Rebecca Spanier is a Master of Divinity candidate at Saint John’s School of Theology-Seminary and serves as a graduate assistant with Seeing the Word.
Every evening at Saint John’s Abbey and monasteries across the world, the professed religious join together with many of the voices of the faithful who end their day in prayer, by speaking the humbling words of the Magnificat. For me, this prayer, which is Mary’s reply to Elizabeth at the Annunciation in Luke 1:46-55, is one of the most humbling and beautiful expressions of gratitude and thanks to God that there is in all of sacred Scripture.
It is on this text that I reflect this Thanksgiving Day.
The illumination of this text in The Saint John’s Bible is called a Chrysography, which comes from the Greek term for “writing in God.” There is no other image here other than the words and the colors, which frame them. It’s easy when looking through illuminations of The Saint John’s Bible to quickly glance over these images. However, it is the simplicity of these Illuminations, which give testament to the profoundness of the message. The deep purple of the paper behind it makes the gold that has been burnished on to the page leap out at the reader. Purple, the color of royalty, with brilliant gold lettering across it puts it right in our face how significant this passage is.
“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.”
Mary is humbling herself before Elizabeth here. She acknowledges that the greatness of the miracle of this pregnancy is God’s alone. How easy it is for us to feel pride over our accomplishments. To pat ourselves on the back for our good grades, promotions at work, or even the healthiness of our families. Today, let us follow Mary’s example and humble ourselves before God; for it is in his image that we are made and by his grace that we flourish.
“His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
This seems to me to be a foreshadowing of the Beatitudes that will be proclaimed by Christ. Once again, we are called to be humble. This section gives us the command to fear God. Because of how great God has blessed us, we must praise God with all of our might. We must love God and shower him in our gratitude for his great blessings. Whenever I read this section I find myself examining my own conscience and realizing the many times that I have been too proud or tried to have power over situations or people. At the end of the day when I pray this, I examine the ways in which I have fallen short and I pray also for God to give me the humility that I need.
“He has helped his servant Israel in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
We now turn to the history of our forebears and are reminded of the covenant between God and Abraham. God has fulfilled a great promise in Christ—a promise that had existed throughout all of salvation history. The suffering of Sarah as she waited longingly for the arrival of her son. The anguish of the Israelites who wandered through wilderness waiting for the gift of the Promised Land. All of this is remembered here, as it will soon be given meaning in the arrival of Christ.
This Thanksgiving, which falls so quickly after the feast of Christ the King, and so soon before the beginning of our Advent season, may all of us be aware of the great significance of both his coming and his sacrifice. May we not forget to pause and remember that what we have and all we have achieved comes to us through God who loves us.
Have a happy Thanksgiving!