“From now on all generations will call me blessed,” said Mary. And indeed they have called her blessed,
though certainly not all people in all generations. It’s a great shame of
Christian history that our Savior’s dear mother has been perpetually caught in
a tug-of-war over her role and status in the Church. That’s not Mary’s fault,
It wasn’t Mary that elevated herself to a figure who
draws such a cult-like devotion that—for some of her admirers—often goes beyond
the love and faithfulness they show to the fruit of her womb, Jesus. It wasn’t
Mary who sought out an elaborate and unbiblical theology which would require
that her own life be free of original sin by a legendary immaculate conception
in the womb of her own mother.
And it certainly wasn’t Mary who claimed for herself a
role in the redemption of humanity that belonged to the Son of God alone.
On account of some of these errors, though, and for
many other reasons, dear Mary has been for centuries both worshipped and
vilified from opposing points of view. While many have embraced and enhanced
her role in God’s plan of salvation well beyond what the Holy Scriptures teach
us, the backlash against Mary by those who reject such errors has often been
filled with anger and venom, sometimes even in our Lutheran tradition.
Christians who would never even think to question the fact that Abraham, or
Moses, or David were instruments of God in His wondrous work to save humanity
sometimes will scoff and recoil from seeing Mary in her rightful and true role
as God’s chosen earthly mother of His eternally-begotten, once-incarnate Son.
Yet Mary is an essential part of our salvation
story—essential not because God had no option on account of some quality in her
to choose her as the vessel of Christ’s birth—but because He chose her just as
He has chosen us, apart from any merit or deserving quality.
Apart from Jesus’ own righteousness, Mary was as
sinful as you or I. Perhaps not as evil as you or I if we’re going to put a
rating scale on sin and tally up our score on frequency and severity, but
sinful nevertheless. Apart from Jesus, Mary was as doomed to eternity in hell
as you or I. Perhaps the Holy Spirit revealed that to Mary when the angel
Gabriel spoke in her ear and the Word of God became flesh in her hearing the
words. Perhaps that understanding and that inspiration led her to the
magnificent eloquence of the Magnificat, that beautiful song of praise
and thanksgiving Luke records for us in today’s Gospel reading. For centuries
and even today, we Christians have joined in singing those words during Evening
If we look closely at those lovely words of confidence
and hope, we can’t help but marvel at Mary’s faith. Would it be that we might
daily express such trust and joy in the Lord’s work in us. For the change God
has made in you by placing the Holy Spirit in your rebellious heart and
darkened soul is a far, far more significant thing for you than the physical
change Mary experienced in having the body of Jesus placed within her virgin womb.
Even so, let us not fall victim to the temptation to
downplay the importance of Mary’s instrumentality in bringing that Holy Spirit
to grant you faith and to save your miserable self from the torments of eternal
hell. For without a fleshly and divine Savior—incarnate by the Holy Spirit and
born of the Virgin Mary—you’d be having to justify yourself before God’s throne
of judgment. Knowing only a sliver of the evil I’ve done in thought, word, and
deed, that’s a prospect at which I shudder in fear and dread.
How about you? Are you ready to “go it alone,”
without Mary’s Son standing between you and God’s holy, righteous judgment and
Today we observe the Feast of St. Mary, Mother of Our
Lord not because of what Mary has done for us by her own initiative, but rather
because of what God has done for us through Mary as through countless others.
Through Mary as through Noah, Joseph, Moses, David, and all the rest, God has
given us rescue. God has given us hope. God has given us Himself.
In Mary as in no other person before or since, God is
with His people. Not in an ark crafted with human hands; not in storing up or
miraculously providing earthly food to save us from physical starvation. Not
in a burning bush or a pillar of cloud; not with a slingshot to fell an enemy
of flesh and bone.
In Mary, God does not come riding on the chariot
throne, or seated between the cherubim. In Mary, the old ways of God’s coming
and God’s rescue have passed away, and new things have come.
The God who in former times brought forth Eve from
Adam’s flesh now brings forth the New Adam, growing within the flesh of the New
Eve, Mary. We might paraphrase the words of our first earthly father, that Old
Adam, in describing how the New Adam, Jesus, comes to us: “This One is now
bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh; He shall be called Man, because He
was taken out of woman.”
Indeed, in Mary, not only has God come to His people,
He has married them—not in a bush or a cloud or atop a throne, but within a
virgin. And we confess with our forefathers that this does not take place by
the conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by the taking of manhood into
In the incarnation and birth of Jesus, the eternal
true reality has assumed the image of His crowning offspring. The Creator has
partaken of creation. God has become man. O sing unto the Lord a new song, O
people—for Yahweh comes to you; a woman is pregnant with the Lord.
