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Fourth Sunday in Advent

Luke 1:39–56

James T. Batchelor

Advent 4, series C
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Dec 20, 2015 

Christians down through the centuries have always debated the level of honor we should give to Mary, the Mother of our Lord.  At one end of the spectrum, we have those who insist that Mary participated in Jesus suffering in that she was there at the cross, and her suffering as a mother watching her son die contributes to our salvation.  At the other end of the spectrum, we have those recognize that we need Mary to give birth to Jesus, but thats about it.

The church of Rome encourages people to actually pray to Mary with these words: Hail Mary full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed are thou among 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. This is the prayer that people are talking about when you hear someone in a Roman Catholic religious context speak of the Hail Mary. The first part of this prayer is a paraphrase of Gabriels greeting to Mary when he announced that she would indeed be the Mother of our Lord.  The second part of this prayer is taken from the Gospel that we just heard where Elizabeth by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit referred to Mary as the Mother of my Lord. (Luke 1:43, ESV) The last part of this prayer was framed by the Church of Rome itself, and it is this last part that causes all kinds of confusion.

So, do we toss the entire prayer out because Rome uses it?  Do we keep parts?  More importantly, where DOES Mary fit into the life of the church?  Todays Gospel has much to tell us about that.

Perhaps, one of the most confusing phrases in this prayer is the title given to Mary Mother of God.  Perhaps it is our sinful nature at work thinking that if we call Mary the Mother of God, that we are saying she earned the right to be Jesus mother.  Perhaps some think it means that May herself must be a little divine if she is to be the Mother of God.  Many people think that calling Mary the Mother of God is giving her too much credit.  If Mary is the Mother of God, then there must be something supernatural or divine about her.  It makes Mary more important than she really is.

While it is very natural to jump to this conclusion, it is still jumping to a conclusion.  We wouldnt make that leap with the mother of any other famous person.  For example, if I searched the Internet for the mother of a famous person, I might find a mother by the name of Sandy Cutler.  Now I know that she has never played on an NFL team.  Its possible that she has never played a game of football in her life.  Yet, no one in their right mind would deny her the title Mother of Jay.  We dont expect the mother of an NFL quarterback to be any kind of a football player at all.  We dont even expect her to be an athlete of any kind.  In the same way, just because Mary is the Mother of God, that does not mean that she herself has any godlike abilities or characteristics.

The second, and more reliable case for giving Mary the title, Mother of God, is the response that Elizabeth had under the influence of the Holy Spirit.  Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, 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? (Luke 1:4143, ESV) Elizabeth, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, called Mary the mother of my Lord.  So it is that we too can call Mary the mother of my Lord. 

In fact, when we call Mary the Mother of God, we are not so much saying something unusual about Mary herself.  Instead, we are actually saying something miraculous and astonishing about her son, Jesus.  If we admit that Mary is the Mother of God, then the contents of her womb is God.  The child that Mary carried when Elizabeth greeted her is in fact the Lord in human flesh.

When we say that Mary is the Mother of God, we are simply saying that Mary is the woman God chose to carry His Son during gestation and to care for His Son as a human being until He grew to the point where He could care for Himself.  In other words, Mary would do for God the Son exactly what any good mother would do for any of her children.

So the problem with the last sentence of the Hail Mary is not that it refers to Mary as the Mother of God for that is what she is.  The problem is that the last sentence makes petition to Mary as though she were alive on this earth.

The Law of God is fairly clear.  When the Children of Israel were ready to enter the Land of Canaan and conquer it, Moses said to them, When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you. (Deuteronomy 18:912, ESV) With these words we learn that one of the reasons God allowed the Children of Israel to wipe out the inhabitants of Canaan is that the inhabitants of the land were talking to the dead.  According to Moses, inquiring of the dead is an abomination to the Lord.

Since Mary has been dead for almost two thousand years, talking to her is an abomination to the Lord.  So, when someone asks, Mary to pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death, they are in fact, inquiring of the dead and dabbling in the occult.

Please understand that this is not to say that Roman Catholics are not Christian.  What it does say is that the Church of Rome teaches false doctrine when it teaches people to pray the Hail Mary. This is doubly true when the church assigns the Hail Mary as penance, for then they are not only teaching this prayer to their members, but they are also teaching their members that saying this prayer is a way of working off the penalty of sin.

So, we see that we should honor Mary.  We should give thanks to God for the work that He did through Mary in bringing our only savior into this world.  Todays text even teaches us that it is proper to refer to Mary as the Mother of God.  But we cross the line when we talk to Mary and ask her to do things for us.

There is much more that we could learn from todays Gospel, but the important thing is not so much that Mary is the Mother of God, but that God is the Son of Mary.  When God the Son took up human flesh, He did not merely put on humanity as you or I would put on a change of clothing.  God the Son went all the way.  This includes taking up the nine months of pregnancy that all of us experienced at the beginning of our lives.  In a miracle that we cannot hope to understand, the Holy Spirit quickened one of Marys eggs into a single living cell a single cell that was God the Son the Christ.  From that moment on, the Christ was, is, and always will be both one hundred per cent God and one hundred per cent man.

Mary responded to Elizabeth with a poem that is so elegant that the church has given this poem a name the Magnificat.  Recall that the poem begins this way: And Mary said, My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, (Luke 1:4647, ESV) With these words, Mary recognizes God as her savior her savior from sin.  God took on the flesh of Mary so that He could save Mary.  He took on the flesh of humanity so that He could save humanity.  He became a human being like you so that He could save you.

The single cell God-man in Marys womb did what all human beings do.  He multiplied and grew.  Mary will give birth to her first born son.  He will grow and become a man a man who had an appointment with a cross.

As God stepped down from heaven into the womb of the Virgin, He took His first step to the cross.  The cross is the reason He took up human flesh in the first place.  He came to be Marys savior, and not only her savior, but also the savior of all mankind.  For as He took up human flesh He also humbled Himself under the Law in order to fulfill the law in our place.  Then as He suffered on the cross, He took up the wrath of God that we all earned with our sin.  This is the way in which He is Marys savior and the savior of us all.

Jesus came forth from the womb of the Virgin, and He also came forth from the depths of the tomb.  Death could not hold one whose sacrifice was so pure and holy.  Instead, Jesus rose and gives us the guarantee that we shall follow Him in His resurrection as our own bodies rise from the dead to live forever in immortality bodies that will live forever because of the work of God the Son who took up our humanity when Mary became His mother.  Amen

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