The Wonder of the Incarnation
from the Commentary of Bede on St Luke’s Gospel, 8th century
‘Mary said: My soul glorifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior’.
The Lord, she said, has exalted me with a great and unheard of gift, which cannot be explained in any words and can scarcely be understood by the deepest feelings of the heart. And so I offer up all the strength of my soul in thanksgiving and praise. In my joy I pour out all my life, all my feeling, all my understanding in contemplating the greatness of him who is without end. My spirit rejoices in the eternal divinity of Jesus, my Savior, whom I have conceived in time and bear in my body.
“For he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name’.
Mary looks back to the beginning of the canticle, to the words: ‘My soul glorifies the Lord’. Only the soul for whom the Lord does great things can glorify and praise him as he deserves; only that soul can call on those who share the same desire and intent: ‘Glorify the Lord with me. Together let us praise his name’.
The man who refuses to glorify with all his power the Lord whom he knows, and to keep his name holy, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. God’s name is called holy because he transcends the whole of creation by the loftiness of his unparalleled power, and because he is set apart from all those things which he has made.
‘He has lifted up Israel, his child, remembering his mercy’.
In beautiful fashion Mary calls Israel the child of the Lord, for Israel has been lifted up by him to be saved, seeing that Israel was obedient and humble, in accordance with the words of Hosea: ‘Because Israel was a child, I loved him’.
Now anyone who refuses to humble himself simply cannot be saved, nor can he say with the prophet: ‘Behold, the Lord is my helper; it is God who lifts up my life’. But whoever humbles himself like a child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
‘As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever’.
Mary does not mean the natural, but the spiritual posterity of Abraham; that is, not those who have only descended from him physically, but those who follow in the steps of his faith, whether they are circumcised or uncircumcised. For he too believed while uncircumcised and it was considered as justifying him.
The coming of our Savior therefore, was promised to Abraham and to his posterity for ever, that is, to the children of the promise, to whom are addressed the words: ‘If you belong to Christ, then you are the posterity of Abraham, the heirs he was promised.
It was right that the mothers of both the Lord and John should anticipate the birth of their children in prophecy. Just as sin began from women, so too it was fitting that blessings should spring from women, and that life which was lost through the deception of one woman, should be given back to the world by these two women who rival each other in giving praise.
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(c) 2000, 2001 Don Schwager
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