Mary – Advent 4 (alternate) 2011

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for today is the Gospel lesson just read, the visitation of Mary and Elizabeth, as well as the song of Mary, the Magnificat.

I’ve always loved the texts centered around Mary. Maybe that makes me a bad Lutheran, I’m not sure. But there is something simple, profound and beautiful about how the mother of God is portrayed, especially in Luke’s Gospel. It is time to take a brief pause from our Christmas preparations, and reflect for a moment on what is really going on here. One author wrote about Mary’s *Magnificat* that it is like an aria in an opera. Everything is moving along in the plot, things are happening, people are dying or loving or fighting or whatever is going on, and then up steps the soprano to sing about what is in her heart. All of the action stops. Everyone turns to her. And listens. Let’s hear what the mother of our Lord has to say this morning.

This morning we hear the story of Mary’s visitation to her cousin, Elizabeth. Elizabeth at this time is six months pregnant. You might remember that she was well past child rearing age when God came to her husband, Zacharias, through the angel Gabriel, to tell them that they would be having a son. The son’s name would be John, which means “God is gracious”. This son, we know him as John the Baptist, is the greatest of everyone born of women, according to Jesus.

So imagine the scene. Elizabeth is bearing a son, in fulfillment of prophecy. Elizabeth is the bearer of the Old Testament. Images of Sarah, of Ruth, of Hannah, and of all the other women who had miraculous births all come to mind. In Elizabeth we find the pinnacle of God’s Word that He always keeps His promises. Well, not quite the pinnacle. For now we have Mary, a young maiden probably fifteen or sixteen years old, who bears not just a prophet, but the very Son of God Himself. At the greeting of Mary, John leapt in his mother’s womb! Even John, not yet born, knew that this was a big deal that Mary would be in their midt.

But Lutherans don’t like talking about Mary. Well, I guess we don’t mind it as long as it is a part of a manger scene or it’s straight out of the bible. But to Lutheran sensibilities, to talk too much about Mary just sounds a little too Roman Catholic.

Perhaps so. We don’t worship Mary, and to do so would be as horrific to her as it would to any Lutheran. But at the same time, when we honor Mary and call her blessed, as she reminds us in the Magnificat, when we do this, we are not honoring Mary, but her Son.

Recognizing the place of Mary in our lives as Christians is really confessing that God became Man. It’s that simple. God didn’t become human, in some vague, androgynous sense. No, He became man. It was a long process. Prophesied for thousands of years, all the way back to Eve and Adam in the Garden. Slowly in type, from age to age, the nations saw their coming Lord. 9 months in the womb of a young girl named Mary. Yet it is that very ordinariness, that very humanity of His journey into our lives that opens up the wonder of God to poor sinners like you and I.

The fact is that Jesus came into the womb of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. When he did this, he sanctified and set apart all wombs as holy and sacred in God’s sight. God works through real life and death, people like you and me, to bring about His mightiest deeds. God Himself lifted up Mary and made her the Mother of God. Why did He do this? God did this because of grace. That’s actually what the text says. Remember again Gabriel’s words to her at the Annunciation, ““Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” (Luke 1:28 NKJV) And Elizabeth adds the following, “and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

In other words, dearly beloved, Mary is blessed by God because she is the mother of God. It is grace, pure and simple. But what’s even more important is that because she is blessed, you are blessed. God used her to bring our Lord, Jesus Christ, into the world. We celebrate His birth in but a few short days. So when we rejoice that Mary is the Mother of God, we are rejoicing that God has become man.

In so many ways, you and I have lost that sense of wonder at our Lord’s coming. We treat God’s merciful presence in our midst as an imposition. Going to church is one more task to tick off on the “to do” list of our lives. Even Christian congregations today don’t want to have church on Christmas! I will never get over how tragic that is.

Yet it is precisely for this reason that our Lord’s coming in human flesh and blood is so important. Mary cries out “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly estate of His handmaiden. For this day forth, all generations shall call me blessed.”

What this means for you is that God has come into your very midst. God is with you every bit as much as He was with her. God enters into your body and soul in His Holy Supper. God washes you with His Holy Baptism. God speaks to you by His Holy Word. God Himself has blessed you beyond all measure. You receive that blessing again and again in His Word of Absolution and Forgiveness spoken over you, the lowly sinner. Just like the Mother of God.

This coming week we will hear the story of our Lord’s birth told by the children of our congregation. How appropriate it is that our children teach us this story! It is the story of the ages. Mary’s story is your story, for in her womb lies your very lifeblood. We pray:

Remember, Lord of life and grace,
How once, to save our fallen race,
You put our human vesture on
And came to us as Mary’s Son (LW 45:3).

And now may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in true faith unto life everlasting. Amen.

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