Magnifying the Lord
Transcribed sermon by Fr Daniel Fanous
Reference: Luke 1:39-56
Throughout the Coptic month of Kiahk, the church prepares us for the upcoming Nativity. After Archangel Gabriel announces to St Mary the birth of Christ, he tells her that Elizabeth, her cousin, will also conceive. Immediately, St Mary visits Elizabeth to help her through the final stages of her pregnancy.
There is much that could be said of a pregnant woman that rushes to the aid of another with no consideration of her own comfort. Elizabeth greets her saying, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”
We now see that the first person that recognised Christ incarnate was a woman; Elizabeth. Mary responds and says, “My soul magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name. And His mercies on those who fear.”
What does it mean to magnify the Lord? How can any one of us make God smaller or larger? Origen contemplates on this saying,
Now if the Lord could neither receive increase or decrease, what is this that Mary speaks of, My soul magnifies the Lord? But if I consider that the Lord our Saviour is the image of the invisible God, and that the soul is created according to His image, so as to be an image of an image, then I shall see plainly, that as after the manner of those who are accustomed to paint images, each one of us forming his soul after the image of Christ, makes it great or little, base or noble, after the likeness of the original; so when I have made my soul great in thought, word, and deed, the image of God is made great, and the Lord Himself, whose image it is, is magnified in my soul.
If you look at the early icons of creation, you find that Christ, the Word of God, is creating while casting breath into man. When you look into the face of Adam, it is identical to the face of Christ. Adam is created as an image of God. As such, we are called for Christ to dwell in us.
The words of St Mary are testament to the image of Christ becoming perfectly clear in her soul that she reveals Christ. My soul magnifies the Lord when Christ is in focus. God so loved the world that He fashioned for Himself a dwelling place in the heart of man. God creates men in the image of Christ so that Christ could be in us, and transform us.
How was St Mary able to magnify the Lord? “For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant.” God looked upon her humility and magnified Himself in her lowliness. What she then sees in her own soul is remarkable as she says, “For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him.”
God’s mercy is a form of healing. The word “fear” is often misunderstood. We know that perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18), but there is another kind of fear. The Greek translation in this case is phobia, which is to flee from something. This translation of fear is only found one other time in the Bible (Revelation 11), and again, used to reveal God’s mercy. The Lord’s mercy brings healing, and salvation. In this sense, it means to recognize or to perceive the dignity of God.
When I stand before Him, I realize I am a creature and He is my Creator. When I stand before Him, I cannot possibly be mighty, sitting on my own throne. I see myself relative to His greatness. I cannot possibly be rich, or proud, or stuck in the imagination of my own heart, when I am before the living God. God could not respect the dignity in any of these cases as they do not need, nor strive, for mercy, and thus could not magnify the Lord beyond the magnification of their own egos. St Anthony the Great once said, “know yourself, and you will know God.” If we truly knew ourselves and our weakness, we would know to stand in desperate need for God.
It is impossible for us to recognise our need for a Saviour if we don’t first see that we cannot attain salvation on our own. It is impossible for a physician to heal someone that doesn’t think that they are sick. It is impossible for me to magnify Christ in my soul if I don’t first see that I need Him.
An extremely wise professor went to a monk and said, “I would love to learn from you, teach me about wisdom.”
The monk sits down and heats up some water to make tea for them both. He begins to pour the tea and tea begins to rise until the cup is full, but he doesn’t stop pouring even when it is overflowing and burns the hand of the professor holding the cup. The professor tries to stop him saying, “What are you doing? You’re getting hot tea everywhere.”
The monk responds, “And this exactly why I can’t teach you anything. You cannot fill what is already full.”
This is exactly what St Mary is saying. How can one who is mighty on their own throne fear bow before the throne God? Or how can the rich beg for any more than they have? Their souls are so full that there is no place for Christ to dwell. For Christ to increase, we must decrease. We can’t magnify Him in our souls when our souls are full of ourselves. This is why Christ loves the humble, for the humble are searching for Him that they may be filled with His mercy. To those who were full of themselves, Christ was almost indifferent. To those that were humble, His heart was moved to compassion for their sakes, for in their humility, their soul magnified the Lord.
Let us strive to be transparent, to recognise our need, and to come to Him desperately so that He may fill us with every good thing. May we learn to strive for the contrary positives that St Mary puts forth so that we are exalted when we are lowly, filled when we are hungry, and helped when we remember His mercies.