“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.”
Eugene Peterson describes Biblical figures such as Abraham, Moses, David, and Mary as living “large lives”. He says that their lives are “large because they live in the largeness of God”. Peterson adds that “Not one of them can be accounted for in terms of cultural conditions and psychological dynamics; God is the country in which they live” (The Message, “Introduction to Book of Samuel”).
Clearly, Mary is living large in the country of God as she sings her Song. In today’s text she magnifies the “I” for doing great things for her, declaring, “Holy is his name”. Yet again we see Mary echoing words from Hannah’s Song. Hannah had prayed for a child and God heard and answered her. Then, as Hannah dedicated her young child Samuel to the Lord, she sang of God’s “holiness”: “There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you” (I Samuel 2:2). Mary also is in awe of God’s holiness as it is revealed in what He has done for her and the world: “Holy is his name”.
The root meaning of holy is “set apart”, “different”, and “distinct”. God is holy in that he is wholly different, wholly apart from all other persons and things. There is no one like Him! Theologian R. C. Sproul describes the meaning of holy: “When the Bible calls God holy, it means primarily that God is transcendentally separate. He is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us. To be holy is to be ‘other’, to be different in a special way” (The Holiness of God).
Mary’s Song joins the hosts of heaven, Israel, and the church worshipping God as holy: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” (Exodus 15:11; Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8). Night and day saints and angels proclaim God: “Holy, holy, holy”. In the Hebrew language the superlative is expressed by repetition, “Holy, holy, holy”. Thus, the three-fold cry praising God as holy reveals that holiness is His defining attribute: “holy is his name”. Mary praises God as incomparable, as matchless in all His ways. Whether it is God’s power, wisdom, or compassion for the lowly, no one compares to Him. So The Lord God asks: “To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One” (Isaiah 40:25).
Novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function” (The Crack Up). Here are two seemingly opposing ideas that faith holds at the same time: the Holy One is high and lofty, but dwells with the lowly and humble:
For thus says the high and holy one who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite (Isaiah 57:15).
As Mary reflects on how holy and wholly-other God is, she is overwhelmed that He identifies with the lowly and humble. She is astonished that the God of heaven and earth has shown favor to her lowliness! “Holy is his name.”
- How would you explain in your own words what it means that God is “holy”?
- Why do you think Mary sings: “Holy is his name”?
- Ponder the incomparable ways of God in this passage from Isaiah: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).