Mary, Mother of Jesus
Advent 4 Luke 1:26-38, also 39-45
(This sermon can be used on Advent 4, during Series A, B or C.)
Mary, the mother of Jesus. It seems as if we Lutherans tend to ignore Mary. If we don’t ignore Mary, we often have a certain distrust, distance and disdain for her.
In the Lutheran church, we don’t spend a good time talking about Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. We talk plenty about many other personalities. We love to talk about the Apostle Paul and all that he stands for. We love to talk about Martin Luther, and name numerous Bible camps after him such as Camp Lutherwood. We love to talk about great figures of the Old Testament such as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and famous men of the New Testament such as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. We enjoy talking about famous women of the Old Testament such as Rachel, Ruth and Rahab; and famous women of the New Testament like Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha, the sisters. We like to talk about famous women of history such as Joan of Arc and Mother Theresa. We talk about all of these people quite often, but we seem to have an aversion to talk about Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Personally, I think that this is an unbiblical attitude because the Bible claims that Mary is the most blessed of all women. The Bible doesn’t say that the Apostle Paul was the most blessed of men or that Luther was the most blessed. The Bible says that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the most blessed of all women.
I think that part of our reluctance to appreciate Mary grows out of our old fashioned, anti-Roman Catholic attitudes. In the past, Lutherans and Catholics didn’t get along too well; at least they never did in my hometown growing up in Jackson, Minnesota. The priest and pastor rarely spoke to each other. We Lutherans were taught to be suspicious of Catholics who had Madonnas in their sanctuaries and drove cars with statuettes of Mary on their dashboards. We were taught by our pastors and the pious Protestants that Catholics had shrines to Mary in their gardens and occasionally even prayed to Mary rather than Jesus Christ. We were taught to distrust, then distance and finally disdain the Catholics. Of course, this didn’t sit too well with my family. My sister married a Catholic, my other sister dated a Catholic, my aunts, uncles and cousins were Catholics and they seemed all fine to us.
I will give you another example of this lingering prejudice against Mary. I thumbed through our hymnbook the other day, and I could not find a single hymn that reflected a respect for this woman, the most blessed woman on all human history. Not one hymn in our hymnbook. The closest hymn I could find was a Christmas carol, “What Child Is This,” but that was the only hymn I could find. Needless to say, we Lutherans have been vitally concerned about the virgin birth, but not about Mary, the mother. The virgin birth was much more important to us than the mother who had the baby.
Our prejudice against Mary may extend way back to Ephesus. As you may recall, Mary the mother of Jesus and John moved to Ephesus after Jesus was crucified and resurrected. There are two ancient chapels in Ephesus, one for John and one for Mary, the mother of Jesus. It was at the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. where the title, “theotokos,” Mother of God, was first applied to Mary. Mary was called the Mother of God in the Catholic Church. She was known to be a virgin and in the next centuries, the church decided that she was a “perpetual virgin.” In the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church, Mary soon was thought to be “sinless;” then she was “conceived without sin;” and then bodily taken up to heaven directly to be with Jesus. This is called the “bodily assumption.” Soon, the Assumption of Mary became a primary festival of the church, similar to Christmas and Easter. Mary became the greatest of all the saints who interceded for us. As the Roman Catholic Church elevated Mary in its adoration and taught their faithful to say, “Hail, Mary, full of grace,” the Protestants protested against her and consequently her role in the Christian faith was minimized.
It seems to me the Catholics went to one extreme and the Protestants to another extreme. Both extremes seem to me to be rather unbiblical.
Today’s sermon will focus on Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one of the purposes of this sermon is to renew our appreciation for this woman. The Bible does say that she is the most respected of all women of all time.
Like so many personalities in the Bible, we know a good deal about Mary’s life. We know enough from both historical tradition and the Bible to gain a fairly broad perspective on her. We know from James, a second century gospel, that her parents were Joachim and Anna. If you read the novel, TWO FROM GALILEE, by Marjorie Holmes, the author talks about Joachim and Anna as being the parents of Mary. This novel suggests that Mary was of the tribe of David, and that seems to be historically true. The Bible does not say that Mary was of the lineage of David, but in Luke 1:32, the Bible implies that she was of the house of David, just as Joseph was.
