Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year C, Luke 1:39-55, “Blessed Mary”

When I was a child growing up in the Lutheran church, we only talked about the Virgin Mary at Christmas.  We memorized the first twenty verses of Luke chapter two which is the story of Jesus’ birth.  In that story Mary is a central figure.  She is mentioned several times by name.

Saint Luke wrote that Mary and Joseph went to be registered obeying the decree from Emperor Augustus (2:5).  The shepherds “found Mary and Joseph and the child lying in a manger” (2:6).  Finally, Mary pondered or treasured all that had taken place with the birth of her child, Jesus, the Savior of the world (2:19.)

When Christmas was over, that was the end of Mary so to speak.  I heard nothing else about her for the entire church year until Advent and Christmas rolled around again.  Mary was sort of kept in her place only to be heard again in the month of December.

But my Roman Catholic friends had me beat when it came to thinking about Mary.  They had statues of Mary in their churches.  They said the “Hail Mary.”  They had colorful pictures of her in their religious literature.  It seemed to me that the Virgin Mary was always on the mind of Roman Catholics.  They always thought about Mary and held her in high esteem.

I wonder if Martin Luther only thought about Mary once a year during the Advent and Christmas seasons and then forgot about her for the rest of the church year.  But I don’t think that was the case.  In his Christmas sermon of 1531, Luther had this to say about Mary:

(Mary is the) “highest woman and noblest gem in Christianity after Christ.  She is nobility, wisdom, and holiness personified. We can never honor her enough.  Honor and praise must be given to her in such a way as to injure neither Christ nor the Scriptures” (www.churchpop.com).

So giving Mary such a high place in the church, Luther most likely thought about her throughout the year especially when the Marian feast days were observed.  For Luther, Mary was to be honored for her faith and obedience to the word of God.  Mary believed the words of the angel, Gabriel, that she would bear Jesus, the Son of God (1:35).

In today’s gospel reading Mary is said to be blessed.  It is not just one time that this is mentioned, but three times.  So Saint Luke wants to make sure we understand that Mary was set apart for a specific moment in the history of salvation.  Mary was favored by God, chosen by God, and God was with her so that she would be the mother of the Christ Child.

When Mary visited Elizabeth, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and cried out to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (1:42).  It took divine inspiration or Elizabeth to understand that Mary was to give birth to the Messiah.

A moment later Elizabeth again talked about a blessed Mary with these words, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord” (1:45).  What the Lord promised through the angel, Gabriel, to Mary would come to pass with the birth of her first born child.

Mary was blessed not because of her own strength.  She was blessed or set apart to bear God’s Son because God favored her.  It was a gift from God.  So was Mary’s faith.  It too was a gift.  Mary believed the words of the angel, Gabriel, because the Holy Spirit inspired faith in her heart to believe that the miracle of the incarnation, God in the flesh, would take place through her own flesh and blood.

In response to the blessings God gave her, Mary broke out in song in what we call “The Magnificat.”  In that song Mary recalled that God had looked with favor upon her and from “now on all generations will call me (her) blessed” (1:48).

So Mary is remembered by the church and her place in the history of salvation.  It was not Mary who saved us from sin, but the “fruit of her womb,” Jesus, the Son of the Most High and the Son of God.  And her Son, our Savior, is the One Who showers us with blessings of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

In the West, Mary is the Virgin Mary who is pure and free from carnal pollution as the Marian tradition proclaims.  In the East she is Theotokos, that is, Mother of God (Christianity Today, 2015).  So in both the Eastern and Western Churches Mary is held in high esteem.

When we sing the Christmas hymn, What Child is This,” we honor the Christ Child first of all and yet we do not forget about Mary for she gave birth to the Child Who would go the cross for you, for me, and for all of creation groaning for renewal and restoration in this world of brokenness and sin.

  1. What child is this, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping?  Whom angels greet with anthems sweet while shepherds watch are keeping?  This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing:  haste, haste to bring him laud, the babe, the Son of Mary!
  2. Why lie he in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding?  Good Christian, fear; for sinners here the silent Word is pleading.  Nails, spear shall pierce him through, the cross be borne for me, for you; hail, hail the Word made flesh, the babe, the son of Mary!
  3. So bring him incense, gold, and myrrh; come, peasant king, to own him.  The King of kings salvation brings; let living hearts enthrone him.  Raise, raise the song on high, the virgin sings her lullaby; joy, joy, for Christ is born, the babe, the Son of Mary!

I am glad that as I matured and understood more about Scripture and the traditions of the Church, I could come not only to honor Christ above all things, but also understand much more about Mary, the one blessed by God in such a special way.

Mary is a model of faith and obedience and Christian tradition remembers her in a particular way.  Mary was human.  She was not perfect and yet God chose this very young woman through whom God Himself would become flesh for our salvation.  With this in mind, Mary holds a special place of honor in the Christian church.

I couldn’t let my Roman Catholic friends and relatives have all the joy when it came to thinking about Mary.  I, too, now have the joy of believing that God chose her to bear the Son of God and greatly respect her place in the story of salvation.  This is something to ponder throughout the entire church year.  (See the note below on the Calendar for Lesser Festivals and Commemorations for remembering Mary throughout the church year.)

May we like Mary have a strong faith and trust in the promise of grace from the Holy Child of Bethlehem who gives us light, hope, and peace.

Thanks be to God!

Amen.

(The text of the hymn, What Child Is This, is in public domain.  It can be found in many hymnbooks including Evangelical Lutheran Worship #296.  For a list of hymns in public domain, see the website for public domain hymns at Luther Seminary.)

(In the Calendar of Lesser Festivals and Commemorations found in Evangelical Lutheran Worship with copyright from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and published by Augsburg Fortress, 2015, we find the following feast days which include references to Mary:

February 2, Presentation of Our Lord;  March 25, Annunciation of our Lord; May 31, Visit of Mary to Elizabeth; and August 15, Mary, Mother of Our Lord.

The bottom line is that Lutherans can also remember and respect Mary and her faith throughout the year and not just at the seasons of Advent and Christmas.)

(Bible verses are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version.)

 

 

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