The story of Christmas rightly focuses on the coming of the Savior, but as this Christmas approaches, I’ve found my thought resting on another essential character. I’m finding that there is a lot to learn from Jesus’ mother, Mary.
As the story unfolds, we don’t hear many words from her, but what we do hear is remarkable. In particular, the statement that has arrested my thought as it has that of many others over the centuries is: “My soul doth magnify the Lord” (Luke 1:46).
In order to better understand Mary’s statement, I’ve studied this sentence and the words used in it in different Bibles and dictionaries. The Contemporary English Version translates the verse, “With all my heart I praise the Lord,” and the Holman Christian Standard Bible’s version is “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.” To magnify means to glorify, to praise, and to advance.
Mary Baker Eddy, a great student of the Bible, who pored over many translations of it and provided a “Key to the Scriptures” within her textbook on Christian Science, shed important light on the term “soul.” She wrote, “The proper use of the word soul can always be gained by substituting the word God, where the deific meaning is required. In other cases, use the word sense, and you will have the scientific signification” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 482). And she illustrated this usage when she gave the spiritual translation of Psalm 23 later in the book. The line, “He restoreth my soul,” she interpreted as “[LOVE] restoreth my soul [spiritual sense]."
When put into context, Mary’s statement is one of profound humility and spiritual meekness. After all, we know how the story comes out, but at that point, Mary didn’t. She had simply been told through an angel message that she would give birth to the Savior. Under her circumstances – a young girl, a virgin, and a devout Jewess – she might have chosen to magnify, or amplify, any one of these awkward aspects of her situation, or the fretful combination of them, yet she chose to magnify God. In her conversation with her cousin Elisabeth, she went on to say that she felt particularly blessed among all women, further demonstrating her keen spiritual sense and complete trust in God’s gracious plan (see Luke 1:48).
Mary’s stance, her utter compliance with God’s instruction to her, and to Joseph – although of great significance to the world, and certainly with its own place in history and spiritual development – is not without practical takeaways for us. Might we not learn similarly, regardless of circumstances, to “magnify the Lord”? When we are in the middle of a situation that doesn’t appear to hold the promise of a gracious outcome, might we emulate Mary’s position and consider ourselves to be “blessed” among God’s people? In fact, because God, Good, is governing our lives, blessing is always occurring, even when it’s not apparent to us.
At one point I’d planned a highly anticipated trip with a dear friend, but suddenly found myself too ill to go. When I called her to cancel, she immediately responded that she would come and help me. For several weeks she cooked, shopped, and took care of me and my home. But the most helpful thing she did was to remind me repetitively to thank God. “Thank you, Father, for sending me prayers, for loving me, for taking care of my every need.”
The feeling of being cared for by God was not particularly obvious to me at the time, but with her Christian prompting and urging, I learned how effective it was to thank and trust God, no matter how unwell I felt. This was an important contributing factor to the complete return to health that I experienced as I continued to pray for healing.
We can all yield to the kind of meekness that Mary expresses in the story of Christmas. This yielding is a human necessity in order for us to receive the saving Christ. A Christmas carol by Phillips Brooks, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” (“Christian Science Hymnal,” No. 222), concludes with these words:
How silently, how silently,
The wondrous gift is given;
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear his coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meekness will receive him, still
The dear Christ enters in.