In the Bible, we first meet Mary when she was a young girl of about thirteen. For us, that means we picture a budding young girl, perhaps in seventh or even eighth grade in school. In sixth grade they are young girls; in eighth grade they have become young women. In other words, Mary was just starting to become a young woman. She was just beginning to go through that change within her whereby she would be able to give birth to a child. This was a very exciting time for her. Women would come to Mary and say, “Mary, we hear that you have become a young woman. When are you going to get engaged, Mary?” Or “When is your father, Joachim, going to make arrangements for you?” Her older siblings and aunts would tease and taunt her because she had matured to that very delicate time in life when she had become a young woman and was eligible for engagement.
Mary’s father arranged for his daughter to be engaged to a young carpenter by the name of Joseph. Their engagement lasted for one year. During this year that Mary and Joseph were engaged or betrothed, they prepared for their wedding, just as a young couple would prepare for their wedding and marriage.
How did Mary prepare for her wedding and marriage? By sewing. Mary sewed the dishcloths, washcloths and towels. She sewed all her clothes for the wedding and marriage. She was focused on preparing for that day.
Joseph, on the other hand, was a typical Jewish man. What would Joseph do to prepare for the wedding day? By building. A typical Jewish man would prepare their future house. He would build the furniture, the house, and make those kinds of preparations. Joseph became a carpenter by trade.
Also, during their engagement, the couple would become acquainted, being building their relationship and start to fall in love with each other.
Jewish law took their engagement seriously. The Jewish law said that if Joseph died, Mary would be a widow. If she died, he would be a widower. If they separated, it was called a divorce.
In our Biblical resources such as the Gospel of Luke, young teenage Mary was visited by an angel, Gabriel. Gabriel was a messenger from God. Gabriel said, “Hail, favored one of Israel. The Lord is with you.”
Mary didn’t know what to make of it; she was puzzled, worried, and afraid.
The angel continued, “Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favor with God.” We could stop the sermon right here, if we wanted to. We have heard the Gospel in two statements. “Do not be afraid, Mary. Do not be afraid of your future.” The very nature of fear is to be afraid of the future, what is going to happen to us or loved ones. Fear of the future. Of disease, death, lack of income. And God says, “Don’t be afraid of your future.” That is gospel for you and me. We are not be afraid of our future.
Then we hear a second line, “I God will be with you. You have found favor with God, Mary.” Instead of Mary, substitute your own name. Larry, Pat, John, Jean. You have found favor with God and God is with you. Elsewhere in the Bible, God says, “Do not be afraid for I am with you wherever you go.” What good news that is for each one of us, to know that God is with us.
The angel went on to say, “You have found favor with God, Mary, because you are to give birth to the Messiah, the Anointed one.” All young Jewish girls had the dream that they may become the mother of the Messiah.
And Mary questioned, “Me? I am only engaged. I am not married yet. I don’t have a husband yet. I don’t do that hanky-panky outside of marriage. To get pregnant like that is punishable by death. I don’t have a husband. I am engaged, that is all.”
Then the angel said to her, “The power of the Holy Spirit will come upon you. The Holy Spirit will be like a shadow over you.”
When Luke said, the Holy Spirit will shadow over you; that same word was used in Genesis in the creation story in Genesis 1:1. The Holy Spirit shadowed over the waters before the beginning of time, and God created life in those waters. In the same way, the Holy Spirit is now shadowed over Mary and created life in her. What is the bigger miracle? The Spirit over the waters in Genesis and God created life? Or the Spirit over the womb of Mary, creating life. Both are miracles. Miraculously, the Spirit created life over the waters in creation and the Spirit created life in Mary.
