ADVENT 4, C – December 23, 2018

SCRIPTURES – Micah 5:2-5; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45

When Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Luke 1

 

Our Gospel reading on this day, right before the celebration of Christmas, is very apropos. For, just as so many of us have traveled to be with family, so also Mary. She traveled to be with her cousin Elizabeth and rejoice in their remarkable pregnancies.

Their meeting, we’re told, was itself remarkable. But: did Elizabeth make too much of Mary? She cried out, “Blessed are you among women! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” If she had known what would be claimed of Mary over the course of time, maybe she would have spoken with a little more reserve! I mean, consider what has been made of Mary. She is depicted in paintings and pictures with a crown on her head. Mary, Queen of heaven, ruling with her Son! She is shown with a halo, or shining… as if she is pure and holy, unstained by the sins that stain us all! And that is indeed what some say about her. And then, there’s this prayer, which is prayed nearly as much as the Lord’s Prayer:

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

What should we do with this; with Mary?

Well, consider what our Lutheran forefathers wrote 500 years ago, when the devotion to Mary was far more ardent than it is now:

“Granted, the blessed Mary prays for the Church. Does she receive souls in death? Does she conquer death? Does she make alive? What does Christ do if the blessed Mary does these things? Although she is most worthy of the most plentiful honors, yet she does not want to be made equal to Christ. Instead she wants us to consider and follow her example.” (Apology to the Augsburg Confession, XXI, 27)

Mary prays for the Church; that is Lutheran teaching. It is not based upon devotion to Mary, but upon Scriptures such as Rev. 5:8 & 6:10, which speak of the believers in heaven (and Mary is surely one of them) praying for God’s justice to be done on earth. She ismost worthy of the most plentiful honors,” for the Holy Spirit prompted Elizabeth to call her “blessed among women.” So: how do we rightly bless Mary, and so bless our Lord? Martin Luther, in his writing, The Magnificat (Luther’s Works, vol. 21), considered Mary in the light of the words she spoke in response to her cousin Elizabeth’s greeting. Luther wrote:

“     How ought one to address [Mary]? Keep [her] words [“He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden” (Luke 1:48)] in mind, and they will teach you to say: “O blessed Virgin, Mother of God, you were nothing and all despised; yet God in His grace regarded you and worked such great things in you. You were worthy of none of them, but the rich and abundant grace of God was upon you, far above any merit of yours. Hail to you! Blessed are you, from thenceforth and forever, in finding such a God.”…

Blessed are you in finding such a God. In Mary we see the grace and goodness of God, and not of Mary, revealed! When you think of Mary, see God’s grace and His work! That is what Elizabeth saw. “Why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” she cried. The Lord Himself was coming to Elizabeth – in the lowliness and weakness of a developing fetus barely a few weeks of age, and so in grace and mercy. That is what the Holy Spirit enabled Elizabeth to realize. This is what we are all to see. In calling Mary the Mother of God we honor her Son, and God’s mercy in sending Him to us as our Savior.

And yet, we also call her lowly – a regular person; even a sinner, just like you and me – for that is how she refers to herself. She calls herself lowly, God’s handmaiden, for she knows that she is a sinner, just like you and me. If you exalt Mary over yourself you will make God seem distant. If you see her as like yourself – which is how she wants you to see her – you can then better see God as close to you. Luther puts it this way: “She does not want you to come to her, but through her to God.”

     “In proportion as we ascribe merit and worthiness to [Mary], we lower the grace of God… she thrusts [praise] from her and would have us honor God in her and come through her to a good confidence in His grace.

      Whoever, therefore, would show her the proper honor must not regard her alone and by herself, but set her in the presence of God and far beneath Him, must there strip her of all honor, and regard her low estate, as she says; he should then marvel at the exceedingly abundant grace of God, who regards, embraces, and blesses so poor and despised a mortal. Thus regarding her, you will be moved to love and praise God for His grace, and drawn to look for all good things to Him, who does not reject but graciously regards poor and despised and lowly mortals. Thus your heart will be strengthened in faith and love and hope.” (LW 21:322)

As God looked upon her with mercy, so in her Son He looks upon you. This means that in Jesus God does not see your sins but sees you as His beautiful, faithful child; and so He blesses you.

And, what about when you are blessed? How should you feel when good things come to you? When you are praised for the good you do, or the good in you, what should you say? Let she who is blessed among women lead you! Mary responded to Elizabeth, “He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.” And so, Luther writes:

“When men accord us praise and honor, we ought to profit by the example of the Mother of God and at all times arm ourselves with her words to make the proper reply and to use such praise and honor correctly. We should openly say, or at least think in our heart: “O Lord God, Yours is this work that is being praised and celebrated. Yours be also the name. Nor have I done it but You, who are able to do all things, and holy is Your name.” (LW 21:330)

It is not you or I – or Mary – who are worthy or holy, but our great and good God. But, He is at work for, within, and through His believers! Praise Him for this.

What should we do with Mary? May what Ambrose, the 4th century bishop of Milan, wrote be true for each of us:

“Let the soul of Mary be in each of you, so that it magnifies the Lord. Let the spirit of Mary be in each of you, so that it rejoices in God. She is the one mother of Christ according to the flesh, yet Christ is the fruit of all according to faith.”

To the glory of God the Father and of Jesus, Son of God and son of Mary. Amen.