Sermon: Advent IV
Mary, Mother of God and Ultimate Matriarch of Our Faith (Luke 1:39-55)
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Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed…
• Luke 1:48
It’s that time of year again. Time for we who are Protestants to talk about Mary.
Unlike our Catholic or Orthodox brothers and sisters, we who come from the Evangelical and Reformed traditions tend to ignore or downplay Jesus’ mother. In church history that has mostly been a reaction to what many of us have perceived as an overemphasis or even heretical devotion to Mary by the Roman church and other traditions.
In the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions, Mary receives attention all throughout the year in various ways. However, for children of the Reformation, the Advent and Christmas season is one of the few times we hear her name or think of her story.
But the Gospel of Luke will not let us ignore Mary or downplay her part in the unfolding drama of redemption. As he tells his story, Luke gives her great honor, portraying her as the ultimate matriarch of our faith. Mary joins and surpasses other women of faith in the Bible — Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah, Ruth, and Hannah — and is presented as the final Mother of God’s promises, the faithful woman through whom God brought his redemption promises to pass.
Mary’s song here in Luke 1, known as The Magnificat, draws from the song of another woman who bore an important child. Her name was Hannah, and her story and song is found in the early chapters of 1 Samuel. Hannah gave birth to the great prophet Samuel and then sang a song in which she praised God for the gift of a son and the greater promise of a king for Israel. That promise came to pass in King David. Later God reiterated that promise and said David’s line would produce a future King of kings. “The Lord will judge the ends of the earth,” Hannah sang, “He will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his Messiah.”
Mary’s song here in Luke 1 revisits these same themes. She praises God for giving his son, the greater son of David, who will reign as King over all the earth. Her words recognize that what God is doing in and through her is nothing less than the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham, that through his offspring all the nations on earth will be blessed. The part she plays is so significant that she sings, “Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.”
Mary’s unprecedented blessedness happens in a context of significant obstacles. All the stories of the matriarchs in the Bible have this theme.
Think again of women like Sarah, Rachel, Tamar, Rahab, or Ruth. They suffered the inability to conceive children. They had conflicts within their families. They had to endure poverty. Some of them were marked by society with sinful reputations. All of them lacked power and were marginalized in their male-dominated societies. All of these women, these mothers who bore God’s children of promise and advanced his plan of redemption fought serious uphill battles and had to learn through much hardship and heartbreak to trust God to work in their lives.
And here we have Mary, another unlikely candidate to be one of God’s heroines. Think of it:
- Mary was probably a young teenager at the time, limited by her age.
- Her pregnancy before marriage marked her as an immoral, unwed mother-to-be.
- She was forced to travel to Bethlehem in the last days of her pregnancy by the decree of an unfeeling government that cared only about keeping its records straight.
- Away from her home and family, Mary could not even obtain a comfortable place to bear her child.
- A short time later, according to Matthew’s Gospel, she and Joseph and young child had to hit the road again, this time as refugees to Egypt, running for their lives.
- Finally, as we read the ongoing stories of Mary throughout the Gospel, we see that she struggled to grasp the magnitude of what had happened to her and the significance of the one she bore.
Despite all these difficulties, Mary continued in faith to the end.
Many times throughout her life, the powers of the world overshadowed, pressured, and threatened this woman. Yet in her song here Mary expresses what people of faith in all generations have learned — God is not with those who wield earthly power. His heart is with those who look to him in simple faith and entrust their destiny to him.
Mary is the true and ultimate matriarch of our faith. Though there are many women saints in the Bible, she excels them all. Every generation should call her uniquely blessed. How sad that our discussions about Mary have so often focused on dogma and disagreement when there is so much we can admire about Mary together. I agree with my friend, NT scholar Scot McKnight, who says that honoring and respecting Mary always leads us to Jesus.
Martin Luther honored Mary highly. He held her in high esteem for her role in God’s salvation plan. Though he had many objections to Catholic teachings and practices, he continued to hold beliefs about Mary that many Protestants have rejected as Catholic additions, such as Mary’s immaculate conception and perpetual virginity. Luther venerated Mary as the Theotokos (The Mother of God), and said that Christians should likewise consider her their “spiritual Mother.”
Luther called Mary the
…highest woman and the noblest gem in Christianity after Christ . . . She is nobility, wisdom, and holiness personified. We can never honor her enough. (Sermon, Christmas, 1531)
And so, as we prepare for the Feast of the Nativity, when we welcome the Holy Child Mary bore, may God grant us grace to give also special honor to his Mother, and may we learn follow her example of faith, contemplation, and worship not only at Christmas, but throughout the year to come. Amen.