Each year on the Sunday closest to August 15th I plan to preach a sermon that talks about Mary, the mother of Jesus. Now, that may seem just fine to some and strange to others. Most Lutherans have never concerned themselves very much with Mary, just like most of Protestant Christianity. I will admit that for most of my life I didn’t understand what the big deal was. She was just some woman who happened to be who God picked to give birth to his Son. Could have been anybody. After all the important part here is really Jesus.
I think Mary herself would agree. The important part IS Jesus.
I had a friend once who believed that Mary had come to her in visions. She believed, and I think she still believes, that Mary came to give her a message to give the world. That message is, ultimately, “Follow my Son.” Now, I do not know whether or not this friend of mine actually had a visit from the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Maybe she did and maybe she didn’t. But I am convinced that the message she believes she received is a truthful one. I believe Mary would say, “Follow my Son.”
Mary never was one to look for the spotlight, so to speak. She doesn’t make more than one speech in scripture (song, really) and her conversations are fairly minimal. She shows up here and there and if it were a movie, it wouldn’t seem that her role is of particular importance in the story because after the Christmas scenes, she doesn’t make a lot of other appearances. She says herself that she’s a mere handmaid. Very young. Probably not from a particularly well-to-do household. She even describes herself in the song she sings as lowly.
So you see, it doesn’t really matter what we say about Mary. She is small, lowly, meek and weak, mild and completely, utterably ignorable. She’s just some woman God picked. It could have been anyone. Any nobody would have been able to fulfill the job.
But it wasn’t just anybody. Most of all, it wasn’t Somebody. God chose Mary. Not a wealthy woman, not a princess or queen. Just Mary.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God, my savior. For he has looked with favor on his lowly servant and from now on, all generations will call me blessed…..
In comparison to many people in scripture, this humble little woman is remarkably faithful, having a faith that seems to exceed what we might assume of someone in her place. Abraham tried to modify God’s plan because he couldn’t see it working. Sarah laughed right out loud at God for saying she’d have a child in her old age. Jacob wrestled with God in the middle of the night on a lonely road. Countless prophets protested their calls, not the least of which was Jonah who ran the other way and was outright defiant of God’s mercy. Elijah whined about being all alone. Amos protested that he was not good enough because he was just a farm boy. And the disciples! Nathaniel said: how could anything good come from Nazareth? James and John search for political power by asking to sit beside Jesus’ throne. Martha scolds the Savior when he arrives “too late” to save her brother Lazarus from dying and sharply reprimands him when he opens the tomb to raise him from the dead. And Peter…poor Peter…he even denies the Messiah repeatedly to save his own skin. But Mary is faithful and obedient. And her burden all the much greater than theirs!
She reminds us that it is ok to ask questions. She asks Gabriel how it is possible that she will bear a child when she is a virgin. But when a faithful answer is given—All things are possible with God—she is faithful in response. Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. To me be as it pleases God.
When we speak about Mary we are really speaking about Jesus; about who he is and what his life means for us. When we say that Mary was holy, pure, virgin, we are not saying that God required something that perfect in order to be born or that Mary was holy by the force of her will, or that she chose to be through some kind of meritorious act make herself so. In fact, we are say the opposite. We say that Mary is pure, is holy, is the very Queen of Heaven (as Luther often called her), because of who her son was. Who her son is. God chose her to bear the savior of the world. He did not choose a couple already pregnant with a baby; he did not choose a new born child to just move into. He chose her and after she consented, she became pregnant with the Son of God. It is not so much that her purity and holiness is present before this but that through her call to be the God bearer, she was made holy.
Now, think about that for a minute. God took what was small, lowly, meek and weak, mild and completely, utterably ignorable and made it holy. And he does not stop with Mary, in fact this is a pattern for the life of Jesus. He often chose that which was less than popular, not quite as shiny and pretty, the outcast, overlooked and discarded to eat with, talk with, to heal and make whole. Mary even testifies to this fact in her song when she sings about how God has lifted up the lowly. The lowly like her, like fishermen, taxcollectors, prostitutes, the sick and broken, the broken hearted and lost, those possessed by evil, and every lost prodigal son and daughter in the world. God is doing this through Mary’s Son.
With Mary, God was turning everything upside down. God turned the world on its head because he did not choose a Queen to bear his Son, he made a Queen. God took a small, poor girl, someone easily disregarded or put to the side by the world—someone almost invisible—and made her the mother of his Son. It is no wonder the church has called her the Queen of Heaven. Not because of her triumphs or greatness but because of God’s. Because her son is the Prince of Peace, the King of Kings. And the Prince of Peace will keep turning the world, our lives, everything, upside down.
Over and over in her song she points to God. It is unusual for us to have a Sunday Gospel reading that doesn’t have Jesus in it—but actually it does! Mary is not singing about herself. She is not pointing to her own greatness. She is not telling us about anything other than the miracle of the birth of Jesus himself.
My very soul sings of how great God is. He has even taken notice of me, unremarkable as I am. Everyone from now on will call me blessed—not because of me but because of God…because of what God has done for me. God is strong, lifts up those who are weak and makes the proud humble. He is merciful, feeding those who are hungry. And he keeps his promises. Forever.
When we look at Jesus, our salvation and our very life, we see God himself. When we look at Mary, we see what it looks like to be a human completely filled up by God. To see what it is like to be made utterly free by a life touched in every way by God. We see what a fully Godly life looks like—and it looks like telling about, singing about, pointing to, taking every breath and making every move for Jesus.
Maybe, if nothing else, Mary perpetually reminds us of the mystery of God woven inextricably into the human. Mary persists and endures in our hearts, her song giving voice to all that is small, forgotten, pushed to the side and seemingly insignificant. Maybe Mary is the proof that all that smallness is never forgotten by God. All those things we think are insignificant–all those times that we may think we ourselves are insignificant–God actually considers priceless. All the small places of our hearts, of our lives. All the places we think no one cares. All the times we think we have been forgotten or feel invisible and all those whom we have forgotten or refuse to see in this world. Mary is the reminder of how important all those things, all those people, are to God. Maybe she teaches us what a life becomes when it is permeated by God.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, so full of Grace. Blessed are you among women! And blessed indeed is your child, the holy one of Israel, the King of the Universe, our Lord, Jesus Christ.