Sunday, August 15, 2021

Sermon for the Feast of St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord - Lk 1:46-55


St. Mary

                                                                                       Lk 1:46-55



             A few weeks ago, nobody had heard of Lydia Jacoby. She was just a seventeen year old girl from Alaska.  However, at the Tokyo Olympics she pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the games as she won the 100-meter breaststroke with an amazing surge at the end of the race.

            Nationally, nobody had heard of Lydia.  She wasn’t even expected to make the U.S. Olympic swim team.  However, at the Olympic trials she swam nearly three seconds faster than her previous best time to earn the trip to the Olympics.  And then in the 100-meter breaststroke finals she beat Lilly King, the reigning Olympic champion who had lost only once in the event since 2015.  When it was all done, there was young Lydia Jacoby – the unexpected unknown – receiving the gold medal and becoming a national celebrity.

            Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord.  Like Lydia Jacoby, nobody had heard of Mary. She was not someone from whom great things were expected.  But then, through a series of entirely unexpected events, she became the mother of our Lord Jesus.  She became the God-bearer who has been remembered by all of God’s people. In St. Mary we see that God’s grace works in unexpected ways.  And in Mary, we see the model for how we are to receive God’s Word.

            In our text today we hear the words that Mary spoke when she, pregnant with the Lord Jesus, met the aged Elizabeth who was herself pregnant with John the Baptist. The first thing we encounter is something that perhaps we have been conditioned to overlook.  It is a sad truth of the history of Christian theology that St. Mary has often been given a role and position that contradicts Scripture.  We are well aware that in the Roman Catholic church Mary has been set up as a focus in the life of faith.  Prayer is offered to her, and she is viewed as a mediator for believers.

            Because of these aberrations, modern Lutherans have often responed by ignoring St. Mary herself.  The offenses present elsewhere have often caused us to react in the opposite direction. We have not wanted to accord any special attention to Mary.  Yet our text today reveals that this too is wrong.

            We see this at the very beginning of our text as Mary says, “For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed.” Indeed, just before this, as Mary and Elizabeth met we learn: “And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!’”

            Scripture is absolutely clear in describing Mary as one who is blessed among women.  She is the one all generations will call blessed.  We must say on the basis of God’s Word that Mary stands out uniquely among all women. There had never been, and there will never be anyone like her again.

            This fact was completely unexpected.  There was nothing about Mary that would have led those around her to expect Mary take up a status that is unique among all women of all time.  She was a nobody. She didn’t come from a ruling family of that day.  She was a young teenage girl from the unimportant town of Nazareth, and was betrothed to a man named Joseph who from the house of David.

Because of infant mortality and the short life expectancy, the ancient world had to seek to produce as many children as possible.  As soon as a girl was able to conceive, she married and began to have children.  Mary was a virgin who had just become a woman in the sense that now she could have children. Betrothed to Joseph, her wedding day was approaching.

In our text, Mary acknowledges her low status.  She says, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.”  And in her next statement we learn that while Mary now holds the status of being unique among all women – the one all people call blessed - this is not because of anything that she did.  Mary says, “For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”

Mary says that all generations will call her blessed because God the mighty One had done great things for her.  She was referring to the fact that at that moment, Mary the virgin … was pregnant. And it wasn’t just the fact that Mary had experienced this miracle.  More important still, was the nature of the baby she now carried in her womb.

The angel Gabriel had just appeared to Mary, and after calming her fears about being greeted by an angel, Gabriel had said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” In unmistakable words, the angel told Mary that she would conceive and give birth to the Messiah – the fulfillment of all of God’s promises about the line of David in the Old Testament.

This was amazing in itself.  But when Mary asked how this was going to happen since she was a virgin, the angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy--the Son of God.”  There would be no human father.  Instead, the Holy Spirit would cause the child to be conceived – and this child would be the Son of God.  Through the work of the Spirit, Mary would conceive and give birth to the One who was not just the Messiah, but also the Son of God. As Paul says in our epistle lesson, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman.”

As a woman, Mary conceived and gave birth to a human baby. Because the Holy Spirit caused that baby to be conceived, he was also the Son of God.  Mary carried and gave birth to Jesus Christ, the One who is true God and true man at the same time.  That is why Mary is blessed among women.  That is why she has a status that no other woman will ever have.  Mary was the instrument by which God brought the incarnate Son of God into the world.  She was, as the early Church called her – the God bearer.

Mary herself had nothing to do with this.  It was entirely a matter of God’s grace. This grace was God acting in an unexpected way – a humble virgin conceives and gives birth to a child who is the Son of God.  And this grace would accomplish salvation in an unexpected way.  Gabriel had told Mary that she would give birth to the Messiah – the fulfilment of God’s promises about David.  Yet when Mary and Joseph brought the infant Jesus to the temple, Simeon told her, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 

(and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

            Jesus Christ was sent by the Father to receive rejection.  Though holy, he was sent to be numbered with the transgressors – with us.  He was sent to suffer and die for our sins.  Just before Holy Week Jesus told his disciples, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”

            Jesus the Christ died on the cross in order to redeem us – in order to free us from sin. Dead and buried in a tomb, it appeared that God had abandoned him.  But on the third day God the Father raised him from the dead.  He vindicated Jesus and demonstrated to all what he had been doing through the cross.  Through the resurrection God defeated death, and began what we will receive on the Last Day.

            In God’s use of Mary for the incarnation, we see that he works in unexpected ways – ways that often appear humble.  He continues to do so now through his Means of Grace.  At times, as we face the challenges and difficulties of life, we may think we need more than this.  We may think that God has not given us enough.  But as Mary speaks about what God is doing she says in our text, “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.” We must be on guard against thinking that we are in a position to criticize how God works.

            Instead of being haughty – of being proud in the thoughts of our hearts - we need to follow the humble example of St. Mary.  Gabriel announced news to Mary that was hard to believe.  She would give birth to the Christ.  Though a virgin, through the work of the Holy Spirit should conceive and give birth to the Son of God.  Gabriel announced news that would turn Mary’s life upside down.  And yet when she heard all this we learn that her response was to say: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

            In the same way, when Elizabeth spoke to Mary she said, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”  Mary received God’s Word, and submitted herself to God’s will.  She trusted and believed in God’s Word that it would be fulfilled as he had said.  This attitude needs to guide our life. St. Mary is an example of what this looks like.

            On this Feast of St. Mary, we acknowledge and give thanks for the unique status that Mary will always possess. She was the woman through whom God brought the incarnate Son of God into the world.  She is the God bearer.  Yet this status is not tied to anything Mary did or earned.  Instead, it demonstrates God’s grace and how he works in unexpected ways to bring forgiveness and salvation to us. And in Mary’s faith and reception of God’s word and faith we see an example that we seek to follow each day of our lives.  



















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