Mary’s song is known as the Magnificat, taken from the first words, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” How do we magnify God? Is it only with words? Luke portrays Mary as the model disciple who magnifies God with her life, too. In the simplest terms, to magnify the Lord means to “make much of Jesus,” as John Piper has defined it. We make Jesus big and attractive and admired by our words and actions and even in our thoughts.
Piper reminds us that there are two kinds of magnifying: microscope magnifying and telescope magnifying. The first makes small things look bigger than they are. The other makes big things that are far away look as big as they really are. “When David says ‘I will praise the name of God in song; I will magnify God with thanksgiving,’ he doesn’t mean, ‘I will make a small God look bigger than he is.’ He means, ‘I will make a big God look as big as he is with the ways I show and speak my gratitude,'” and I would add, bring him near so others can admire his value.
Piper uses this helpful analogy by calling Christians to become telescopes, not microscopes. Here is the idea for an application to our lives: our calling is to live in such a way that our lives make God look as great and as valuable as he really is and bring him near to others. What does that look like? According to Luke, Mary is our example.
In Mary, we see an example of someone who developed a life that does just that. As I reflected on Mary as a model of someone who makes much of God, I saw a pattern of five activities from her life that when combined have the power to transform us into telescopes of God’s worth.
- We make much of God by meditating on his word. Mary “steeped” herself in God’s word through the practice of meditation. Christian meditation is like a tea bag steeping in hot water. Two things happen to steeped tea bags: they transform the color and taste of the water. God’s word transforms the way we think, act, and “taste” to others. This is the only way to account for the content of Mary’s song which has nearly fifty direct references or allusions to the OT Scriptures. She let God’s word draw her in and rewrite the direction of her life. Mary let God’s word reshape her soul’s thinking and renew her affections for him. As a result, Mary had a mind and heart filled with a God-saturated theology.
- We make much of God by treasuring his promises. Mary understood that God’s grace is mined by treasuring his promises. She kept alive all the events of the birth of Jesus, the words of Gabriel, the visits of the shepherds and Magi, the words of Simeon, and Anna and no doubt the words of Scripture. She held onto all these as from the Lord to help her face the most challenging times of her life during the ministry and execution of her Son. When we face the disappointments and confusion of life, treasuring God’s promises makes much of God because others would tell us to give up on him.
- We make much of God by serving him at the risk of reputation. What motivation did Mary have in the face of the inevitable spiteful gossip and crushing judgments of others? It was not from arguments against those judgments but the joy of serving the Lord in that way. She found personal strength and relief from fears as she put her trust in the mercy of God. She was quick and eager to do it because she savored the holy God whom she knew would not give her anything evil or unloving or impossible to endure. She knew that a holy God never makes mistakes in orchestrating the providences he brings into the lives of those humble enough to receive it.
- We make much of God by expressing gratitude for his mercy. Gratitude marks the heart of the person who loves God’s mercy. Knowing God’s mercy the way she did enabled Mary to accept from God’s hands even his mysterious providences. When we don’t understand what God is doing in our lives, we make much of him by expressing gratitude for his mercies.
- We make much of God by encouraging others in the obedience of faith. This is a practice that she shared with Elizabeth. Both women were eager to visit, not so much for the confirmation of the work of God, but as a way of encouraging each other in their respective roles in God’s plans. Their praise for God and for each other’s faith gave mutual strength to continue in their obedience.
As we enter into this Christmas season that is sometimes more a distraction to magnifying the Lord than a help, reflecting on Mary’s life as an example for our own worship and praise will bring us back to center. Mary’s focus was centered on the God who sent his Son into the world to save sinners and praised him for his mercy.
Remember: the calling of the Christian is to become a telescope for the world to “look through” and see the infinite wealth and value of the glory of God.
1 Cor 10:31.
John Piper, “How to Magnify God” [on-line]; accessed 5 December 2016; available from http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-to-magnify-god; Internet.
Luke 1:29; 2:19, 51.
Verse 41 = Gen 25:22-28; Malachi 4:2; v. 42 = Judges 5:24; Deut 28:1, 4; v. 43 = Ps 110:1; 2 Samuel 6:9; vv. 46-47 = Ps 34:1-3; Isaiah 26:9; Job 12:10; Daniel 3:39; 1 Sam 2:1; Habakkuk 3:18; v. 48 = Deut 22:23-23; 26:7; 1 Sam 1:11; 2:1-10; 9:16; v. 49 = Zephaniah 3:17; Deut 10:21; Isaiah 47:4; 57:15; Ezekiel 36:22-25; Malachi 1:11; v. 50 = Ps 103:17; v. 51 = Exodus 6:1, 6; Deut 3:24; 7:19; Isa 51:5, 9; 53:1; Ps 88:1; v.52 = Ezk 12:26; Ps 107:9; 1 Sam 2:5; Job 15:29; Jer 17:11; v. 54-55; Isa 41:8-9; 42:1; 44:1-2, 21; 45:4; 48:20; 49:3; Pss 97:3; 98:3; Micah 7:20.