I. Establish the text
A. Select the passage: Luke 1:26-56
Other texts for Year C, Advent 4
B. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?
38 Mary submits to the Spirit.
39 Mary has just received the vision of the angel that she will bear Jesus. Since Elizabeth was old and barren, her pregnancy would be a certain sign verifying what was said to Mary.
41 Did the ancients perceive that infants held a special bond with God? This foreshadows John’s announcing the reign of Christ.
42 This seems atypical of Scripture, frequently the reader is told what the God tells the prophet, then the prophet tells others. Here the step of the Holy Spirit communicating to Elizabeth is completely ignored.
43 Why are we so favored that our predecessors have built this Church and preserved the stories? Why are we so favored that Christ became human? Why are we so favored that …?
44 Do we leap for joy when the news of Christ reaches our ears?
45 Mary was not required to believe.
E. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?
This is uniquely Lukan material.
42 Is repeated by an unnamed woman in 11:27. But Jesus supercedes this blessing with a blessing of all who hear and obey the word of God.
This contrasts sharply with Job’s curse of his birth (Job 3:1ff).
G. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?
46 Some ancient manuscripts credit Elizabeth with the Magnificat. This would be consistent with v. 41 that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Mary might not yet fully understand nor accept what has happened to her. But Elizabeth could fully understand from the parallel of her own pregnancy to the expectancy of the hope of the world.
If properly attributed to Mary, then the Magnificat is a testimony of her belief by the sign of Elizabeth’s pregnancy as to what will happen.
II. Literary Study.
A. What is the context of the passage, and the book?
- Preceded by the announcement to Mary in the sixth month of the pregnancy of Elizabeth. Elizabeth has been in seclusion much of this time out of embarrassment for becoming pregnant at such an old age. Mary quickly accedes to the angel’s request.
- Followed by the Magnificat and the birth of John.
- Annunciation to Mary and confirmation by Elizabeth functions in this chapter as an interlude in the birth narrative of John. Over the next two chapters the narratives of John and Jesus are tightly intertwined. The narratives start with John’s birth which parallels the births of the patriarchs. The narratival shift to Jesus is complete with the jailing of John and the Baptism of Jesus.
III. Question the text.
D. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?
- Emotional Center: Wonder/Amazement/Joy
- Center of Gravity: Beatification of Mary
- Music: Beethoven’s Ode to Joy
G. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?
- This scene happens in front of us, rather than involving us.
- The hearer needs to be transformed to hear Mary’s greeting and leap for joy!
IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?
Heidi Husted Armstrong (“Advent 2006: Revolution from the bottom up,” The Presbyterian Outlook, Dec. 4/11, 2006) notes the personal nature of the Magnificat. Mary uses the first person singular pronoun. She writes: “the gospel is bigger than personal salvation. And yet … it is certainly not less.” She also notes in vv 51 – 53 Luke’s use of the 3rd person singular to indicate divine action putting the Kingdom of God in the world.
Fred Craddock (Interpretation: Luke) concludes that Mary does not visit Elizabeth to confirm the angel’s prophecy, but is drawn to Elizabeth out of their common experience. He opines that Luke is alluding to the birth of Jacob and Esau, where they struggled in Rebekah’s womb and the younger (Mary) served the older (Elizabeth).
R. Alan Culpepper (“The Gospel of Luke,” The New Interpreter’s Bible)
V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher),
What does this text want to say and do?
Those times when my sermons were best received, when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,” were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond
A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?
B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.
C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?