And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry… “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour…”
Luke 1:41, 45-47
It was natural for Mary to burst into song at the grace shown to her. It is likely that Mary had been making song since she was a little girl alongside her mother, Anna (Hebrew: Hannah). Singing may have been in her DNA, and was certainly a part of her everyday life, singing at mealtimes and family celebrations (Genesis 21:7; Jeremiah 25:10).
The Hebrews chanted songs to help lighten the load of their work and maintain rhythm while treading grapes or digging wells (Numbers 21:17-18). Women sang to celebrate military victories (Judges 11:34; I Samuel 18:6) and the bringing in of harvest (Judges 9:27; 21:21). They usually accompanied their singing with tambourines, hand drums, a harp, or pipe.
Musicologist Amnon Shiloah, from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, says that women’s frequent singing was a compensation for the ban against their public participation in the synagogue. Shiloah adds: “The woman fortifies her spirit by singing to herself, and perhaps to her infant, who hears and absorbs the mother’s confessions, longings, complaints, and dreams” (Jewish Musical Traditions).
Did Mary sing on her dangerous journey to visit Elizabeth in Judea? Did she sing to steel herself and Joseph as they made their way to Bethlehem? Did Mary’s Song become a nighttime lullaby to baby Jesus, passing onto Him a mother’s dreams and longings? Did Jesus sing Mary’s Song in the wilderness, or did He take it with Him to the cross?
One can imagine that Mary, whose given Hebrew name was Miriam, was actually named after the great woman singer of the Old Testament. Miriam was the older sister of Moses and Aaron who, on command of the Pharaoh’s daughter, drew Moses out of the waters of the Nile (Exodus 2:5-7), and stood with him at the Red Sea, singing her own song of the Lord’s victory:
Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. And Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously…” (Exodus 15:51)
While the men were at the synagogue studying Torah, did Mary learn from her mother Anna the songs of the strong women of Israel? For example, did Mary learn the song of Deborah’s victory over the enemies of Israel? “Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes; to the Lord I will sing, I will make melody to the Lord, the God of Israel” (Judge 5:3).
One cannot read or sing Mary’s Song without being struck by the lofty thought, lyricism, and worldwide vision of an ordinary, poor girl only twelve or thirteen years of age. And Mary certainly knew her Hebrew Scriptures, as the ten verses of her Song are filled with the Old Testament. Her song brims with Old Testament quotations and poetic allusions to God’s Word. Mary insightfully threads the story of world redemption from Genesis through the psalmists and the prophets, interpreting Gabriel’s message for herself and for the world.
It is clear that Mary has read Scripture, memorized it, pondered it, and knows how to read her own story into God’s story. As astonishing events unfold around her, she knows how to listen to God’s Word and act in reliance on it. Everything Mary sings about God and His mighty acts and mercy flow from what she knows of God’s Word. Filled with the Holy Spirit, the words of her Song become the actual Word of God.
The generations join heart and voice with Elizabeth in celebrating young Mary’s faith! “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
- What part has music played in your spiritual journey? Is there a Christmas or Advent song that is especially meaningful to you? What is it, and why?
- How do you imagine Mary’s mother and father teaching the Scriptures to her? How do you imagine Mary teaching the Scriptures to young Jesus? (See Deuteronomy 6:6-8.)
- Spend a few moments reflecting on the Apostle Paul’s words to the Ephesians:
“Be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts” (Ephesians 5:18-19)