Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"The greater happiness is, the calmer it is."

Some expanded notes from last Sunday’s sermon on Luke 1:39-56:

Among the words recorded here are those sometimes referred to as the Magnificat or “Song of Mary” (vv. 46-55).  But note that the text simply records that she “said” these words.  These are her spoken words.

Note also the contrast to Elisabeth’s exuberant words, spoken “with a loud voice” (v. 42).  The old commentators picked up on this distinction:

Godet notes that while Elisabeth’s words are “full of excitement” what he calls “Mary’s hymn” “breathes a sentiment of deep inward repose,” adding, “The greater happiness is, the calmer it is” (Commentary on St. Luke, p. 62).

Calvin makes a similar observation on the text, noting that Mary “teaches us, too, more than a loud clamorous voice is needed to proclaim God’s praises.”  He continues:  “Often people with no real feeling for God appear white-hot in their fervour.  In the papal church there is four-part singing, and the sound of the organ accompanies men’s voices.  God, we might think, must be greatly pleased with those who bawl his praises!  But does it really edify?”  He concludes that Mary “reveals we cannot truly praise God unless our hearts are first warmed by his kindness; only then can our soul praise and reverence him” (Songs of the Nativity, pp. 25-26).

I’ve noted before Terry Johnson’s comments about worship when he says there is one kind of happiness that one might express with wild cheering at a ball game, but there is another kind of happiness one best expresses with quiet reverence, as at a wedding or a graduation ceremony.  And Biblical worship is of the latter variety.  Mary’s words are happy words and calm words.  Indeed, “The greater happiness is, the calmer it is.”

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