St. Mary, Mother of God
One of the great blessings we have in being a liturgical church and following the Church Year calendar is that we have days like today--days in which we remember the saints. As we remember the saints, that great cloud of witnesses that the apostle [Hb 12.1] says surrounds us, it is a great encouragement to us because there we see what great things God worked in and through them; there we see regular people like you and me whom God has brought safely through this life to Himself in heaven; there we see--not plaster saints-- but real people, true sinners, people with great weaknesses and true struggles and now yet, by the Lord’s grace they are in heaven. We are encouraged in our Christian life as we see their struggles and yet how they continued to rely on our Lord’s help, grace and Spirit and so we can strive to imitate them and their faith. And so as we remember the saints, we give our gracious Lord thanks for His mercy to them and to us and we are strengthened to continue on in the faith and to continue on, assured of our Lord’s mercy to us.
This is no less the case with the saint we remember today--St. Mary, the Mother of God. She, too, is one of the faithful of that great cloud of witnesses. And she had a very special, wonderful, unique one of a kind role--she, a woman born at a certain place and in a certain period of time of human history, is the Mother of the one, eternal God. That means, that as we today remember St. Mary, we are also remembering her very special role and it means that we are remembering that great mystery of our holy Christian faith: that Jesus is both the true, eternal God, the Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity and also true man, born of St. Mary, at a certain time and place in human history to be our Savior.
As we remember St. Mary today, our attention is drawn primarily to her Son, Jesus, the God-man, and our Savior from sin. That’s why her “title”, Mother of God, is so vital. It is a title that from the early days of her history, the Church has recognized as rightly belonging to her. If Mary is not the Mother of God, then who is Jesus?
All throughout her history, the devil has attacked the Christian Church precisely on this point: who is Jesus? Even though Holy Scripture is very clear that Jesus is both true 100% God and true 100% man in one Person, various false teachers arose in the Church denying this. One of them was a man in the 5th century named Nestorius. He said there is a “divine” Jesus and a “human” Jesus --so, if you will 2 Jesuses-- and these divine and human natures of Jesus had nothing to do with each other; they were like two boards glued together. There was no communion between the two--the divine Jesus did one thing; the human Jesus did another. But, in accord with Scripture we believe that there is a communion between Jesus’ divine and human nature because there is one Person of Jesus--who is both true God and true man. That means that when Jesus was hungry, not just the man was hungry but God was hungry; when Jesus died on the cross, not just man died on the cross but God died there. And so, who was born of Mary? --Not just the man, Jesus, but God--because the one Person of Jesus is both man and God. Mary did not just bear Jesus’ human nature but she bore the God-man, just as the holy angel Gabriel announced to her [St. Lk. 1.35]: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.
The Church met in 431 in Ephesus to examine Scripture and in light of Scripture to hammer out exactly who Jesus is. The Church condemned the error of Nestorius, in part saying: Mary brought forth, according to the flesh, the Word of God made flesh. In other words, Jesus born of Mary is the God-man; true God and true man in one Person. That’s why we call St. Mary “Mother of God.” Our Lutheran Confessions are very clear [F.C. Ep. VIII, 12]: So we believe, teach, and confess that Mary conceived and bore not merely a man and no more, but God’s true Son. Therefore, she also is rightly called and truly is “the Mother of God.”
Today, as we celebrate “St. Mary, Mother of God” we are following our Lutheran Confessions which tell us [Ap. XXI, 27]: Even though [St. Mary] is worthy of the highest honors, she does not want to be put on the same level as Christ but to have her example considered and followed. Perhaps the best way to consider and follow St. Mary is to spend a few moments today reflecting on part of her hymn of praise, the Magnificat.
Mary spoke the Magnificat, after the angel Gabriel announced to her that she would be the mother of the Savior, Jesus, the God-man. Mary goes to visit her relative St. Elisabeth, who was pregnant with St. John the Baptizer, the forerunner of Jesus. Elisabeth greets Mary in a loud voice: Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? And Mary begins: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior… If you have a bible that gives cross references, I would encourage you to look at Mary’s Magnificat and note all the OT references and allusions it has; look at how similar its thoughts and phrases are to many psalms; look at how similar it is to other OT hymns of praise like Hannah’s, the mother of the prophet Samuel. What does this show us but that Mary was very familiar and very “at home” with the OT. All of the OT psalms sung in honor of the coming Savior gave her the thoughts and phrases for this great hymn of praise. Keep in mind that when Mary received the news from the angel Gabriel she was in the north in Nazareth; she then goes to visit Elisabeth in the south. She certainly walked that almost 100 miles, taking a number of days. And what was she doing while she was walking? --Reflecting on the message of Gabriel that she would be the Mother of God; reflecting on passages from the OT about the Savior; pondering and reflecting on all these things. Deep in her heart, Mary was pondering these divine deeds and looking at them with wonder and thanks. And when she speaks, she says: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior… Her heart overflows with what’s in it! That’s the joy of faith!
