Commentary from John Calvin
Before Jesus was born and during her visit to her cousin Elizabeth, filled with the Spirit, Mary prophesied in Luke One:
 And Mary said:
 My soul magnifies the Lord,
 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
 For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
 For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.
 And His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation.
 He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
 He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
 He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.
 He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy,
 As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.”
When treating Mary’s Magnificat prophecy at Christmastime, few sermons take note of her clearly political declaration in verses 51 and 52 regarding casting down the proud from their thrones and elevating the lowly.
Isaiah prophesied in Chapter 9 that the government would rest on the Messiah’s shoulder. Mary suggest in part what that means. The great Bible Commentator John Calvin explains Mary:
51. He hath done might. This means, “he hath wrought powerfully.” The arm of God is contrasted with every other aid: as in Isaiah, “I looked, and there was none to help,” (Isaiah 63:5;) “therefore,” says he elsewhere,
“his arm brought salvation unto him; and his righteousness, it sustained him,” (Isaiah 59:16.)
Mary therefore means: God rested satisfied with his own power, employed no companions in the work, called none to afford him aid. What immediately follows about the proud may be supposed to be added for one of two reasons: either because the proud gain nothing by endeavoring, like the giants of old, to oppose God; or, because God does not display the power of his arm for salvation, except in the case of the humble, while the proud, who arrogate much to themselves, are thrown down. To this relates the exhortation of Peter,
“Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God,” (1 Peter 5:6.)
He hath scattered the proud in the thought of their heart. This expression is worthy of notice: for as their pride and ambition are outrageous, as their covetousness is insatiable, they pile up their deliberations to form an immense heap, and, to say all in a single word, they build the tower of Babel, (Genesis 11:9). Not satisfied with having made one or another foolish attempt beyond their strength, or with their former schemes of mad presumption, they still add to their amount. When God has for a time looked down from heaven, in silent mockery, on their splendid preparations, he unexpectedly scatters the whole mass: just as when a building is overturned, and its parts, which had formerly been bound together by a strong and firm union, are widely scattered in every direction.
52. He hath cast down the nobles This translation has been adopted, for the sake of avoiding ambiguity: for though the Greek word δυνάσται is derived from δύναμις, power, it denotes governors and eminent rulers. Many persons think that δυνάστας is a participle. They are said by Mary to be cast down from their thrones, that obscure and unknown persons may be elevated in their room; and so she ascribes to the providence and judgments of God what ungodly men can the game of Fortune. Let us understand, that she does not ascribe to God a despotic power—as if men were tossed and thrown up and down like balls by a tyrannical authority—but a just government, founded on the best reasons, though they frequently escape our notice. God does not delight in changes, or elevate in mockery to a lofty station, those whom he has determined immediately to throw down. It is rather the depravity of men that overturns the state of things, because nobody acknowledges that the disposal of every one is placed in His will and power.
Those who occupy a higher station than others are not only chargeable with disdainfully and cruelly insulting their neighbors, but act in a daring manner towards Him to whom they owe their elevation. To instruct us by facts, that whatever is lofty and elevated in the world is subject to God, and that the whole world is governed by his dominion, some are exalted to high honor, while others either come down in a gradual manner, or else fall headlong from their thrones. Such is the cause and object of the changes which is assigned by David, “He poureth contempt upon princes,” (Psalm 107:39;) and by Daniel,
“He changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings,” (Daniel 2:21.)
We see, indeed, how the princes of the world grow extravagantly insolent, indulge in luxury, swell with pride, and are intoxicated with the sweets of prosperity. If the Lord cannot tolerate such ingratitude, we need not be surprised.
The usual consequence is, that those whom God has raised to a high estate do not occupy it long. Again, the dazzling luster of kings and princes so overpowers the multitude, that there are few who consider that there is a God above. But if princes brought a scepter with them from the womb, and if the stability of their thrones were perpetual, all acknowledgment of God and of his providence would immediately disappear. When the Lord raises mean persons to exalted rank, he triumphs over the pride of the world, and at the same time encourages simplicity and modesty in his own people.
Thus, when Mary says, that it is God who casteth down nobles from their thrones, and exalteth mean persons, she teaches us, that the world does not move and revolve by a blind impulse of Fortune, but that all the revolutions observed in it are brought about by the Providence of God, and that those judgments, which appear to us to disturb and overthrow the entire framework of society, are regulated by God with unerring justice. This is confirmed by the following verse, He hath filled the hungry with good things, and hath sent the rich away empty: for hence we infer that it is not in themselves, but for a good reason, that God takes pleasure in these changes. It is because the great, and rich, and powerful, lifted up by their abundance, ascribe all the praise to themselves, and leave nothing to God. We ought therefore to be scrupulously on our guard against being carried away by prosperity, and against a vain satisfaction of the flesh, lest God suddenly deprive us of what we enjoy. To such godly persons as feel poverty and almost famine, and lift up their cry to God, no small consolation is afforded by this doctrine, that he filleth the hungry with good things.
Calvin’s Commentary on Matthew, Mark, Luke—Volume 1, “Luke 1:51-55,” from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.