A sermon on this day from my vicarage year at Messiah Lutheran Church, Seattle, Washington:
St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord
August 15, 2004
Text: Luke 1:46-55
Mary’s song sings sweetly the whole Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, for in Mary’s womb abode our Savior in His wholeness as God and Man, the Creator united with His creation for the salvation of the whole world. God was mindful of the humble estate of His servants, so captive to sin and death. And so, “when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons” (Gal. 4:4-5). Through the Holy Seed of Mary, God’s mercy has been extended to all who fear Him, from generation to generation. The proud have been scattered in the imagination of their hearts and the rulers cast down from their thrones so that those bowed down in humble repentance may be lifted up. The hungry are filled. The blind see. The deaf hear. And the dead are raised to life again. Indeed, through the birth of Christ Jesus, God “has helped his servant Israel,” He has helped His Church, “remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever” (Lk. 1:54-55), just as He promised.
Yet, while Mary’s song is sweet, our pitiful songs remain sour odes to self. We delight in our own honor and glory. As self-righteous Pharisees, we stand in the Temple and pray about ourselves, thanking God that we are not like other men and women, not like robbers, or evildoers, or adulterers, not like those we see on the streets, or on the evening news, or even those sitting next to us in church (Lk. 18:11). After all, we faithfully attend services on Sunday morning, we tithe our money, we volunteer our time, and we share our talents. We’re pretty good Christians, and, we might add, model citizens. But of course, being the humble pictures of humility that we are, we wouldn’t want to toot our own horn.
Oh, conceited generation, repent, for it is only the lowly who can be lifted up. Have no pride in yourselves, for in your corrupt and sinful flesh you are nothing. God is not pleased by your sacrifices of false obedience. He knows your murderous and adulterous heart, you who hate your brother and lust after your neighbor. He knows your covetous desire for earthly honor, fame, and material wealth. Repent, oh sinner, for God does not forsake the humble. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Is. 42:3). All those bloody and bludgeoned by the righteous commands of the Law God will heal, and all those dead in their trespasses and sins God will raise to new life. He will do it because His own dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but humbled Himself to become one with lowly sinners, taking His humanity from the lowly Virgin Mary, suffering scorn and shame, stricken, smitten, and afflicted, and finally nailed to the cross for our sin.
Jesus of Nazareth, Very God of Very God, became the lowest of the low for us lowly sinners and for our salvation. And for this reason, God, our Heavenly Father, no longer holds our sins against us. They have been paid for by His Son. Humanity has been lifted from its lowliness. We have been lifted from the pits of death and hell. It was the ultimate expression of love for fallen creation when God sent Jesus to dwell in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. The Ruler of heaven and earth was brought down from His throne that the humble might be lifted up, enthroned on high as kings and priests, a holy nation belonging to God.
God’s grace to Mary serves as a picture of His grace to the Church. Mary was nothing more than a typical Jewish maiden, a young woman, a virgin, pledged to be married to an older man named Joseph. Of herself, she was nothing special. There were hundreds just like her in Israel. Never would it have entered her mind that Almighty God would choose her to bear His only-begotten Son. Never would it have occurred to her that she would be the mother of the promised Messiah, the Mother of God. It was enough for her that a marriage had been arranged to a local carpenter, Joseph of Nazareth. She would be his wife and bear his children and live a rather inconsequential life in relation to the big picture of human history. She was a sinner among sinners, living each day in the grace and mercy of the God of Abraham, trusting that He would one day send a Savior to release Israel from their bondage to sin. And so it was with complete surprise that she received the salutation of the Angel Gabriel on that divinely appointed day: “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you” (Lk. 1:28). At this Mary was “greatly troubled,” for before her very eyes she beheld an angel of God. But the angel continued, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end” (vs. 30-33). So it was that the Holy Spirit came upon Mary and the power of the Most High overshadowed her and she was with child. The lowly Virgin was given the title “Mother of God,” and this she accepted in submission and humility. “I am the Lord’s servant… May it be to me as you have said” (v. 38).
