As we celebrate the festival of Jesus Christ’s first and second coming today on the Feast of Trumpets (Yom Teruah in Hebrew), it is worthwhile to examine one of the most notable songs within the New Testament, the Magnificat of Mary. In examining the importance of the birth (and return) of Jesus Christ, it is notable to remember what the life of Jesus Christ means for humanity, as there are often neglected aspects of this song that show a close connection between the purpose of Christ and similar psalms from earlier times like Hannah’s song  and Psalm 113. In examining the implications of Jesus’ coming, we can better understand why some people may not be so enthusiastic for His return.
Luke 1:46-55 reads: “And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. For He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.”
There are many observations that can be made about this song, and I will do my best to make as many as possible within this short space. For one, let us note that while Mary is glad that she, a young woman of modest means, will be blessed for all time because she bore in her womb the Son of God and the Son of Man. Interestingly enough, she also recognizes her need for God’s mercy for herself as well as her need for a Savior. She recognized her flaws and imperfections and was glad that God had blessed her by allowing her have a very important role in rearing and raising the Savior of all mankind, the fulfillment of God’s promises for salvation for the world, Abraham’s seed in whom all nations would be blessed.
Let us also note that even though Mary has an important role in the birth of Jesus Christ, that her focus is not on her own greatness, but on the power and mercy of God. She opens and closes her song praising God for His grace and mercy. She points out His might and His strength, and not her own. She talks about her role as being someone who fears and worships God, not someone who is worthy of worship herself. Her modesty and her recognition of her lowly status is a refreshing antidote to any view of Mary as an imperious Queen of Heaven, in the fashion of the heathen goddesses of old.
This understanding of her own modest position in society is responsible for this song’s most pointed political commentary, something that cannot help but serve as an antidote to the fashionable gospels of wealth that were popular in both her time and our own. In Mary’s song, as in the Hebrew scriptures in general, the coming of Jesus Christ meant the humbling of the proud, the raising of the lowly, the prospect of regime change for the corrupt rulers of this present evil age, the filling and blessings given to the poor and hungry, and the rejection of the wealthy in their self-sufficiency. One cannot help but reflect upon this song as representing a rather fierce political worldview that views wealth and power with suspicion, seeing as it is often gained and maintained in corrupt fashion. Rather daringly, Mary looks forward to a reversal within society where the bottom rung will be on top, an expectation (under divine inspiration) that is unlikely to warm the hearts of the world’s corrupt elites.
In addition, it is helpful to remember that Mary’s song helps tie together Christianity with the greater biblical context. Because the populist sentiments of Mary’s song are so strikingly similar to the general tenor of Hebrew hymns (see, in particular, 1 Samuel 2:1-10 and Psalm 113, but also Psalm 100, 10 and many other ones), there ought to be a clear recognition that there is no hostility or even difference between the social morality of the Hebrew psalms and prophets and that of biblical Christianity. Mary’s psalm speaks with the same hostility to the corrupt elites of her time that prophets like Jeremiah and Amos did to the corrupt elites of their times–God’s spirit has always spoken in the same way, calling us not to trust in our own riches and power, calling on us to show respect and concern for those who are less off, and calling us to repent on our sins, whether they be in sins of personal morality or sins of oppression and exploitation of the less fortunate.
Likewise, the birth (and return) of Jesus Christ is both a new and a very old thing. It is new because the idea of God becoming man is something incomprehensible and unique within human history. The relationship between God and mankind, the opening of salvation to humanity at large, the establishment of the New Covenant, were all “new” at the first coming of Jesus Christ. Likewise, the establishment of the visible kingdom of Jesus Christ on this earth, without any human beings pretending to be imbued with divine power and superhuman virtue, will be a new thing on this earth at the return of Jesus Christ. That said, they are the fulfillment of prophecies that go all the way back to the beginning of the Bible (see Genesis 3:15-16). As is often the case, the new beginning of Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of deep longings of mankind for grace, for restoration, and for a new start free from the mistakes of the past.