May 27, 2019

Sermon: Advent IV — Mary, Mother of God and Ultimate Matriarch of Our Faith

Madonna and Child. Romano

Sermon: Advent IV
Mary, Mother of God and Ultimate Matriarch of Our Faith (Luke 1:39-55)

• • •

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.

Comments

  1. Pellicano Solitudinis says

    “For known a blessed mother thou shalt be,
    All generations laud and honour thee;
    Thy son Son shall be Emmanuel, by seers foretold,
    Most highly favoured lady, Gloria!”

    Here’s a link to my favourite performance: https://youtu.be/KBp5Dt_9K-o

    I was born and raised a Calvinist, but my mother always had a soft spot for Mary, and she passed it on to me.

    • Susan Dumbrell says

      Good to see you Pellicano

      Merry Christmas.

      Susan

      • Susan Dumbrell says

        I have two of Maddy Priors CD’s.
        I love her interpretation of good hymns and songs.
        Rev Ross is blessing the beads tomorrow.

        Susan

        • Pellicano Solitudinis says

          Such a magnificent voice. I have “A Tapestry of Carols”, and “Sing Lustily With Good Courage” (mostly Methodist gallery hymns) as well as the rather more rumbustious “Hang Up Sorrow and Care”.

          I have sent you an e-mail, BTW.

        • Ah, Maddy Prior of Steeleye Span…

          • Had not thought of Steeleye Span in many years. An old scratchy album of theirs lies somewhere in my attic. The first time I heard their Gaudete on the radio, I was compelled to get the LP. Just now found a 2004 live version on You Tube. Whereas live versions of a band’s notable hits are often inferior, this one is wonderful and possibly better in some ways. Ex Maria virgine, gaudete

    • Pellicano Solitudinis,
      I’m Protestant now, but I was raised as a Roman Catholic in a Catholic family. While it’s true that my immediate family were nominal Catholics at worst, lukewarm in their occasional practice and observance of Catholicism at best, I received all my religious education in, and underwent the sacramental milestones of, the Catholic Church. And yet, unlike you, I have no soft spot or strong feeling of any kind for Mary. Thoughts like the ones in today’s blog post leave me untouched; it’s not that I want to dishonor Mary, it’s just that for me “there’s no there there.” Whenever I think about Mary, or have occasionally in the past prayed the Hail Mary, just to give it a shot, to see if I can engage a perhaps latent love of Mary in myself, it is just all thoughts for me, intellectual and/or pious froth, nothing that leaves or leads to any sense of connection with a living presence — and I’ve reached the point in my own understanding and practice of Christianity where I no longer believe what God has much interest on my thoughts or opinions, my pious attachments or understanding. Maybe I’m missing out, maybe I need to adopt a different attitude, but it just is not part of my spiritual make-up. It’s ironic that you have that special connection, though raised Calvinist, and I don’t though raised Catholic. But then, unlike your mother, mine exampled for me no great love of Mary; I suppose we need people we love to teach us these things, at least some of us do. Ah, well.

      • Susan Dumbrell says

        Robert,

        we love you.
        God loves you.
        Christ the Redeemer loves you.
        Enough said.

        Susan

        • Thank you, Susan.

        • Susan Dumbrell says

          We doubt and ask why
          Christ the Redeemer loves you
          what joy in heaven

          The Angels are already singing in practice for Christmas Day.
          Let us sing with them, Hallelujah
          He is born again for us and I guess Mary had a lot to do with it.
          Give her some credit.

          I see a trend here of women wanting equality and recognition in their modern world. I feel Mary would have fitted in very well to the modern women and her commitment to her family, work and humanity.
          She was full of grace as are so many mothers. My family are my joy and pleasure. I pray for them every day as I am sure did Mary for her Son. She and Joseph named him Emanuel, God with us.She knew he was destined for great things. She stood by him in his ministry and stood by him to watch his death on the cross. Dedication beyond belief. She deserves our thanks and praise.

          I hope you get the spirit of the season soon or it will pass you bye………………….

          I don’t want that for you,.

          Happy Christmas eves, eve.

          Susan

          • It may pass by, but it will come around again, and long before next Christmastide. For me and mine, this will have to be a Blue Christmas; I think the first Christmas was in many ways a Blue Christmas.

            • Susan Dumbrell says

              May the Star of Bethlehem shine through.
              It pointed the way for the wise men.

              My year has been ….. but the light of Christ has shone the way.
              Always something has brighten the path.

              You are always shining as you present haiku to us. So many new thoughts you give for us to consider.
              They are highlights in our weeks.

              Susan

            • Hello Robert,

              Christmas is a hard time for many people, especially those who grieve.
              But it can be a healing time also.

              Light a candle against the darkness and know that it is said also, this:
              God will enter into even the smallest space we make for Him.

              Be comforted.

      • Robert, let me share about when I first began to understand and appreciate having feelings for Mary. At The Abbey of Gethsemani, the final evening prayer service is my favorite.it is so peaceful and beautiful, a wonderfully satisfying “goodnight” as the community prays and prepares to rest. Near the end of the service, before we all walk forward for a blessing, the lights are dimmed and candles highlight a banner with an icon of Mary. A beautiful prayer of tribute to her is sung. I felt as though I was being tucked into bed with maternal love and saying goodnight to my Mother. And I realized that my Protestant faith was lacking an essential part of the human experience. In all our emphasis on Father, Son, and Spirit, a appropriate feminine side to my faith was missing. We have been critical here at IM of today’s evangelicals for eroticizing Jesus and I think this vacuum may explain why they do. Mary as a feminine, maternal presence to honor, venerate, and adore meets a need in the human heart that Protestants know little of.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          And I realized that my Protestant faith was lacking an essential part of the human experience. In all our emphasis on Father, Son, and Spirit, a appropriate feminine side to my faith was missing. We have been critical here at IM of today’s evangelicals for eroticizing Jesus and I think this vacuum may explain why they do.