But Mary is not the only one pregnant, is she?
Elizabeth, her relative, carries a child as well. Within her once-hopeless
womb is the six-month-old, soon-to-be-born prophet of the Most High. Elizabeth
and Zechariah’s child will go before the Lord to prepare His ways. John’s
ministry will be patterned after Elijah’s, whose in turn was patterned after
that of Moses. So when John opens his mouth to proclaim the word of the Lord,
you hear the sound of a prophetic choir. Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha,
Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and all the rest come together in eternal harmony.
They crowd together in the pulpit of John’s mouth to
proclaim that to which they and all true prophets have always pointed: “Behold,
the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” The Agnus
Dei, that canticle we sing so quickly and often so thoughtlessly as we
shift in our seats, are the words of proclamation telling you that salvation is
at hand. While the elders and ushers are coming forward to receive the flesh
and blood of Mary’s Son, you are singing the purely-distilled truth of the
wholeness of prophetic hymnody, summed up in John’s words: “Behold, the
Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
But before John preaches God’s message, before he
baptizes the first repentant sinner, before he is even born, Jesus comes to
him, within the person of Mary. In the presence of his eternal-yet-unborn Lord
and Savior, John is filled with the Holy Spirit.
He leaps in his mother’s womb, joyful at being called
and ordained while yet in utero. The Baptizer enters his office while
he is still living in the water of the womb.
In the coming together of these two pregnant women, we
see the coming together of the old and new Israel. Elizabeth—in her old age,
her former childlessness, her priestly husband Zechariah, and her prophetic son
John—is an icon of the old and aging Israel. By contrast Mary—youthful, virgin,
yet growing and ripening with the fruit of a divine Son—is an icon of the new
and everlasting Israel. As Abraham’s wife, Sarah was the alpha mother of the
old Israel, so is Elizabeth the omega mother. Elizabeth carries the last of
the Old Testament prophets. The curtain is about to close on that drama, soon
to be torn asunder by the God-man who will burst forth and tear down the temple
veil and barricade between man and God.
Rebellious Israel, wandering since the days of
Abraham, dwelling apart from their promised home so often in Egypt, in the wilderness, in Assyria, Babylon, and elsewhere, would finally reach their
destination. They will stand on the banks of the river Jordan, and there will stand John the Baptist, shepherding them through the waters to rest,
pointing them to the promised land of the Messiah’s holy flesh: “Behold,
the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
Because of all this the infant prophet leaps for joy.
And well he should, and well should we, too. For if seas roar and rivers clap
their hands, mountains and hills sing together, and the mouths of infants and
nursing babies, and yes, even unborn prophets shout for joy—how much more
should we? For Mary’s song is the song of all the redeemed as she chants: “the
Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His Name.” The
Mighty One has indeed done great things—for Mary, for Elizabeth, for John, and
For you who sprint blindly down the paths of
selfishness, the Mighty One has left His heel laid bare for the venom of the
ancient serpent’s fangs. For you with sharp tongues whose careless, hurtful
words slice away at friend and foe, He is the silent Lamb who not only goes
quietly before His shearers, but willingly offers His throat to the
blood-letting of the sacrificial blade. For you who gulp down great volumes of
iniquity to fill your unquenchable thirst for shallow pleasure, He is the deep,
vast Sea that swallows up your enemies. For you who hunger and thirst for unrighteousness,
He is the land flowing with milk and honey. The divine judge has become your
human substitute. He has done great things for you, even as you continue to do
great things against Him.
Therefore, repent and rejoice, dear Christians! Let newborn
babes and aging codgers leap for joy. Join David in dancing before the new ark
of the covenant. Rejoice, and ponder the mystery of God, growing within the
virgin. Let all the sons of Adam and all the daughters of Eve remove their
sandals before the burning bush of Mary’s womb. Behind the pregnant veil of
her flesh is the new ark of the covenant—an ark not of gold-covered acacia
wood, but skin-covered human bone. That ark is not filled with the tablets of
the law, but the flesh and blood of the Gospel. It contains not a jar of manna
and Aaron’s budding staff, but the Manna come down from heaven, and the Tree of
Life, all for you.
God is with His people, for He has done the greatest
of things by becoming one of us in the person of Jesus, born of the virgin Mary.
For this, your spirit rejoices in God your Savior, your soul glorifies the
Lord, and beyond the end of all generations, you, too will be called blessed.