First St Johns, December 11, 2013
“Greetings O favored one, the Lord is with you!” Mary has always been a little problematic for most Protestant churches, especially when contrasted against the Roman Catholic church. The Roman church calls Mary the Mother of God. This denotes that she would have to be above human, not as high as God, but at somewhere nearer than the rest of us. Roman Catholics try to account for this in the doctrine of the “Immaculate Conception”, this was not even part of Roman dogma until the mid 1800’s. This is not about Jesus, we confess weekly that Jesus was “conceived” of the Holy Spirit, the “Immaculate Conception” was between Mary’s parents. That her conception was somehow without sin. Interestingly Dr Luther also, at times, seems to have bought into the “Immaculate Conception”. But did, ultimately, reject it because there is no reference to it in Scripture.
St Augustine raises an interesting possibility and I think this is in keeping with the idea that indeed Mary is very much human, but for “such a time as this”, quoting Queen Esther, that God would place a particular person at a time and place that would be there for His particular will.
Now that still does not separate us from Mary. If we are truly in Christ, if we know salvation in Him, that we have been adopted by God the Father to be His child through Jesus, then we should all understand that we have been placed in the world for a particular time and purpose. In Mary’s case, God might have somehow stacked the deck a little.
Gabriel comes to Mary, as I’ve said before we know Gabriel as God’s herald. A herald, in that time, was a very important man, we think of him as sort of the Western Union messenger, but that’s not true. God’s herald, Gabriel, came to people in God’s authority. This was what God had decided, and Gabriel was there to impress upon people that it would not be a good idea, especially in the particular instance to refuse to carry out God’s plan. Could Mary have told Gabriel; “Yeah, I don’t think so. You’re asking me to take a big risk, here I am mid-teens somewhere, I’m risking my relationship with Joseph, I’m risking being ostracized by my family and mocked by my community. Yeah, I think I will take a pass on that.”
On only rare occasions does God really impose His will on us. It would be in our best interests to follow God’s will, but we know quite obviously that people refuse to follow God’s lead a lot of times. Fortunately we have grace, we are still forgiven, so long as we don’t make a habit of refusing God. Interesting that while as a human, Mary might have been able to refuse, but I would like to make a case from a quote from St Augustine that Mary was singled out from creation to be the mother of Jesus. Augustine writes: “And so he created his virgin mother; she did not conceive by the law of sinful flesh, that is, not by the stirring of carnal concupiscence; rather, by her pious faith she merited that the holy child come to be in her. He created her in order to choose her, from whom he chose to be created…” When we talk about this time we see many people who seem to have been given a particular role in this momentous occasion. This was not a time to let human will mess around with God’s will. John the Baptizer seems to be placed in this time to do God’s will, he is certainly faithful to his role, as we heard on Sunday, “Repent, make straight the way of the Lord, the Kingdom of heaven is at hand…” John recognized Jesus when He came to be baptized. He asked Jesus to baptize him. We usually have no problem with that, the problem comes in terms of how we think of Mary. Mary is referred to as Theotokos, the problem arises from different understandings of that word. Even Dr Luther at some point called Mary the Mother of God, we don’t hear that in the Lutheran Church now though, but we do in the Roman Catholic church. Dr Luther was very devoted to Mary and had to unwrap his understanding of her from his experience in the Roman church. To the end, his devotion to her was still much more than other Protestant churches, but he came to understand that Mary was not the mother of God, but the God bearer and that is how we understand her today. That through her was born Jesus, God the Son, the Father intended that His Son would be human, in order to do that He created Mary from the beginning of time to be a virgin to the point where He would put the Baby Jesus inside of her to be born as a human being and as far as we know, being born in the normal way.
Luther to the end still encouraged people to honor Mary in 1531 he preached: “[She is the] highest woman and the noblest gem in Christianity after Christ. ..She is nobility, wisdom, and holiness personified. We can never honor her enough. Still honor and praise must be given to her in such a way as to injure neither Christ nor the Scriptures. (Sermon, Christmas,1531) Dr Luther encouraged people to remember the first part of the rosary: ““Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” From what Augustine and Luther say, this was someone who was created by God, as He has placed other people throughout Scripture in other times for a particular purpose, that she was filled with grace that He gives us only after He guides us to know Jesus as our Savior. For that purpose she was called “favored” by Gabriel, she says that she is blessed, the Greek makarious is defined as: “usually in the sense of privileged recipient of divine favor”. As Augustine writes “He [God] created her in order to choose her.” Those of us who are in Christ, we are saved because we were chosen by the Godhead from the beginning to be chosen to be saved. Mary was particularly blessed, particularly favored in order to endure what an average person might not have been able to. This was a teenager, a maiden, a virgin, who would give birth to the Son, the Savior of us all. She would endure rejection, being mocked and taunted, having to pick up and run away to Egypt to save her child, and ultimately go through what was a terrible act, to witness the torture and crucifixion of her Son. Mary’s life was difficult, more so then most people, isn’t it logical that from the beginning God created such a woman, very human, the same as us, but with a special purpose and specially blessed to be an integral part of the mission to be part of the incarnation of the Son of God, the Savior of all mankind?
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amin and shalom