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The Mysteries of Magnification

December 15, 2021 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – Luke 1:46-49 (NRSV)

And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
+++and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
+++Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
+++and holy is his name.”

Focus

You might say that Advent is a time for magnification. Not that we’re making God any bigger in this season of the year. But we are paying closer attention. We’re looking more carefully and closely at God and God’s mercy. We’re also sharing together ways in which God has blessed us, thus helping others see God through the lens of his goodness in action.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.

Devotion

When I was a young boy, my grandfather, whom I called Poppy, bought a microscope. I can still remember the wonder I felt as he removed it from its elegant wooden case and showed me how it worked. Poppy taught me about the various lenses and their different levels of magnification. As I got older, he let me use the microscope on my own, which allowed me to look closely at all sorts of things: blades of grass, dead ants, stagnant water, and, well, you name it. Poppy’s microscope opened my eyes to the mysteries of magnification. (Today, I’m pleased to say that this microscope now sits atop a shelf in my home, where it regularly reminds me of Poppy.)

In a different way, the first chapter of Luke confronts us with the mysteries of magnification. No, the biblical characters did not have a microscope to fascinate them. A different sort of magnification shows up in Luke’s telling of the story of Jesus’s birth.

We find it after Mary became pregnant by a miraculous work of God.  She went to visit her relative Elizabeth, who was also supernaturally pregnant, though her conception happened in the normal way. Upon Mary’s arrival, Elizabeth blessed her and “the fruit of her womb.” In response, Mary spoke out, testifying to the grace, mercy, and strength of God. She began her psalm of praise in this way: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name” (Luke 1:46-49).

Notice the first words out of Mary’s mouth: “My soul magnifies the Lord” (Luke 1:46). That’s a reasonable translation of the Greek verb, megalunō, which means “to cause to be large, to make large/long” or “to cause to be held in greater esteem through praise or deeds, exalt, glorify, magnify.” Of course, the first meaning doesn’t fit here. Mary did not make God any bigger through her praise. But she did cause God to be held in higher esteem (by Elizabeth) through glorifying God. (By the way, you may know that Mary’s psalm is often called the Magnificat, which is the first word in the Latin translation: magnificat anima mean Dominum, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”)

The Magnificat echoes certain passages from the Hebrew Scriptures. Psalm 34:3, for example, reads, “O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together.” Perhaps even more relevant is the prayer of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2. After God blessed her with a child, she prayed, beginning with, “My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in my God” (1 Samuel 2:1). Mary echoes several themes from Hannah’s prayer.

There is something curious in the Greek language of the Magnificat. When Mary says “My soul magnifies the Lord,” she uses a present tense verb, whereas when she says “my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” the verb is in the aorist mood. Now, without going into the details of Greek grammar, let me say simply that this unusual combination underscores the ongoing nature of Mary’s magnification. She didn’t mean, “My soul magnifies the Lord right this moment.” Rather, she was testifying to the fact that her soul was magnifying God in a consistent, ongoing way. She magnified God in her openness to his will. She magnified God through her perpetual trust. And she magnified God through the praise she shared with Elizabeth.

You and I would do well to be encouraged by Mary’s example. Though we can’t make God any bigger, we can bear witness to the immensity of God’s strength, stature, and grace. We can proclaim God’s faithfulness in our lives and in history. We can tell others of the wonders of God’s mercy. And we can do this, like Mary, not just once in a great while, but consistently, even daily.

As we offer praise to God in the presence of others, in a sense, we are doing for them what Poppy once did for me. We’re helping people to see more deeply and clearly what is real, but sometimes overlooked. We’re saying to them, “If you would look carefully here, you’d see the wonders of God in a whole new way.” You see, Poppy’s microscope didn’t actually make anything any bigger. Rather, it allowed me to see with greater clarity, depth, and accuracy.

You might say that Advent is a time for magnification. Not that we’re making God any bigger in this season of the year. But we are paying closer attention. We’re looking more carefully and closely at God and God’s mercy. We’re also sharing together ways in which God has blessed us, thus helping others see God through the lens of his goodness in action.

Reflect

What helps you to see God more clearly and distinctly?

In your personal prayers, do you ever take time to praise God? If so, what difference does this make in your faith?

Can you think of ways that God has blessed you recently that you might share with others?

Act

If you answered the last question affirmatively, find an appropriate time to share with at least one other person ways in which God has blessed you and shown you his mercy.

Pray

Gracious God, thank you for Mary’s example of magnification. Thank you for the joy with which she praised you. Thank you for how she teaches us to be persistent in praise.

O God, my soul magnifies you today as I offer praise to you. I bring you into clearer focus as I reflect on your mercy. I remember the wonderful things you have done, both in history and in my life. All praise be to you, glorious and gracious God. Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Advent Church: God with Us in Jesus


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2 thoughts on “The Mysteries of Magnification

  1. Jonathan Russell says:

    Appreciated your insight and application this morning, Mark.

  2. Tony Salisbury says:

    Thanks for your word study. It always helps me to see with a deeper eye, a spiritual eye.

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