Yes, we will never be the Mother of God--Mary has already done that--but as our Lutheran Confessions suggest, let us consider and follow her example. Here we see her familiarity with Scripture. So well has this poor, illiterate young woman absorbed and taken in the Scripture that she is at home and familiar with it. Obviously she was raised in a pious home and taught the faith and brought to the festivals. Can’t that be us, too? Can’t we parents teach the holy faith to our children and raise them in a home where our Lord and His word are central and permeate? Can’t we, like Mary, become more at home in Scripture? We’re literate and we have bibles in our homes! Shouldn’t we be reading and pondering them? Let’s take advantage of our weekly memory verse challenge. Let’s memorize our catechism readings. Let’s take a verse each day from our Sunday readings or our daily devotion and reflect and meditate on that verse. As we fill our homes and hearts with the things of God and His word, what a good foundation we have when the devil and world attack our faith. What great joy flows from this faith!
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. In the joy of faith, we say great and glorious things about the Lord--not just with our mouths as hypocrites can do, but, considering and following St. Mary, we magnify the Lord with all our heart, strength and spirit because we, dear Christian, have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit--we know God Himself as our Savior and His grace and mercy rightly. And the joy of faith then changes everything for us. Our whole life and being is now directed to the glorification of God our Savior. In the joy of faith, we do not want anything for ourself; in all that we do we strive to give honor to God. In other words--God, not self, is the center and focus of our life. That’s a whole change and reordering of life but that’s precisely what the joy of faith does. From the bottom of our hearts we love God and want to serve Him; He--and not our sinful desires and passions-- becomes the focus of our lives and this is freeing and liberating; His will becomes our will--because why? He is God, my Savior! We strive all the more against sin and temptation as we strive to magnify and glorify God in all we do. Even when we fail and sin, even sinning grievously, we still glorify God by going to Him in faith and repentance seeking His grace, mercy and forgiveness.
Our great joy and comfort is this: For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant. What does the Lord do? He “regards”/ “looks upon” in grace our lowliness. What Mary praises here is not her lowliness or humility--that would be a self-righteous statement: because I’m so humble, that’s why God looked upon me--but God’s grace/ His regard for her. Mary admits her lowly state. There was nothing worthy in her for the Lord to regard her in any way--she wasn’t one of the high and mighty in the world--yet He looked upon her and sent the holy angel Gabriel to her to announce to her that she would be the mother of the Savior, the mother of God. When God regarded her/ looked upon her, the condition of the lowly maidservant changed drastically. Mary says: For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. She praises God’s grace toward her. As she accepted Gabriel’s message, God gave her the highest honor conceivable for any woman--an honor for which she, the lowly maidservant, will always be remembered: the Mother of God. When she realizes that descendants of peoples and races to the end of the world will call her blessed, Mary honors and adores God’s grace and power.
We have great joy in our faith, dear Christian, because as God has looked in grace upon Mary in her lowliness, He too looks upon us in our lowliness as slaves to sin, devil, death and hell. And what does God do? Through faith in Mary’s Son--which He works in us by His Holy Spirit through His holy word and sacrament--He rescues us from our sin, guilt and damnation. We receive these gifts of grace and rescue, through faith. Though we are unworthy in any way for the Lord to look upon us, He does and gives us every heavenly and spiritual blessing in Christ. Like Mary’s situation was completely reversed--from lowly maidservant to all generations calling her blessed--so too is ours: from slave to sin, death and devil to dear child of God and heir of heaven. What joy we have as we receive them in faith.
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. Mary knows that God is her Savior. She received in simple faith the message of the angel: that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. She from her faithful and diligent study and reflection on the OT knows that God Himself is the spiritual hope of Israel and all people. Not only does God my Savior rescue from physical calamity, but His is saving power in spiritual matters. That’s why He is the Savior of the world; from Him flows rescue from sin, guilt and damnation. She knows God’s plan for her Son, that He is true man and true God and the Savior of the world, and so she says: And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. Because of Jesus----God could show mercy--love toward those who are in misery because of their sin--to those in the past and now to us and all people after us. With St. Mary, each of us Christians can say in the joy of faith: He who is mighty has done great things for me. INJ