Sunday, August 15, 2010

St. Mary, Mother of God Sermon -- Luke 1:39-55

August 15, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA


And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”


The elderly woman’s cry of praise confesses the unique identity of the Galilean maiden. Elizabeth’s visitor is no ordinary woman, at least not now. Once she had been so. Once she had been nothing more than a village girl in Nazareth. She was one of the Lord’s chosen people, a participant in the divine covenant, but so were most of her fellow residents. Her family had a connection to the priestly line of Israel, but it is her kinswoman Elizabeth who enjoys most of those benefits. Nothing extraordinary is found in the nature of this visitor from the north, she of “humble estate.”


But what comes forth from Elizabeth’s mouth? A declaration is given that is anything but ordinary. The priest’s wife does not welcome her visitor with a customary greeting. Instead, she is given divine words to speak: “And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry.” She is given to prophesy, to speak authoritatively. And the authoritative message is given as a blessing: “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?” This is spoken of the Virgin Mary, whose festival day the Church celebrates today.


Elizabeth’s prophetic statement shows the uniqueness that Mary has been given. Of all women who have existed—past, present, or future—she is the most blessed, the one chosen to be the God-Bearer, the Mother of God. Her blessed state comes from the One whom she carries within her: “Blessed is the fruit of your womb!” The maiden of Nazareth has within her the Son of the Most High God, the One who would bring salvation to her and to the world. She is the vessel from whom the Lord God makes Himself present in His fallen creation to deliver it from the curse of sin. That any of this even transpires is a matter of divine grace and mercy. And that divine grace and mercy manifested in the person and work of Jesus Christ is the message of this day, even the festival day dedicated to Mary.


Elizabeth’s blessing engages this topic of grace. After speaking of Mary and the pre-born Christ she bears, Elizabeth continues with a statement about herself: “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Note the glad surprise, the joyous shock within this believer. She has no expectation that she should be a participant in any such event. Her words reveal her thoughts: she sees it as a gift. “And why to me this?” she asks. Why indeed? Is it something that she has done? No, it is an honor that Elizabeth receives as part of the divine, merciful act of salvation being brought to the world.


The favor received by Elizabeth is an extension of the divine mercy that St. Paul described to the Galatians: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” In “the fullness of time,” the priest’s wife was divinely chosen to be the mother of the Christ’s forerunner; here in that same “fullness of time,” she has been granted the favor of having that Christ in her presence. “The fruit of [Mary’s] womb” brings salvation, and Elizabeth is a recipient of it.


But in the house on the Judean hillside that day, there is another one who is blessed with mercy and grace. Mary herself is also a recipient of divine salvation. She is saved through childbirth, through the Son that she bears in her womb. The Maiden of Nazareth is chosen to be the Mother of God. That blessed and unique state is granted to her. She does not acquire it for herself; the Lord God’s work makes it so. It is the fulfillment of His will completed in “the fullness of time.” As the Lord God determined it to be so, Mary receives the assistance of Him who was born of her, born under the Law, to redeem her who was under the Law.


Elizabeth’s prophetic greeting ended with a statement about Mary’s blessedness. Note the words very carefully: “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Do you see the source of Mary’s blessedness? It is found in what was spoken to her, in the heavenly word that performs what it declares. And as she believed it, as the Holy Spirit came to her and kindled faith in the divine declaration delivered by the Angel Gabriel, Mary receives her status. Through that performative word, Mary is made to be “the blessed among women.”


That truth is what Mary confesses in her statement of praise. Many of you know the words well, as you have spoken them in the Church’s evening prayers: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked on the humble estate of His servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.” Note what the Blessed Virgin says: she exalts the Lord and finds gladness in Him because of His actions. He has elevated her. He has given her a blessed status. A majestic and powerful thing has been done for her: life exists where it should not, given by the Living One, God Himself.


But Mary’s song of praise is not simply a testimony about what she has received. No, there is more. Her lyrics declare a divine promise for you. Hear it again: “And His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation.” The statement is about the Lord’s mercy: grace and favor are meant for more than the God-Bearer and the priest’s wife who welcomes her. The Lord’s mercy is given to a much greater segment of people: all those who fear the Lord, those who believe who He is, how He considers people, and what He does for them. The Maiden’s words confirm what her relative said about her blessed state: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”


This connection between blessedness and belief is at the heart of the Scriptures. The entire story of salvation is about those who have trusted in the Lord’s promises from the very beginning of time to the present day. The prophet speaks about them: “Their offspring shall be known among the nations, and their descendants in the midst of the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are an offspring the Lord has blessed.” Strewn throughout the generations of humanity are the names of those who have feared the Lord, including those mentioned last Sunday: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Sarah. Out of all people of the earth, they were chosen by the Lord, His Word kindling faith in them. So they trusted His great promises, receiving His mercy by fearing Him. They recognized Him as their source of eternal benefits, believing that what He desired would be fulfilled for them.


You also have been divinely called into that line of believers. The statement in Mary’s song applies to you: “[The Lord’s] mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation.” Like the Maiden of Nazareth, a divine word has been spoken to you. That word declared to you what “the fruit of [Mary’s] womb” has done for you: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” That is the salvation you have been chosen to receive. It is what the truly divine and truly human Son of Mary has achieved through His obedience of the Divine Law that you could not keep, through His offering of His life to offer payment that you could not remit, through His rising to life again that brings you out from under the curse of everlasting death. That is the full measure of “His mercy for those who fear Him from generation to generation.”


And so you participate with Mary in a blessed state. Mary’s being the Mother of God is unique to her. But like her, you also have been elevated out of the humility of sin and imperfection. You have been brought from total iniquity into holiness. You have been filled with the Holy Spirit. This is part of the divine merciful work done for you: “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” The apostle’s words echo Mary’s testimony about the Lord’s powerful acts: “He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent empty away.”


What motivates the Lord’s actions? Divine love, grace, and compassion. You see the character of your God in this great event. He promises you that He would do so, just as He promised those of previous generations. Mary’s bearing of His Son into the world is the fulfillment of those promises: “He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” The Lord sees your need and meets it. That He makes a maiden the Mother of God shows His great power. That He would even dare to make sinners His heirs shows the greatness of His merciful generosity. That He actually does so shows His great faithfulness.


The Lord’s promise of a Savior has been fulfilled, so you might receive adoption as sons. That status is not what you achieved; it has been granted to you. Like He did for the Virgin Mary, the Mighty One has graciously done great things for His people. You have received the benefits of Christ’s act of salvation through Holy Baptism, through hearing His Word of forgiveness, and through His sacred meal. As Christ’s Church, His people, faithfully participates in these things, then Elizabeth’s and Mary’s statements stand true even in this day: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord. . . . His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation.”


T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

1 comment:

Sanchez said...

Thanks for this entry.
I also found an interesting article about the Dormition/Assumption providing a broad perspective on the feast’s history and the various ways it is observed. Worth checking out: http://dstp.cba.pl/?p=2399