And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.”
Luke 1: 46-48
The Virgin Mary was born to elderly parents, Joakim and Anna. They were righteous people, who stayed close to God, even though they did not have children. Back in Biblical times, to not have children was a sign that one did not have the favor of God. This is not our understanding now. Joakim and Anna lived very faithful lives, but under the “dark cloud” of not having a child of their own. They were told by God that they would bear a child, and in their very old age, they conceived the Virgin Mary. When she was three years old, she was taken to the temple and left there to be raised by the priests of the temple. Shortly thereafter, both Joakim and Anna passed away. They had fulfilled their role, giving birth to the one who would give birth to the Christ. As an aside, one probably looks at the life of Joakim and Anna as if they got the short end of the stick, so to speak. Their faithfulness had been rewarded with a child they only enjoyed for three years. And yet, when we look at the Divine Liturgy in the Orthodox Church, in the dismissal prayer, they are two of the five people that are always mentioned—The Lord, the Virgin Mary, St. John the Baptist and “the holy and righteous ancestors of the Lord Joakim and Anna.” To these five are added the saint of the parish where the service is being offered, the saint of the day, and the saint whose Liturgy is being offered. The Apostles and Fathers are named by category, but not by individual name. This is how important, in the eyes of God and of the Church, of a role that Joakim and Anna played in the story of salvation. Imagine the trust that they had!
At age fourteen, the Virgin Mary emerged from the Temple where she had lived and learned for over ten years. She had no parents by this time. Immediately, she was betrothed to an older man named Joseph. Many marriages two thousand years ago were arranged. A man and woman were brought together and betrothed. Then they “dated” for a year and then the marriage was consummated, in both spiritual terms with a formal prayer and in sexual terms. Sex before marriage and children outside of marriage would have drawn the ire of society, unlike today where we practically expect it. So when Mary was told by the angel that she would bear a child, by the Holy Spirit, imagine the thoughts that would have been running through her head: How will I explain this to Joseph, that I’m pregnant with a child and it’s not his? Will he still marry me? How will I explain this to family and friends, that I am pregnant and not married? How will I explain how I spent ten-plus years being raised in the temple and having left the temple, in short order I have done something that goes against the commandments of God? How will I ever show myself in the temple again? What will this do to Joseph’s reputation? LOTS of questions must have gone through her head.
As the angel gave her the message from God, the overwhelming response was not one of fear or doubt or confusion or even inadequacy at the request. It was a yes. However, it was not only a yes to the angel and his request, it was a yes to trust in God, to abide in His love, and to sacrifice everything for Him—her future, her reputation, whatever she had to lose, she was willing to lose in order to serve and glorify God.
Mary’s response in Luke 1:46-48 is chanted in almost every Orthros service in the Orthodox Church: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.” Rather than fearing the Lord, Mary’s yes was one of purpose, humility and joy. There was humility in recognizing her “low estate” when compared to the magnificence of the Lord. There was humility in saying that her soul would magnify the Lord, not her own accomplishment of carrying Christ. There was joy, as she said her spirit would rejoice in God. And there was a sense of purpose. The “henceforth all generations will call me blessed” was not an arrogant, “look at me, I’ve made the hall of fame of human beings who will be remembered forever.” Rather it was an acknowledgement of a holy and humanity-changing responsibility that she knew would affect every human being to come after her.
This is why we might say that her answer to God’s call and her trust in the unknown was the greatest YES ever to be offered. Her yes changed the course of humanity. None of us will ever be called to this level of responsibility. However, we will be presented with opportunities to change our corner of the world. We will be presented with opportunities to magnify the Lord, and at the same time we will have temptations to sin against Him. We will have opportunities to affect the generations that come after us—raise our children poorly, and then they will raise their children poorly, and a vicious cycle will ensue.
It takes great trust to listen for the call of the Lord and even greater trust to answer it. When we say “Trust like Mary,” we are talking about listening to God’s call and answering it. We are talking about trusting in God even if that call seems difficult or even impossible. We are talking about trusting God and playing the role HE has called us to, which may or may not be a role we would have chosen for ourselves. Imagine how different the world would be if Mary had said “no.” We know how it is affected because she said “yes.” Imagine how the world can be changed for the better if we listen for and follow God’s call for our own lives, if we seek to magnify the Lord as Mary did.
Most of us will not be given a grand call for our entire lives today, but we will each have opportunities to magnify the Lord in some way today. We will each be called by the Lord to do something positive in the world today. Are you listening? Are you ready to answer your call?
On this day the Virgin Maid goes to the grotto to give birth to the pre-eternal Word in an ineffable manner. Dance for joy, all the inhabited earth, on hearing. Glorify along with Angels and with the shepherds Him who willed that He appear as a newborn Child, the pre-eternal God. (Kontakion, Divine Liturgy, from November 26-December 24, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Personal Reflection Point: How can you magnify the Lord today?