Mary was overwhelmed, but the messenger was not done speaking, “You know what? Your old Aunt Elizabeth is pregnant. With God, nothing is impossible. God did the impossible in Creation. God did the impossible in your old Aunt Lizie. And God did the impossible in you, Mary. God does the impossible all the time. ” With God, nothing is impossible. We could stop right here for we again have heard the gospel. With your life and mine, nothing is impossible.
The messenger left and Mary said, “Lord, I am your handmaiden, your servant. Let it be to me according to your word. Do with my life and my body what you want to do.” She believed the message. Martin Luther said that the only miracle greater than the virgin birth was the miracle that Mary believed.
The angel left. What were Mary’s feelings? Who knows? Fear? Excitement? Incomprehension? Mary didn’t really know what happened to her. She was wondering if all of this was true and so she went to the land of Judah to look for old Aunt Elizabeth. She found her old auntie, and sure enough, her old auntie was starting to expand. Her old auntie was looking pregnant, that was for sure. Aunt Elizabeth looked at Mary and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child in your womb. You are most blessed and you have believed God’s Word to you.” The baby in her belly kicked her a good one as if to join the celebration. And Mary? Mary exploded in a song of happiness, “My soul praises the Lord, for God is my salvation. I am so happy in God, my savior.”
So, this is the essential outline of the story of Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ.
There is much more that could be said about her.
As I look at the Scriptures, it is amazing to me that Mary was the only human being with Jesus throughout his whole earthly life. That is, she was the only person to love Jesus before he was born. You mothers are keenly aware of how much you love the child inside of you way before the child was ready to be delivered. Mary loved Jesus at his birth. Every woman especially, way more than the husband, remembers what it was like when you actually delivered that baby. The mind remembers clearly every detail of a birth experience and so did Mary. Mary loved him as Jesus grew up as a young child. The customs of society clearly dictated that she bathed him, fed him, changed his diapers, and sewed his clothes. His childhood was Mary’s focus. Mary loved Jesus in the temple at age twelve when Jesus amazed all of them with his profound wisdom. Mary pondered all of these things in her heart, wondering what this all meant. Mary loved Jesus when they were together at the wedding in Cana, the site of his first miracle. When you read the Biblical story, you sense that Mary was pushing Jesus to do the miracle and he wasn’t even ready yet. A lot of mothers push their kids and it seems that Mary was no different. Mary loved Jesus when he told the crowds that Mary and her other sons weren’t Jesus’ true family; those who did the will of God were his true family. Mary understood. Mary loved Jesus at the foot of the cross, when she had to suffer the unbearable pain of watching her son be executed and she could do nothing about it. And finally, we see Mary in the Book ofActs, where Jesus had been raised from the dead and he now appeared as the Risen Christ.
As I look at the Bible, Mary is the only person who loved Jesus from the beginning to the end. Of course, the Bible would declare that she was the most blessed of all women.
Three reflections about Mary.
It can be said of Mary that God chose a humble person to use as his instrument to accomplish God’s work in the world. God chose a humble instrument. One translation of the Bible says that she was a “handmaiden,” and the word, “handmaiden,” really masquerades that Mary was a servant. The Greek word is “doulos,” and this is a common well-used word in the Bible for servant or slave. Mary was a servant girl, a slave girl; she was someone else’s property. The Bible says that Jesus was born of a woman under the law, a woman of low estate.
Mary was not from a high, noble class of people. I now use three words that begin with the letter “B.” Mary was not a beauty queen. She was neither the Beauty Queen of Ballard nor the Holly Princess of Happy Hanukah. Mary was not one of those raving beauties with sparkling teeth and a sweet little figure.
Nor was she from a family that had lots of bread. Mary did not come from a rich family like Carolyn Kennedy or Dorothy DuPont. The Bible says that her station in life was of a commoner and less than a commoner; she was a servant girl. God chose Mary, who was low and humble, to accomplish God’s grand purpose.
Mary was not the girl with brains; the valedictorian, the salutatorian, the number one genius of her generation. No, God did not go after a young girl with beauty, bread or brains. God chose a lowly person, of most common origins.