Now is the gift of the Holy Seed of Mary given to the Church, this one holy Christian and apostolic Church made up of sinners among sinners, living each day in the grace and mercy of the God of Abraham, trusting in the Savior whom God has sent to release the Church from her bondage to sin. Here in the Church dwells the same Jesus who once made His dwelling in the womb of the Virgin. Here He imparts His gifts. Here He accomplishes His mighty deeds, scattering the proud and bringing low the rulers of men, lifting up the humble and filling the hungry with good things. He who was once lifted up on a cross now lifts us up to save us from the fires of hell. He whom God raised from the dead now lifts us up who have been drowned in the waters of Holy Baptism to a new life in Him. He leaves no repentant and burdened soul behind as He leads His people in exodus from their slavery. To each one of us He gives a new song. No longer do we sing our self-centered ditties. Now, along with Mary, we sing, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble estate of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed” (Lk. 1:46-48).
Mary’s song, called the Magnificat, remains on the lips of the Church today. Often sung during the offices of Vespers and Evening Prayer, the faithful continue to magnify the Lord for His mercies and His mighty deeds. It has always been so. In our Old Testament lesson, the Prophet Isaiah praises God in words remarkably similar to the Magnificat of Mary. He sings, “I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness” (Is. 61:10). Isaiah knew the salvation that was to come through Mary’s Son hundreds of years before Mary’s birth. And it was that salvation, the mercy of God in Jesus Christ that lifts hell-bound sinners into heaven, that was the basis of the song of Isaiah as well as that of Mary and that of the Church today.
We cannot help but sing. We cannot help but sing to the world concerning our Lord’s mercy which extends to all who fear Him. We cannot help but sing of the mighty deeds of His arm by which He raises up lowly sinners, granting them eternal life. Because of that song, all generations will call us blessed. And through the song of the Church, the Holy Spirit will work faith in the hearts of many more who do not yet know the mercy of God, whose lips are still polluted by self-glorifying songs of their own composition. Their songs, too, will be changed into glorious magnificats as they join their voices with the saints of all times and all places. They, too, will hear the life-giving Word of God. They, too, will be drowned and raised to new life in Holy Baptism. They, too, will receive the Holy Body and precious Blood of Christ at His altar where He gives Himself for us, for the remission of all our sins.
This morning we sang “of Mary, mother/ Fair maiden, full of grace./ She bore the Christ, our brother,/ Who came to save our race” (HS98 880:9). It is good and proper for the Church to sing of Mary, for not only is she the great example of humility before God, she is more importantly the mother of our Lord. But just as it was in the hymn verse, so it is that on this festival of St. Mary, our focus shifts from the Blessed Virgin to her most blessed Son. Mary wouldn’t have it any other way. It was not for her own glory that she sang the Magnificat, but for the glory of her Son, the Redeemer of the world. It is He alone who is the mediator between God and men, for He is both God and Man, Jesus, the Son of God. It is to Him alone that we give all praise and glory for Mary and all the saints, and especially for His sacrificial death and glorious resurrection which makes saints even of us. We sing in another song of the Church (a paraphrase of the Magnificat, in fact), “So praise with me the Holy One,/ Who cometh in humility./ Divine Redeemer, God’s own Son,/ Eternal glory be to Thee!” (TLH 275:6). Indeed, eternal glory be to Thee, oh, Lord, who humbled Yourself to be born of a Virgin; who united Yourself with lowly humanity, taking on our nature and our flesh; who took our sins upon Yourself, suffering hell and the cross that we might live; You who were raised again for our justification. May our songs ever sing of You. Amen.
Grant, we humbly pray, O Lord, to your servants the gift of your heavenly blessing that, as the Son of the virgin Mary has granted us salvation, we may daily grow in your favor; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
See also the great article on Mary over at Aardvark Alley, http://aardvarkalley.blogspot.com/