The coming of the Christ-child was God’s brilliant wit on full display. How would God overthrow Satan’s kingdom? With a baby. How would God defeat the mighty, fallen cherubim, Lucifer? By planting a human seed. How would God destroy death? By laughing in its face.
And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
At Mary’s coming, her cousin Elisabeth––pregnant with John the Baptist––breaks forth in a blessing upon Mary (Lk. 1:41-45). Elisabeth’s blessing echoes what was said of Father Abraham: He believed and it was credited to him for righteousness. Mary, like Abram & Sarai, was promised a miraculous conception, given a name for the promised son, and she believed.
In response to Elisabeth’s blessing, Mary breaks forth in what we commonly refer to as the Magnificat. Her song is almost verbatim of Hannah’s prayer (1 Sam. 2:1-10). The Lord granted Hannah’s prayer for a child, and conceived the son who would become the great prophet Samuel. Hannah’s prayer is full of exultation that God had caused her to triumph over her rival. This rival (Peninnah, Elkanah’s other wife) had a unique talent for getting under the skin; she frequently threw Hannah’s barrenness in her face.
That same key signature of exultation is present in Mary’s song. The proud are scattered (v51). The vanity of the mighty is thwarted by God’s mighty arm (v51-52). The rich find themselves penniless (v53). Meanwhile, the humble are exalted (v52), the hungry filled (v53), the lowly handmaid is regarded (v48), the servant/son Israel is helped (v54). And all of this flows from God’s remembrance of mercy (v54). But brought into keen focus is the promise which God made to Abraham and to his seed (v55).
RISE THE WOMAN’S CONQUERING SEED
Mary’s closing line takes us back to the ancient stories found in Genesis. While she explicitly mentions Abraham and his seed, God’s promise of a seed was first given in Eden. The promise to Abraham was an expanded revelation of the promise given to the serpent at the fall of Adam: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel (Gen 3:15).” In the face of man’s rebellion and subjugation to the dragon, God reveals that a seed of the woman would arise to crush the dragons head. The rival would be overthrown. The Lord echoes this promise to Noah (Gen. 9:9), hanging His war-bow in the sky as an assurance that He would surely bring this promised seed to pass.
God called Abram out of the idolatrous people of Ur, and promised him Canaan, assuring him that his seed would possess it forever (Gen. 12:7, 13:15-16). Abraham believed this promise, and God reckoned it to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:6). But then Sarah’s barrenness persisted. This led to a lapse of faith on their part, and the conception of Ishmael by Sarah’s handmaid Hagar. Hagar becomes a rival for Sarah, and thorn in her side. Eventually, Abraham pleads with God: “O that Ishmael might live before thee! And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him (Gen. 17:18-19).”
Sarah, memorably, laughs at the news that the Lord would grant her conception (Gen. 18:12-15). But then, as the Lord had promised she conceives and bears a son, “And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me (Gen. 21:6).”
THE SINGULAR SEED
The seed promised to Abraham was a big deal, and the Apostles spend a great deal of time commenting on it. Paul in Galatians makes the clearest assertion regarding the inner pith of this promise to Abraham regarding his seed: “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. … Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. … And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise (Gal 3:8-9, 16, 29).”
So then Isaac was only a partial fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. The true fulfillment was found in Jesus Christ, born of Mary. God’s mercy was not to be found in simply having Abraham as an ancestor. His mercy would be found in a Seed; singular not plural. This promised seed was not a collective of human effort or lineage. The Seed would engage in mortal combat with the dragon and emerge wounded though victorious. In order to be righteous in God’s sight, you must trust in this Seed.
A JOLLY BELIEF
Mary’s prayer of exultation is the prayer of all believers, exulting over the triumph of the seed of the woman over the serpent’s seed. God made good on His promised mercy to mankind, and He did so by bringing to pass His word of promise to Abraham: a seed.
God’s promise of mercy which Mary recalls is to Abraham and to his seed. That Seed of mercy was now gestating in her womb. God’s covenant of mercy is found in Christ alone. There is no mercy outside of Him.
There is divine humor in this promise. It was by design that Isaac’s name means laughter. God was going to do something which no eye had seen, or ear heard, or mind had conceived. The serpent sought to engulf all of mankind, and Christ submits Himself to being devoured by the dragon. But Christ, the promised Seed, was the true and better Isaac. Satan sought to kill God, but God the Son overthrew death by His death. Christ became the curse, that you might not be accursed. The Word became a speechless baby, in order that His blood might eternally plead for you. And your response to this is to lay hold of this better Isaac by the same faith which Abraham, Hannah, and Mary all demonstrate. Exult, for God has overthrown your rival. For He has crucified your old man, and begotten you, not by perishable seed, but by the imperishable seed of the living and abiding word of God.
Mary’s namesake, Miriam, danced as the Egyptian warriors drowned in the Red Sea. This is the jolly faith which God reckons as righteous, because it is faith in His Son: the Word made flesh. The Word that bled. The Word that was put to death. The Word that crowns you with the cleansing waters of your baptism. The Word that is a feast of covenantal bread & wine. The Word that says to all who believe in Him, Yahweh is Salvation.