We find further examples of this principle in the Old Testament. If I had been God, I would have chosen the land of Egypt, the superpower of that historical era, with all their connections and chariots. If not Egypt, then I would have chosen Assyria or Babylon, for these were grand powers of human civilization. But God chose a little hick country like Israel and then a little hick town by the name of Bethlehem. God chose what was humble to accomplish God’s purpose.
I like the following quotation: “Just as Jesus was born in a humble stable, so Christ today is only born in humble hearts.” That quotation is potent. Just as Jesus was born in a humble stable, so Christ is born only in humble hearts. Proud people think they have no need of Christ; but those who humbly cry out to God need God’s presence to heal, guide and forgive. We don’t need to have beauty, bread and brains to be used by God.
A second point about Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. Mary had the audacity to believe that God had chosen her. She said, “Do with my life as you want to.” She had the audacity to believe that God had chosen her to be the mother of the Messiah.
Mary didn’t say like Moses, “Well, I am not good enough; God, get someone who can talk better.”
Nor was Mary like Zechariah, “Lord, give me a sign. Prove it to me and then I will believe.”
Mary simply believed that God chose her. Because she believed, she was able to put into effect what God had chosen her to do.
I believe that as God chose Mary, a common and ordinary person, God has also chosen you and me, common and ordinary people. I believe that you are seated here in this congregation today because God has chosen you. God has chosen to use your life in God’s mission for the world. I know that God has chosen me and God certainly didn’t choose me because of my abilities. God chose me because God is gracious. He chose my life for a purpose, and I don’t have to ask God what the purpose of my life is, what the mission of my life is, or what I am supposed to do. I simply know. And I simply know that God has a purpose for your life as well.
God has chosen you to be an instrument to carry Jesus Christ into the world. God has also chosen me, and through me, I go out into the world and I am to be the loving presence of Jesus Christ. I am not carrying Jesus Christ physically in my womb or uterus. I am carrying Jesus Christ in my heart, but I am carrying Christ just as Mary did. I carry Christ out into the world. I am the loving presence of Jesus Christ in my world, and God has chosen you to do that. You are a chosen person. If you have the audacity to believe that God has chosen you, you know that God is doing God’s work through you. You too are a carrier of Christ, just as Mary, his mother, was. Like Mary, you are an instrument of God’s.
Further, I firmly believe that God has not only chosen you individually, but that God has chosen congregations and this particular congregation, Grace Lutheran Church, to accomplish some good works of love on Christ’s behalf. I do not believe it is an accident that we are now together as a pastor and people. God has brought us together to do a mission, to do a ministry together. I believe that God has several great tasks for this congregation to do. If you would dare to believe that, just as Mary dared to believe that in her own life. If you dare to believe that God has some significant missions for your individual life and our congregational life together, fantastic things will start to happen in the life of this congregation and in our individual lives. If you dare to believe that you are chosen, if we as a congregation are chosen.
Third, when Mary finally realized the miracle that God has worked in her, she broke out in song. Her heart could no longer be contained, and so she started singing at the top of her voice, “My soul praises God. For God has remembered what a lowly person I am and he has still chosen me. Praise God.”
Sometimes in life, there comes a moment when you just burst out with a song inside of you, and this is what happened to Mary. And when you realize the great things that God has done in you and your life; and these great things have nothing to do with beauty and bread and brains, your heart begins to burst with praise. It is truly amazing what God did through Mary. It is truly amazing what God has done and is doing through you, and through us as a congregation. Praise be to God. No wonder her heart was filled with praise, as is ours.
The other day or the other year or maybe in another decade, I was watching a young thirteen year old girl in our congregation. She was so frisky, with those flashing brown eyes. She was as fresh as a young filly. I was watching her, imagining what may happen to her as the years go by. I looked at her and thought of Mary, the young mother of Jesus, that young girl who was to become the carrier of Jesus Christ within her. What a blessing when anyone is a carrier of Christ within. No wonder the Bible says that she was the most blessed of all women. Amen.
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