corruption that power, riches, and idolatry bring upon the world, marginalizing those outside the inner circles of influence and trampling the human dignity of those who have little or no say in society. The powers that now rule the world are being overthrown! This is the Gospel according to Mary.

4. Mary proclaims nothing less than the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham. In Gen. 12:1-3, God promised the patriarch that in him, all the families of the earth would be blessed. This promise looks back to creation itself, when God the King prepared an abundant land as his cosmic temple and appointed humans to be his priestly representatives. Their job? Extend God’s blessing throughout the entire world. Genesis 3-11 tells us Adam and Eve and their children failed to trust in God, and thus death and corruption spread over the world instead. Then God called Abram out of Mesopotamia and made him the patriarch through whom God’s blessing would be restored, not only for Israel but for all the world’s peoples. In other words, God’s Kingdom would come to Israel through the Messiah — the son of Abraham and the son of David — and then be extended to all nations.

Mary has a BIG Gospel! — a Gospel that covers the whole Bible and the whole world. This isn’t something she learned as a “deeper truth” for mature Christians; this was her hope and expectation, but it is something the soterians miss because they jump from Genesis to Jesus and don’t include the whole story in their understanding of Gospel as Mary did. From the beginning, Mary praised God as the King who rules the earth, who has called her to join him in the Missio Dei of bringing about the blessing of a New Creation.

 

Comments

  1. What great posts! I’ve never understood the breadth of Mary’s prayer until this season. Thank you so much, imonk.

    I know it’s been done several times before, but this series motivated me to put Luke 1:46-55 to original music. Just click on my name below (psalms4guitar). Merry Christmas!

    Peace, Brian

  2. Aidan Clevinger says:

    As a member of the Lutheran tradition, do you think that we have sometimes been guilty of what you call a “soterian” Gospel message?

    • All traditions have their “pietist” strains, and Lutheranism has as well. However, one thing, IMO, that protects Lutheranism and other liturgical traditions in the long run is their respect for history and tradition and adherence to the liturgy. In the liturgy the grand themes of all Scripture are repeated week after week and the focus of worship is on Christ and the fullness of the Gospel. This serves as a corrective to an overly individualistic Gospel and spirituality.

  3. At the other extreme of just the ‘soterian’ Gospel, where only the life of Jesus is presented, is Dispensationalism, though it has not been mentioned in this website. God has only worked our salvation through Christ, John 1:1.

    • Ted ~ Dispensationalism has been mentioned in responses on IMonk but would you expand on your comments?

  4. Beautiful post, Chaplain Mike. I particularly like, “The powers that now rule the world are being overthrown! This is the Gospel according to Mary.”

  5. This series has made me think. Reading about soterian Gospel helps me put words in my belief that Christianity isn’t about a generic salvation experience or a generic unitarian Jesus. It is a long and historical story of redemption.

  6. “Then God called Abram out of Mesopotamia and made him the patriarch through whom God’s blessing would be restored, not only for Israel but for all the world’s peoples. In other words, God’s Kingdom would come to Israel through the Messiah — the son of Abraham and the son of David — and then be extended to all nations.”

    My first thought was that “The Great Exchange” and “The Great Reversal” are tied closely together. Abram received the great exchange, trading the name Abram (exalted father) to Abraham (father of a multitude), but he, too, was called to the great reversal, that the exalted father would now have to humble himself and trust God rather than his own cunning. Even those of Jesus’ time who looked for a savior offering them a great exchange from the Roman occupation turned away in droves when called to trust. The Cornerstone is the great leveler, calling all – great and small, rich and poor, religious and irreligious, to brokenness. One cannot assume that the poor, lowly, and suffering are already broken or that the rich and powerful (i.e. Jarius, zacchaeus, and Cornelius) are above brokenness. Those who shouted “crucify him” were not of one social class. I would agree that the message of justice is critical to the gospel, but that pursuit justice must start at home.

  7. From CSI episode, “Tune on, Turn in, Drop Dead”:

    Ray: You know what I believe? I believe that people that bring suffering and pain into this world should have it repaid to them tenfold, either in this world or the next one.

    Doc Robbins: Careful. Evil has a way of making friends with the good and dragging them into the darkness.

  8. David Cornwell says:

    I like what JoanieD says about the “gospel according to Mary.” Here is a foretaste of what it is all about. The Great Reversal is becoming reality. The prayer “thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” is not only being announced but is happening, and will happen. Everything is being upended. A new King is occupying the throne, and claims not only our own hearts, but all creation. Every knee will bow, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Getting hold of this reality should transform every song we sing on Sunday morning. Then our dancing in the aisles will in celebration of this new King and His Creation, and not how He has helped us achieve this or that, or given us some new feeling for a few days, or assisted us in achieving a new dream of personal capitalism.

  9. Wonderful posts, Mike. Thank you for reminding us all of the big — really big! — picture.

  10. (Fourth posting attempt; I apologize if they appear in batches. I’m apparently not liked by the form? Some thoughts on various gospel passages including the Magnificat posted at:

    http://cyniccure.blogspot.com/2011/02/gospel-of-jesus-christ-part-ii.html

    -mem)

    I would comment that I greatly applaud the use of the Magnificat as a gospel passage. Luke bursts with them, and the Magnificat is an exceptional example of the gospel. So also is Zechariah’s prophecy and the words of the angels throughout the beginning of the gook.

    I would argue, however, that it is equally easy to move as far to the opposite end of the gospel as the purely soterian one. The gospel clearly does speak of individual salvation, and that is an essentially Jewish concept. The Psalms speak of the gospel often in this way. (It is worth noting that the individual salvation of Jesus Christ is a figure of our own, and that is the good news he shares with us.)

    Irenæus captures this in some manner by explaining that man lives when he sees God. But as Moses hears on the mountain, man cannot see God and live. While this certainly affects the Jewish nation, it is an essentially personal problem, not a national one, and it certainly isn’t possible to talk about all of the good things of God’s kingdom and the Great Reversal and so on without that.

    • No argument here. See the bolded sentence in “The Great Exchange” paragraph. It’s just that soterians so seldom emphasize the “Great Reversal” aspect and miss so much of what the full Gospel is about.

      • Thanks, Mike.

        I appreciate this, and your efforts at clarification. I do worry occasionally that current trends over-correct some of the mistakes made in modern evangelism. Salvation from is important, but so is salvation to. The idea that the gospel is something we grow up from instead of grow into is a tragedy.

        • The Previous Dan says:

          “The idea that the gospel is something we grow up from instead of grow into is a tragedy.”

          That is a wonderful way of phrasing it. Thanks!

  11. David Cornwell says:

    Hmm, I tried to comment but it never went anywhere, tried again and got “duplicate comment.”

  12. Great post!!

    The Magnificat is such a revolutionary anthem!

    T