When she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine. She brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh; and the child was young. Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. And she said, "Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. For this child I prayed; and the Lord has granted me the petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord." She left him there for the Lord.
Mary said [to Elizabeth],
"My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever."
And Mary remained with her [Elizabeth] about three months and then returned to her home.
After begging God for a child, and being finally blessed with the birth of Samuel, the grateful Hannah hopes that her son will serve the Lord all his days. Her prayer is personal and devout: "I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord." Giving of our best to God is the highest purpose of life, and it can be pursued in many and various ways. In Catholic tradition, we honour Mary's as the highest example of totally devoted life, apart from and parallel to her son's complete self-giving. The most perfect expression of Mary's dedicated heart is found in today's lovely hymn of praise, the Magnificat. Here we see her rejoicing in the God who has filled the hungry with good things, and raises up the lowly.
Venerable Bede wrote of the Magnificat: "Whoever devotes all his thoughts to the praise and service of the Lord, proclaims God's greatness. Observance of God's commands, moreover, shows that we have God's power and greatness always at heart. Our spirit rejoices in God the Saviour and delights in the presence of our Creator who gives us hope for eternal salvation."
This is uniquely so for Mary, whom we revere as Mother of God (Theotokos). Chosen for this world-changeing maternity, she glowed with love for the son she so gladly conceived. Above all other saints, she could totally rejoice in Jesus, trusting that the Saviour sent from above would be born of her body, a privelege for which she forever thanked God. Mary attributes nothing to her own merits but refers all to the gift of the one whose essence is power and who fills with greatness and strength the small and the weak who believe in him.
In her joyful prayer, Mary acknowledges the great things that God has done for her. At Christmas we acknowledge the great things that God has done for us by sending his Son into the world. A great deal has come to be associated with the feast of Christmas. However, at the heart of the feast is the acknowledgment of the gift that God has given us in his Son. We acknowledge that gift and we give thanks for it. Christmas is the celebration of God's greatness and generosity. Mary's prayer suggests that it is above all the lowly and the hungry who are will experience God's greatness and generosity. It is the lowly who are exalted and the hungry who are filled.
We approach the feast of Christmas hungry for God's gift of his Son, the bread of life; we approach this feast out of a sense of our poverty and emptiness, knowing our need to be filled with God's presence and God's coming. Mary herself was one of the lowly, one of the poor in spirit who hungered for what only God could give. In these difficult days for the church, we approach this feast of Christmas in a spirit of poverty and humility, trusting in the great things that God can do for all of us.