The Role We Play

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These words come at the beginning of what is known as the Canticle of Mary, or The Magnificat, in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel. It is a song of praise and awe that rises from the innocent depths of Mary’s soul after she hears Elizabeth’s greeting to her. It is filled with simple wonder and awe, recognizing that all of God’s promises through the prophets were being fulfilled in her person. These words rise up from her soul as she proclaims this prayer of praise. She recognizes not her greatness in this, but rather her servanthood. She knows the truth; that she is but a humble servant, a simple instrument, in the hands of God.

This is the greatness of Mary. She does not focus on this inexpressible mystery that she is the Mother of God. Instead she sees herself only as the humble instrument of God’s eternal plan. Throughout the canticle she gives praise where it is properly due. She understands that it is God’s plan, which has existed since Adam and Eve fell from grace, which was prophesied over and over again over the centuries, that was finally becoming reality.

She recognizes that it is God who does great things, both for her and for humanity. She understands the meaning of this moment. She sees with absolute clarity that it represents more than a mere conception, a common pregnancy. It is a sign of God’s infinite love and mercy toward his creation. Of all of the mighty things he has done from creation on, this is his mightiest. This child growing in her womb will make the truth of God’s love and mercy tangible. He will scatter the proud and lift up the lowly, those who the world counts as nothing. This child will satisfy the hungers of the humble for justice and peace, for mercy and forgiveness, for in their humility they know that they are hungry and in need of God’s grace. The rich, who are so sated with the immediate pleasures or worldly things, do not recognize their hunger, because they have become blinded by pride and all that glitters. These will find themselves empty and as nothing before this child.

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More importantly, at the end of Mary’s canticle of praise, we see her recognizing that this child represents the perfect faithfulness of God. This child proves that God has never forgotten his promise of mercy, the promise he had made to Abraham and his children forever.

Mary’s role in the miracle and the mystery of the Incarnation is inestimable. She is the first Christian, the first disciple. She gives everything, sacrifices everything, suffers quietly what she knows must happen, even though it must happen to her son. Even so, it is Jesus, the only begotten son of God, conceived of the Holy Spirit in her womb, that puts all of this in perspective. Mary, in her pure faith, with humble awe, has simply said yes to God and all else is God’s doing. With this birth, the salvation story, which has been developing over the centuries, begins to rise swiftly and inevitably to its climactic pinnacle in the death of Christ on the cross. It will find its ultimate fulfillment in the power and the glory of the resurrection.

Lord, we pray that you increase our faith so that, like Mary, we will be able to see that we are your humble and beloved creatures. Give us the insight of faith to be able to say yes to you when you ask to enter the world today through our bodies in service to your lowly ones. In our smallness, we raise our voices, like Mary, in praise of the love, the mercy and the generosity you have shown toward us, though we are nothing in the eyes of the world. Help us to prepare ourselves for your coming into our lives each day. For it is in you that our salvation has come. We pray, as always, believing in the power of your name, Jesus. Amen.

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.