“My soul doth magnify the Lord”

What on earth does Mary mean by “magnify”? In everyday use it means taking a magnifying glass to something small or intricate so that we can see it better. Well, I don’t recall any paintings of Mary with a magnifying glass in her hand – more likely to see an angel. Mary has just been told by an angel that, although she is a young virgin, she has just conceived and will in due course give birth to a baby boy who is God’s Son, Jesus. She can hardly believe that God chose her and marvels at the miracle that has taken place. So she expresses her amazement and wonder in a song that spells out the kind of God who can do such miracles. She begins by saying that her soul, her innermost being, the core of herself, magnifies the Lord. When you magnify something you draw attention to it, you make it appear bigger – you don’t actually change its size – in order to see it better and to better appreciate it. A magnifying glass helps jewellers, opticians, nurses and stamp collectors in their various fields to carry out their job, to see small detail, to appreciate the object in front of them. So to magnify something is to bring it in focus, to bring it to our attention, the better to appreciate its fine beauty, to be more able to see what is there. Here Mary has turned her attention to the Lord, to God. In doing so she considers what kind of person he his, what wonderful things he is capable of, reasons for gratitude and wonder that span generations. Mary’s Song, the Magnificat, has been part of Christian worship for centuries. It reminds us of what God is capable of and of his faithfulness. It is supremely a song of hope and confidence in God. It comes in the gospel narrative before Jesus is even born, while there is still time waiting for him to arrive. During this last little bit of Advent, a note of hope and confidence in God is appropriate while we wait for Christmas Day. It is also right for any day while we wait Jesus’ return: waiting hopefully, not wishful thinking-ly, but with confidence in God past, present and future.

A prayer for the fourth Sunday in Advent

Eternal God, as Mary waited for the birth of your Son, so we wait for his coming in glory. Bring us through the birth pangs of this present age to see, with her, our great salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Additional Collect: Advent 4)