          It also explains the Toxic Hypermasculintiy (“Complementarianism” in Christianese) you find threaded through a LOT of One True Churches/Cults. WIthout “an appropriate feminine side to my faith”, what else is there than “ME MAN! RAWR! GOD SAITH!”?

          And it fits in to “eroticizing Jesus” to the point that “wet sloppy kiss” CCM is real popular in the gay community. Long ago I realized that a Hypermasculine Male-Supremacist culture will always feel a pull towards male-male homoerotica; if women are subhuman objects, how else can you Make Hot Steaming Love to another Person? Yet that requires one of the two to be The Woman, i.e. The Penetrated. Which is intolerable to Real Men(TM). So such a culture will also feel a “homophobic/homopathic” revulsion to the only Person-Person sex their culture permits. A truly Love/Hate Relationship.

        • I’m glad you had such a spiritually nourishing introduction to, and subsequent relationship with Mary, CM. It’s not like I haven’t been to many a Catholic mass, and High Church Episcopal service, wherein Mary was honored and adored. Growing up Catholic it was of course common participate in veneration and invocation of Mary at our local parish, on the occasions when we were there; the Episcopal convent where my wife and I were regular visitors and retreatants, and where we were married (before we were married, my wife became a member of the convent’s associated lay order, and even had explored the possibility of having a vocation), included Mary prominently in its Daily Offices and other worship services; I remember some years ago attending a mass at the Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin in NYC, where the Angelus concludes every service, at Christmastime. I just never could make the connection, though I tried earnestly on more than one occasion.

        • I think that Mary as the feminine expression of God, and the feminine aspect of Christian faith, gets wrecked for me by the fact that both are centered in her motherhood. Jesus was not a father, and it would be hard to express how important that is for my own ability to feel his relationality to me; in certain important ways, this primary among them, Jesus was a fringe-dweller, and his humanity included an openness to all human beings not predicated on fatherhood or other normal social roles. Motherhood, or fatherhood for that matter, are not social roles that help me to understand or realize my relation to God; even God as Father, apart from his revelation in Jesus Christ, is not a symbol my faith can find light in.

  2. Susan Dumbrell says

    Hail Mary, full of grace, The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst 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

  3. solstice come and gone
    winter’s here for the long haul
    and in no hurry

  4. Steve Newell says

    Mary is one of the most significant person in Jesus’ life and we tend to minimize her role. Beyond his birth, Mary was there at Jesus’ first miracle, at his death, most likely she saw him after the resurrection, and she was part of the early Church. St. John was given the charge of caring for Mary while Jesus was dying on the cross.

    Mary is our example of faith.

    Sadly, many have gone to the extreme of minimizing Mary’s role as a reaction to many in the Roman Church over playing her role.

    • I’ve heard it said when it comes to Mary, if Catholics are guilty of over emphasis, Protestants are guilty of amnesia.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        To the point where St Mary is reduced to just “a theologically-necessary piece of equipment” for the Birth of Christ.

    • Hello Steve Newell,

      you wrote, this:
      ” St. John was given the charge of caring for Mary while Jesus was dying on the cross.”

      yes, and I like to think Our Lord, when He said ‘behold thy mother’, also gave John over into Mary’s care, the faithful mother who would not leave Him in extremis, though it broke her heart

      there is a reason why Catholics ask Mary to pray for them ‘at the hour of our death’ as she was there with Him at the hour of His and she would not leave Him to die without her near

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Sadly, many have gone to the extreme of minimizing Mary’s role as a reaction to many in the Roman Church overplaying her role.

      “If we stand only because Enemy Christians kneel, that is Protestantism taken to its most sterile extreme.”
      Evangelical is Not Enough

  5. Ronald Avra says

    Prayers for grace and peace to all for this next week.

  6. In my wilderness journey, I am still at the beginnings of appreciating the mystery of Mary, so I won’t comment much there. At this point, I am studying teachings of Orthodox fathers as well as RC teachings. .

    But, in my Lutheran service this morning, the sermon was insightful, but the words of the two Mary based songs were horrendous.

  7. Thank you, Chaplain Mike. Hope you got to read Fr Stephen’s recent post “Don’t Panic – It’s Just the Mother of God.”

    Robert, I think Mary’s motherhood is valued so much (in the ancient Church, anyhow) because our relationship with our mothers normally has nothing whatsoever to do with sexual expression or the need to reproduce for the survival of the species (notwithstanding that it takes sexual expression for us to have mothers, but run with me here…). It is something that is “beyond nature” in that sense. It is very paradoxical, which to me always points to deep truth about reality, whether I can understand it or not. Christ the GodMan is divinely begotten of the Father without a (goddess) mother, and is born of a Virgin without a human father. There is a love involved that is not dependent on being born “of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God” (Jn 1.13) just as we are born into his Kingdom.

    Mary wouldn’t force you to love her; I hope you do come to some kind of regard for her. God prepared her, at least as much as he prepared the Prophets. Simply any good Jewish girl would not have done.

    Sending a hug to you in your blueness. It’s a tough holiday for so many.

    Dana

    • Dana, I have regard for Mary, but not the regard that tradition tells me I should. She is a fellow creature and human being, first among apostles and disciples of her son, redeemed by Lord Jesus. I find plenty in Jesus of the “feminine” attributes of God; he more than suffices as my divine Mother — and in this regard his singleness and childlessness were essential to his identity and work; he is also the only image of Father that I can begin to grasp by faith.