39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."
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."
Three weeks ago on the first Sunday of Advent, the Church began a (Happy) New Year of grace. Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent; this year Christmas is on Tuesday, so we have less than two days to wait for Jesus' birth.
This is Revised Common Lectionary year C, Luke's year, so most of our gospel readings come from the Gospel According to Luke. As we journey through calendar year 2019, we'll get a good taste of Luke's perspective, Luke is a synoptic account that views Jesus' life and ministry in a similar manner to the gospels according to Mark and Matthew, despite all three having pronounced distinctives.
Luke uniquely brings us three canticles that essentially are psalms or songs:
• Mary's Magnificat: "My soul magnifies the Lord; he has put down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly..." –Luke 1:46-55
• Zechariah's Benedictus: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; he has visited his people." –Luke 1:67-79
• Simeon's Nunc Dimittis: "Lord, now let thy servant depart in peace; mine eyes have seen they salvation, which thou hast prepared..." –Luke 2:29-32
You may remember the psalter is the synagogue's prayer book or hymnal; rather than divine words addressed to humanity, psalms are human words addressed to God. The psalter was the hymnal for John Calvin's Geneva Reform; many of the hymns in our current cranberry red hymnal are directly based on psalms; many many others contain an allusion or reference to one or more psalms. Every week our worship service includes a psalm or portion of a psalm. Technically those are not scripture lessons or readings, but responses, as in "responsive psalm."
Among other specialties, Luke emphasizes women, prayer, the Holy Spirit, and history. Today for the psalmody and the gospel reading, we hear Mary's Holy Spirit-inspired canticle called the Magnificat. We've mentioned how well people knew and memorized scripture two millennia ago; although we have the words Luke wrote, it's very likely Mary sang a very similar song because this passage is closely based upon Hannah's song in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. In other words, Mary would have been so familiar with large chunks of scripture, she'd have been able to recite and paraphrase them, making those texts her own.
Magnificat is Latin for making larger, magnifying, making greater. Like a magnifying glass; same root as "magnificent." The office of Vespers/Evening Prayer (that's ideally prayed just at sunset) in the liturgy of the canonical hours always includes a spoken or sung Magnificat.
Neighborology – the word about the neighbor, the word for the neighbor – is another strong theme throughout Luke. Mary's description of how the world will change when Jesus arrives promises no more super-rich, no more super-poor, because there is enough for everyone if those rich folk don't insist on keeping more than they need. Mary anticipates how The Ground is Level at the Foot of the Cross.