Thinking Out Loud

November 27, 2011

A Classic Author and Some Excellent Advent Reading

I’ve said before here that if you want to really balance your intake of Christian books, you should alternate contemporary authors with classic authors.  Today’s book review is about the latter.

It’s also popular for many people to each year purchase a book of meditations or devotions for the season of Advent, however the book under consideration today, while it is structured differently with four longer chapters, is in my opinion a viable alternative, a means of doing something completely different.  You might complete the 112-page book faster, but it is so rich, you’ll want to go back and reconsider some of it a second time.

Magnify the Lord is a collection of sermon manuscripts or transcripts that were given by Martyn Lloyd-Jones in Westminster Chapel, London;  delivered in 1959 on Christmas Sunday, Christmas Eve, the last Sunday of December and New Year’s Eve.

The subject is ten verses in Luke 1; verses 46-55, the passage we know by its Latin name, The Magnificat, or by a more contemporary name as Mary’s Song.  This outburst of praise is not light reading, but incorporates a host of references to Old Testament passages, and also serves as a springboard to a study of God’s greater design, occurring as it does at the prime moment where the culmination of God’s plan is about to occur with the incarnation.

Because these were sermons, I actually read the first chapter out loud, which makes for a better articulation of the cadence and rhythm of the work.  In print, with some rather haphazard subtitles that break the manuscript with a form that’s unclear, it might be easier to lose your way if you don’t think of it as intended to be received orally, and hear it that way in your mind as you read.

The sermons don’t present the text in the exact verse order as does Luke, but what is more remarkable here is the employment of related texts, something increasingly missing in modern preaching. It’s easy to read the sermon texts of long-departed pulpit statesmen and say, “Well, we don’t talk like that these days;” or “People had longer attention spans back then;” but these arguments pale somewhat when you consider that Lloyd-Jones’ sermons here are from barely 50 years ago.  I wonder if it’s really spiritual ADD that we’re dealing with today.

Lloyd-Jones also addressed the fact that even today, many Evangelicals shy away from Mary as a Bible study topic because of the over-emphasis on her that we find in Roman Catholic tradition.  You see this most clearly in a passage I excerpted at my other blog.  He also addresses contemporary philosophies of Bible interpretation which are continuing to invade the modern church.  

…Mary was a person not unlike you and I in many ways who God chose to use in a miraculous way.  At first, she hesitated as anyone would under the circumstances, but she realizes that she is chosen to be a part of a pivotal time in Israel’s history, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones clearly illuminates that her understanding of what God is about to do is the key to her response.

Thanks to Christian Focus Publications for a copy of this 2011 re-issue of an excellent book, which retails in paperback in the U.S. for $9.99

December 7, 2008

Mary’s Song – The Magnificat

So Mary’s burst of praise contains over a dozen references to Old Testament (I prefer “first testament”) scriptures, which she no doubt learned as part of the religious education all Jewish children received, right?

But the next question would be, Where did Luke get the text of her song?   In my sermon this morning, I considered four possibilities:

  1. Luke didn’t get it from her.  It’s revisionism.   The words are being ascribed to her because the poetry works into a nice narrative; four poems or psalms actually; being attributed to four different people.   Makes a nice Christmas play, but it never happened; at least not like that.
  2. She didn’t use those words at the time.  Luke interviewed her.   She recalled being filled with awe and wonder at the moment, and gives him a text years down the road that only comes with maturity and further understanding of the prophetic texts.  A revisionist version of actual events that happened differently.
  3. Luke did get it from her and that really was the text of her song at the time.   She essentially “taught herself” the text and melody — yes, there was a tune to this song — and having memorized it, repeated it over and over throughout her life.
  4. The song is real, the lyrics are accurate, and it’s all Mary’s work, but Luke didn’t need to interview her to get it, because many of the women of the time had been taught “Mary’s Song;” originally from Mary herself, but some from others who knew the lyrics and melody.   (However, its original CCLI number was discontinued; I think it was song number 4.)

I like options three and four.   Modern scholarship would try to deconstruct the text, but instead, we should look at ways we can make the text work.   Luke, the doctor and historian,  having access to the text of a young peasant girl’s immediate reaction to an angelic visitation is far from impossible to imagine. And his gospel begins with a pledge of accuracy.

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