15. August 2011
St. Mary, Mother of God
Last year was probably the first occasion that most of you celebrated this festive day. You may recall that this day (as well as the Beheading of St. John the Baptist) fell on Sunday. Thus, it was fitting for us to consider the proper remembrance of the saints.
St. Mary is due honor as one of the saints of God. As a matter of fact, Lutherans honor all their departed each year on the Festival of All Saints Day, November 1st. I suppose that its easy to honor the dearly departed if they are blood relatives. Many Christians who rest from their labors hold special places in our heart. I remember fondly grandparents for their Christian witness who now sleep and will rejoice with all the saints and angels in heaven. I remember high school classmates who died tragically and yet now live in bliss with Jesus.
St. Mary ought be no different. She shared in the same faith, the same Lord, the same forgiveness that every Christian receives. The son of her womb died for her sins and for the sins of the whole world. Her son made bloody atonement for her as much as for us. Her son elected her unto salvation as much as he has us and all the those who from their labors rest.
St. Mary is different. She was chosen for a special duty, a noble calling. Like women before and women since, she carried a child in her womb. She sheltered a child from the assaults of the world and of Satan while he yet grew. She nourished him, umbillically sharing in all that was needed for his body. Even after his miraculous birth, she and Joseph protected the infant God from Herod’s death sentence and wickedness. She nourished him from her breast, carried him in her arms, teaching him to walk and talk.
St. Mary is different. She ought to hold a special place in our heart, much like all the saints of our lives. The Holy Spirit has quickened our hearts with the knowledge of salvation. We know that our redemption from sin was in the flesh of the child she bore. We know that our God gestated in the sanctuary of her flesh. THe Holy Spirit fills us, so that we proclaim with St. Elizabeth, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”
St. Mary is different than other women. She holds a special place. Not because she was holy in and of herself. Despite pious traditions to the contrary, we know nothing of an immaculate conception of Mary. For all we know, she was conceived, born, lived, and died just like you and me. For all we know, she was a sinner, same as us.
St. Mary is still different. For unlike all other women, who conceive and bear children according to God’s good and gracious will, St. Mary was blessed to conceive not by knowing a man but by the immediate gift of the Holy Spirit. She received the Spirit, conceived by the Spirit, her voice quickened St. John and inspired Elizabeth by the Spirit, and by this Spirit she sang.
This Spirit is none other than the Spirit of the Father and the Son. St. Mary received the gift of God, Spirit and Son in her very own body. This blessing and no other made her womb suitable to carry her Lord. The only-begotten of the Father is given to her out of sheer grace. She neither merited nor deserved such a wonderful blessing.
That’s how blessings go. You received them, then you rejoice in them. First, you are blessed and then you are considered blessed. This wasn’t the first time St. Mary had been blessed. Apart from all the first article gifts, St. Mary had already received the blessing of faith. St. Elizabeth tells us “blessed is she who believed that there would be fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
Even before Jesus took up residence in her body, St. Mary believed the Word spoken by the angel Gabriel. That Word of God, “behold you will conceive” caused the very thing it predicted to be. She heard and believed. That’s why her song began like this: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.” The Lord visited her not because she was more noble, more special, or even more holy. He visits her simply because she has been made receptive through the Word.
St. Mary, like every pious messianic woman, was waiting for their savior. They knew from Isaiah chapter six that he would be born of a virgin and they knew he would be born of the house and lineage of David. St. Mary was prepared for this Word, as unbelievable as it may seem. In all things, she submitted herself in humility to serving the Lord in His Word.
The angel speaks to her simply and in pious reverence she listened. The blessing is the Word, now conceived of flesh in her womb. “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.” The gift of the child is special but the gift of the savior is great. The Father has begotten his Son for St. Mary, through her ear, and into her womb. Not just for St. Mary but for everyone who believes.
The child of St. Mary is the Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God. We call Mary blessed because the Father blessed her with the Son who would save her. It is said that women will be saved through childbirth (1 Timothy 2:15). The bearing of children is a blessing, one to be received in faith and devotion. St. Mary exemplifies such receptivity despite the scandal of her virgin birth. Even more so, this child is both blessing to her and a blessing to everyone who calls on his holy name.
We are all saved through childbirth, if we mean the birth of Jesus. “And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.” St. Mary is rightfully called the theotokos, the mother of God. The holy one who appeared before patriarchs and saints of old now has taken on flesh, joining together the impossible. God and Man are united in Jesus, who sits enthroned first in St. Mary’s womb. His throne is not so mighty, nor his strength great. The tiny King dwells in St. Mary, who is the beginning of the new Israel, the holy catholic church.
In this holy church, we each began like little Jesus. This sanctuary is a womb made holy by the Word of God. In this fertile seedbed, the heavenly Father grants new life to sinners. Through the saving flood of these uterine waters, the Father conceives new children in Holy Baptism. When we burst forth in new life, the blessings continue. We nurse on the pure Spiritual milk. We are grow in the knowledge of God and His holy Word. Our faith and life of love flourishes.
Blessed is St. Mary among women, who believed the fulfillment of the hope of Israel was the tiny blessing of the fruit of her womb. Blessed are all the true offspring of Abraham, the new Israel, who are reborn in Him, redeemed by His blood, sanctified by His Word, and nourished by His holy Sacrament. Blessed are you!
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church