Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Advent Mid-Week 2

Advent Mid-Week 2
December 12, 2007
Text: Luke 1:26-56

Our Advent Mid-Week devotions on the Holy Family continue this week with Mary, the Mother of our Lord.

Why are Lutherans so cautious when it comes to the Virgin Mary? What is it about her that Lutherans are so afraid to honor? Have you ever seen a Lutheran Church named St. Mary’s? I’ve only seen one, and it wasn’t an LCMS congregation. We have a lot of congregations named for St. Paul and St. Peter and St. John and St. James, and all the other saints for that matter. But we have almost no congregations named for St. Joseph or St. Mary. Why is that?

You may have your own suspicions, or you may even have your own reasons for shying away from honoring St. Mary, but my suspicion is that Lutherans are cautious when it comes to Mary because any impression that she is being honored or given too much attention sounds too Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. Beloved, if we sons and daughters of the Lutheran Reformation have given up St. Mary as a possession of others, and if we who belong to the Church of the Augsburg Confession have divorced Mary from her role in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, it is a dirty, rotten shame! Shame on us. While we are right to guard against the Marian abuses that have taken hold in Roman Catholicism and even Eastern Orthodoxy, such as devotion to Mary and prayer to her, or regarding her as some sort of mediatrix who makes her Son Jesus favorably disposed toward us, we must repent if we have neglected to properly honor her.

We must never forget that great grace was given to St. Mary that she should be the mother of our Lord, the agent by which God became man! The ancients rightly called her Theotokos, the “Mother of God.” She is the mother of the God-Man, Jesus Christ, our Savior. It was to her that the angel Gabriel declared, “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” (Luke 1:30-33). God was gracious to Mary in appointing her womb to bear the Son of God and Savior of the world.

Yet God did not bestow this grace upon Mary because of any merit or worthiness in her. Grace, by definition, cannot be given on the basis of inherent worthiness. Grace is God’s unmerited favor on account of Christ. Mary was a sinner like you and me. But God, in His infinite wisdom, chose her to bear the Messiah. And there is no doubt that, while Mary is just as much a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness as you and I, she is among the saints who we should hold up as examples to emulate. You’ll recall what the Augsburg Confession says about the saints: “It is also taught among us that saints should be kept in remembrance so that our faith may be strengthened when we see what grace they received and how they were sustained by faith. Moreover, their good works are to be an example for us, each of us in his own calling” (AC XXI:1; Tappert, p. 46).

Like Joseph, Mary chiefly serves as an example for us in her hearing of, belief in, and obedience to the Word of the Lord. Notice how the initial objections of her reason to the angel’s message immediately give way to trust in God’s promise. “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34), Mary asks. The angel replies that this Child will be conceived by the Holy Spirit. “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” (v. 35). Notice how quickly Mary dismisses all human reason when it comes into conflict with God’s Word. “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (v. 38).

God grant that every Christian place such confidence in God’s Word, that their faith can overcome even the most reasonable of human objections. God grant us all the faith of Mary. Her belief and obedience to the Word is an example for all of us. And our faith is strengthened when we see God’s abundant grace to Mary and all humanity in electing her to bear the Holy Son of God in the flesh. Our faith is strengthened when we see how God provides for Mary, even as she bears the holy cross of scorn and shame for being found pregnant out of wedlock, circumstances which cause her to arise and go with haste to the hill country of Judah to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Our faith is strengthened as we see how God provides for her, even as she bears the holy cross of hard travel to Bethlehem to be registered and taxed with Joseph, and when she arrives, there is no room in the inn for the woman in labor. God provides a stable, the first palace of the Almighty King. We see how God provides her with escape to Egypt when Herod is seeking to murder her holy Child. And we see how God provides for her even as the sword pierces her motherly soul when her Son is crucified. Even then, as she bears the holy cross of watching her Son die on the cross, God provides for Mary. “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (John 19:26-27). Our faith is strengthened because we see in God’s providence for Mary and the Holy Family that God also provides for us, strengthens us, upholds us, even in the very midst of cross-bearing, even in the very midst of the worst suffering imaginable. Mary is upheld by God’s grace and sustained by her God-given faith. And so are you. So am I. God’s grace for Mary is also His grace for us.

For Mary is the vessel by which God delivers His grace in the flesh to a world lost in sin and death. We bow in reverence when we confess that Jesus “was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man” (Nicene Creed), when we confess that God the Son humbled Himself to be united with our flesh and born of a Virgin, born under the Law to redeem those who are under the Law, that we might be called sons of God. He had to be born of Mary, He had to be flesh, in order to suffer our punishment, to be crucified and die for the forgiveness of our sins. In being gracious to Mary, God is gracious to us. In sending Mary a Son, He sent Mary and us a Savior.

So don’t banish St. Mary from your hearts and minds. Don’t surrender her to the piety of Roman Catholicism, as if she had no place in Lutheran piety. She is the mother of our Lord. Honor her. Look to her as an example of faith and as a model for all of our mothers. Don’t pray to her or invoke her, but thank and praise God for her. And follow her instructions regarding her Son to the servants at the wedding in Cana: “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). She is pointing you to Christ. Believe in Him. Believe His Word. Obey His Word. Receive His unending gifts and the benefits of His cross. Mary points us away from herself and to her Son Jesus. He is your Savior and the one mediator between God and men.

There is a beautiful Advent hymn in our hymnal, number 356 if you want to look at it, which I have not yet introduced here at Epiphany because it is a little difficult. In it we sing of Mary as a “Most highly favored lady.” We close with the fourth verse of that hymn: “Of her, Emmanuel, the Christ was born In Bethlehem all on a Christmas morn, And Christian folk throughout the world will ever say: ‘Most highly favored lady.’ Gloria!” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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