By Grace Chiu

Attending to Mary's Theology

Mary’s Song: Luke 1:46–55

And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
   of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
   for the Mighty One has done
   great things for me —
   holy is his name.

His mercy extends to those who fear him,
   from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
   he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
   but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
   but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
   remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
   even as he said to our fathers.”

No matter how many times I read the advent story, Mary’s Magnificat renders me speechless. It is complex poetry. It is song. It also serves as a vibrant mirror of Mary’s theology.

In her book, When Life and Beliefs Collide, Carolyn Custis James defines theology as the following: “The moment the word ‘why’ crosses your lips, you are doing theology.” If theology truly centers on the understanding of God as applied to one’s daily realities, the Magnificat is unquestionably theological. In the face of uncertainty and imminent judgment from others, Mary claims irrepressible joy.

For many of us in academe, the term “theology” typically represents a purely intellectual pursuit. But as Mary demonstrates in Luke 1:46–55, her knowledge of God was not solely a mental exercise. It was also an authentic experience that captured her heart and soul: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

Mary praises God for what he will do (Luke 1:30–33). Her faith stands firm in the midst of a myriad of unknown factors. Mary is never guaranteed that Joseph, her betrothed, will understand or accept this divine pregnancy. Would he divorce her? Or worse, would she face severe punishment for alleged adultery? Even before God’s promises are fulfilled, she unequivocally believes in God’s mercy and might (Luke 1:49–50).

It’s easy for us to minimize her response because it sits within a narrative that has already been fulfilled. Mary’s song can feel anticlimactic because we know how the story ends. However, the moment I try to empathize with Mary, I realize there is much more to glean from the Magnificat than its poetic language. Mary proclaims the goodness and sovereignty of God in spite of her bewildering circumstances. Mary is doing theology, and I can learn from her example.

Mary’s theology is also reflected in her humility and confidence. In verses 48 and 49, she acknowledges her position as a servant (“he has looked on the humble estate of his servant”), but in the same breath is confident of her place of honor (“for behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed”) which is an outpouring of God’s favor (“for he who is mighty has done great things for me”). Mary reminds me that as one of God’s ministers of grace, I should be bold yet humble.

We have much to gain by reflecting upon Mary’s song. For myself, the Magnificat invites me to examine my own theology. As I face life’s uncertainties and tragedies, do I believe in God’s infinite goodness? As I encounter despair and suffering in this world, am I certain of Christ’s ultimate triumph in the new heaven and earth? Do I live each day with joy, humility, and confidence because I know God’s redemptive story?

In this season of Advent, may we claim each day as an opportunity to — like Mary — magnify the Lord.

About the Author

Grace Chiu received her PhD in Urban Schooling from UCLA’s Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, and her EdM from Harvard Graduate School of Education. A former classroom teacher and literacy coach, Grace consults in schools and districts across the country, committed to improving the quality of public education for underserved children and youth.  During college, Grace worked as a street artist in New Orleans Square at Disneyland. She is currently training a reading therapy dog, Pip Puddleglum.

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