Sunday, August 15, 2021

The Feast of St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord


Luke 1:39-55; Galatians 4:4-7; Isaiah 61:7-11


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

Mary was humble and of low estate, and so we can relate to her. Mary confessed that her Lord had done great things for her, and so we can confess with her. Mary believed the Word of the Lord and trusted in His goodness, faithfulness, and mercy saying, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word,” and so we honor her, we venerate her, and we seek to imitate her in Christian faith and holy living, recognizing and confessing the amazing divine grace of God she and we alike are the undeserved recipients of.

Though the Holy Scriptures are silent, Christian tradition holds that Mary grew up in Nazareth, the daughter of Anna and Joachim. Mary and her parents were among the promised faithful remnant of Israel waiting and watching in hopeful expectation for the consolation of Israel in the promised coming of the Messiah, the Christ. It has been said that faithful young Hebrew women held to the hope that they might be the woman promised to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden who would bear the promised Seed who would crush the ancient serpent’s head, promised again to Abram through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed. This could explain Mary’s receptive reaction to the marvelous news the angel Gabriel brought to her saying, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary’s response was simply, “let it be to me according to your word,” though she did ask how this gift of God’s grace would come upon her since she was a virgin. The question was asked in faith, not in unbelief, and the answer was given to faithful Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” Then Mary was given a sign to confirm the promise, “behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

It is believed that Mary was a young woman, perhaps around the age of fourteen. An unmarried maiden, she was the epitome of lowliness. An unmarried virgin maiden, her conception would be scandalous, to say the least. Nevertheless, the Lord favored her, which means that the Lord willed to have favor towards Mary. Despite the lowliness of her estate, the Lord chose Mary to be the Mother of our Lord Jesus, the Mother of God. So it is that Mary is not so different than Abram whom the Lord chose by his gracious will alone. There was nothing meritorious or deserving about Abram. Abram was a pagan, a worshipper of his father’s household gods. Nonetheless, the Lord called Abram and promised him a nation and a son through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Like Mary, Abram believed the Lord, and their faith was counted as righteousness by the Lord. To each was a given a similar sign as a confirmation and seal of the Lord’s promise. The sign to Abram was that his aged wife Sarai, who was barren, would conceive and bear him a son. The sign to Mary was that her aged cousin Elizabeth, who was barren, had already conceived and was carrying a son, John the Baptist. The Lord has chosen the weak and foolish things of this world to shame the wise and the strong. Or, as Mary put it, “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 away empty.”

The Ecumenical Council in Ephesus (AD 431) officially declared Mary to be Theotokos, Mother of God. For, if the Son of God, Jesus, is truly God, as the Scriptures and the Creeds confess, then Mary is truly the Mother and the Bearer of God. For this gracious honor, which she received in humble faith, we give thanks to God for Mary and for His grace and mercy shown to her, and through her to us all. We do not worship or pray to Mary. This Mary herself would protest and warn against. Indeed, Mary confessed her own need for a savior saying, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” What we venerate Mary for is her example of faith and trust in God and His Word, which is itself the gift of God’s magnificent grace. But, most of all, we venerate Mary for the magnification of God’s grace, mercy, and love she has been made to be for all the world, to quote Luther, as “the exceeding riches of God joined in her with her utter poverty, the divine honor with her low estate, the divine glory with her shame, the divine greatness with her smallness, the divine goodness with her lack of merit, the divine grace with her unworthiness.” This day, then, is not a Feast of Mary, but it is a Feast of the Lord who graced, blessed, and chose Mary that her soul should magnify the glory of the Lord who pours out His divine grace and mercy upon the meek and the humble, the poor in spirit, those who hunger and thirst for justice and mercy, and the weak and despised of this world who trust in Him and His word.

Our Lord Jesus’ dying words to His mother were, “Woman, behold your son,” and then to John, His beloved friend and apostle, “Behold your mother.” Christian tradition holds that John did indeed take Mary into his home and ultimately to Ephesus where he had established a vibrant church. There are two traditions concerning Mary’s death: The oldest claims that Mary died in Jerusalem, but another in Ephesus. Neither tradition is supported by Scripture, but early Christian writers including the Fathers have favored the former and have recorded the tradition. On this very day, the Roman Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of the Assumption of Mary which includes the belief that Mary was taken body and soul up to heaven so that no earthly relics remained. Similarly, the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates the Feast of the Dormition (or, “falling asleep”) of Mary on this day. In the Lutheran Church, we simply believe, teach, and confess what Scripture has given us, nothing more and nothing less.  Scripture does not account for the death of Mary nor does it offer any particulars concerning the matter. However, what Scripture has provided us is Mary’s own words concerning how she viewed her role in salvation history – she was a humble servant, the beneficiary of God’s undeserved and unmerited grace and mercy, for which she praises, glorifies, and magnifies God her savior.

This means that Mary is just like you and that you should be thankful for and strive to be just like Mary who simply believed and trusted in the word of the Lord saying, “let it be to me according to your word.” Mary needed a savior, just like you. Mary needed Jesus, just like you. And now Mary is with her Son and Lord, Her God, in the glorious presence of His Majesty with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven awaiting the return of Jesus in glory, the resurrection of the faithful, and the blessed gathering of the Church in Zion. Until then, we gather with Mary, Peter, James, and John, Paul, David, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses, and with Adam and Eve, and with all the saints who have died in the Lord and with the host of heaven at this altar where heaven comes down to earth and we join our voices with them in singing the thrice-holy hymn. And, “We sing with joy of Mary, whose heart with awe was stirred when, youthful and astonished, she heard the angel’s word. Yet her voice upraises to magnify God’s name, as once for our salvation Your mother she became.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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