Lectionary Year B
December 22, 2002
Fourth Sunday in Advent
Luke 1:47-55

IV: Broader Context


Paul’s letters, the Book of Acts and the Synoptic Gospels identify the varying Characteristics of early Christianity when examined critically. They interpreted Jesus’ ministry and teachings for the distinct benefit of those to whom they addressed their messages. How those communities understood themselves and how they worshiped God then and there might be a subject the “Magnificat” could be seen addressing. It tells more of God than of Jesus, more of worshipers’ expressions than of the format of worship and more of the Old Testament traditions than of the New. Primitive Christians needed to retain their appreciation of what a transforming thing God had been doing since their earliest traditions’ descriptions. The “Magnificat” declares repeatedly both God’s transforming actions and believers’ responses in praise for them. Since daily worship was regularly celebrated, according to Acts 2:46, we might expect this Gospel lesson could have been recited there frequently.


I Samuel 2:1-10 records Hannah’s song so similar to our text. In I Samuel 1:9b- 10, Hannah prays to the Lord for a male child whom she promises to dedicate to divine service. “Verse 47 is almost totally a reproduction of Habakkuk 3:18”, Danker. The attitude of humility is evident throughout ancient Judaism, to be sure. From such an abject mindset, many prayers praising God as well as asking for divine favors were raised. See, especially, Psalm 34:2b-3, 35:9f. The needed gift of a male child from God is expressed by Leah in Genesis 29 and 30.


I think it’s Goppelt who states that Luke is written for the Hellenistic world. These Greek speaking Jews celebrated an active God, whose activities are described repeatedly in our pericope here. As the Hellenists scattered across Asia Minor, they could appreciate referring to this text as a reminder of just how very active God had been. They might have taken some exception, though, to God’s having transformed so much of the social order as it had existed theretofore. Nevertheless, this passage speaks their philosophical language if not their ethics.

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