Sermon Archive

Sunday December 23, 2018
11:00 am - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Fr Turner

The Magnificat Magna Carta

Speaking of Mary, Archbishop Michael Ramsey described her role in the economy of salvation in these terms:

“The role of Mary is apparent. Her role has been a great one... for it was by divine grace and human response, divine command and human obedience, that the incarnation happened and God's new creation was begun.” 1.
This call and response, ‘Divine grace and human response; Divine command and human obedience,’ should seem familiar to us for it is found at the heart of our baptismal covenant and in three, powerful questions asked at the font:

• Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
• Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
• Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?

Our baptismal calling is like Mary’s vocation. The Annunciation of our Lord to the Blessed Virgin Mary led to the meeting of Elizabeth and Mary – two women of faith – a meeting overflowing with joy and overshadowed by God’s Holy Spirit; Mary’s song of praise is a response to God’s invitation and, if our baptismal covenant is a response to divine grace, then the Magnificat is not just Mary’s Song – it can also be our song too.

The Marist Father, Johann Rosten, says this about the Magnificat: “Mary's song is the magna carta of any and all authentic faith experience. …Whenever God chooses to establish his dwelling-place in a human heart, he stamps it with two of His own characteristic features, that is, with the attitudes of thanksgiving and sharing.” 2.
This ‘Magna Carta’ of authentic faith experience is rooted in the dynamic between God and his chosen people – first between God and Mary – and now between God and each one of us:

• Divine grace and our response.
• Divine command and our obedience.

The story of the Annunciation reveals that Mary was filled with grace – a free gift from the Father. The catechism of the Episcopal Church tells us that ‘Grace is God's favor toward us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.’ 3. And Mary is filled with this grace because Christ’s salvific work stretches backwards in time as well as forward. It is a wonderful mystery that the grace that flows from Christ fills Mary’s life even before he was born in the flesh. As Libby Clark, a dear parishioner who died just over a year ago used to say, “Grace stands for God’s riches at Christ’s expense.”

Filled with that grace – overshadowed by the Holy Spirit – Mary visited her cousin, Elizabeth, and she, also, was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a moment of ecstasy, she brought joy to birth: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (Divine grace and human response; Divine command and human obedience).

Johan Roten also says, “The "Magnificat" is both a Song of joy and a manifesto of hope. It is filled to the brim with sentiments of thanksgiving and sharing.”

Thanksgiving and Sharing: The Magnificat describes how the Church as a community of faith brings joy and hope to the world.

There are two fascinating aspects of the Magnificat: At the beginning of her song, Mary speaks in the first person:

My soul doth magnify the Lord,
and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.
For he hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified me, and holy is his Name.
This is personal praise – Mary is filled with grace; inspired by the Spirit; attuned to God. And as we join Mary in her Magnificat we, too, pray that our lives will be filled with that same grace, inspired by the Spirit, and attuned to God.

But from the very personal opening lines of the Magnificat, there then follows seven actions of God that challenge the present and give hope to the future, to the Kingdom of God breaking into our world.

  • He hath showed strength
  • he hath scattered the proud
  • He hath put down the mighty,
  • and hath exalted the humble and meek.
  • He hath filled the hungry
  • the rich he hath sent empty away.
  • He hath holpen (that is, brought help to) his servant Israel,

In some respects, we could describe the Magnificat is a kind of ‘manifesto of the Kingdom of God,’ in a similar way to the Beatitudes on the Sermon on the Mount, in which we share through hopeful living.

St Ambrose reminds us that Mary’s song can become our song too through participation in that Song: "In the heart of each one may Mary praise the Lord, in each may the spirit of Mary rejoice in the Lord” 4.Thus ensuring that our Christian lives are characterized by a Magnificat-way of living them.

And when we sing the Magnificat and make it our own song, we make room for God and he dwells in us. What a wonderful feast Christmas is! God, our creator, makes himself small in the womb of Mary but in so doing he does not change her humanity but enriches it by his presence. And when we live by the Magnificat. God makes his home in us and enriches us with his presence.

You may sometimes think you have very little room for God in your life because of everything that crowds into it: All that baggage that clutters up your heart and mind; all those memories and difficult things; the empty chair that many of us have at our table at Christmas; all our busyness…my goodness! When you leave the church today if you turn left you will find it hard to push through the crowds gawping at Trump Tower and the Bergdorf Goodman Christmas windows; turn right and you will be caught up in the frenzy of people heading for the Rockefeller Christmas Tree or the Rockette’s Christmas Show! His there room for God in all that busyness? And then there is that most un-Christmas-like word - yes, SIN. Do I really want to let God in to my life to be alongside all my sins? But, my friends, God only needs a small space. Just as he inhabited the small space of Mary’s womb, let him in and he will make you more alive than you have ever felt before and, perhaps like Mary, you will begin to sing your own Magnificat.

1. ‘Be still and know’ p.116
2. ‘Magnificat Reflection,’ University of Dayton:
3. BCP 1979 page 858
4. From St Ambrose’s Commentary on Luke’s Gospel.