[Read Luke 1:26-56] – “ …. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” 46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation…. “
Saint Mary, Mother of Our Lord
Let’s start our sermon today with yet another passage of Scripture: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” [Hebrews 12:1-3]
You are called to be witnesses of Jesus and the Gospel – witnesses for your neighbor. Yet, God has also surrounded you, His Church, with a cloud of witnesses. Witnesses that point you to Jesus and to faith in His promises.
In the biblical saints – those men and women in the Scriptures who lived by faith in God’s promises – in these biblical saints, you have a great cloud of witnesses. And in the called-saints of the Church’s history – baptized men and women, some known by the word “Saint” and some not – in these you also have a cloud of witnesses that point you to Jesus.
We are “Saint Matthew Evangelical Lutheran Church”. In our very name are two witnesses – one from Scripture, one from history – used by God to point His Church to Jesus and to deliver Jesus’ Gospel (His “evangel”) to us.
Saint Matthew, a tax-collector. Saints John and James, fishermen of no account. Saint Peter, the leader, who fell, who denied Christ, yet who was forgiven and restored to his office of Apostle. Saint Paul, formerly ‘Saul’, a hater of Christ’s name and violent persecutor of those who trusted in Christ [Acts 8:3]. He received mercy and became Christ’s chosen vessel for the Gospel [Acts 9:15]. Mary Magdalene, once a demon possessed woman out of whom Jesus cast seven spirits, who later became the first to see and proclaim the Resurrected Jesus [Luke 8:1-3; John 20:18].
Men and women of Scripture and history, redeemed sinner-saints, are honored by us when we are pointed to Jesus by their example. They are examples of repentance, of trust in Christ, of true good works, of love of God and love of neighbor, of unconditional faithfulness to God’s Word – and they are examples of receiving mercy, God’s forgiveness, God’s grace when they have fallen and sinned.
So that we may find confidence in God’s grace and courage by their example, the Lutheran Church has always had a tradition – from the beginning – of honoring these saints with feast days, minor holidays, on our yearly Church calendar of services.
The biggest feasts, the biggest holidays, are those marking the events of the Lord’s life and work of salvation – Christmas, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, etc. But these biblical saints do get days on our calendar – smaller and much more optional holidays – which sometimes happen to fall on a Sunday – and which also point us to God and what He has done.
Today is one of these smaller holidays. Today is “Saint Mary, Mother of Our Lord.” Mary, the young virgin woman, of the house and lineage of David, through whom God brought His Son into our flesh, is an example for us of faith alone in God our Savior, and an example of true blessedness.
From very early times in the Church’s history, the Church has given honor to the Lord’s mother. We’re commanded, “Honor your father and mother”; it’s certainly right to honor the Lord’s mother too.
And Mary herself, in today’s Gospel, God’s Word, said, “from now on all generations will call me blessed.”
However, over the centuries, honor gave way to what can only rightly be called worship. Calling Mary “blessèd” gave way to calling upon Mary in prayer. The belief arose that prayers offered through Mary would be more effective because Jesus would listen to His mother more than to us who were still so imperfect. “She is holy; her prayer will be heard more than mine.” Perfected saints would operate in between Christ’s high throne and us imperfect sinners.
In this way, Mary became an object of faith – the one in whom many began to trust – for intercessory prayer, for protection in life and in death, for forgiveness before Christ’s throne through her intercession, and as the one through whom men would now come to Christ and therefore to God.
What is at the core of this all? At the core is a denial in my heart that my sins are forgiven – a denial that the sinner is justified by faith Christ. I believe He will only hear someone holier than me because my conscience doesn’t believe He has truly forgiven my sin. I believe another will be heard better than I because my heart denies that the Lamb of God has really taken away my sin.
It might be possible to believe Jesus has forgiven the whole world; it’s a lot harder to believe He has forgiven my sin. So, we are tempted to find other ways that Christ will hear us. It’s hard to believe that He will hear a sinner.
What is the Lutheran way? It is the biblical way. To trust alone in the death and resurrection of Christ for the forgiveness of sins – to know that He hears you because you are forgiven. All the biblical witness concerning Mary, the virgin mother of our Lord, is directed toward the work of God our Savior.
Mary is a Virgin when she conceives and gives birth [Matthew 1:18,25; Luke 1:27,34], not to direct us to her holiness, but to show that Christ has no human father – God is His Father, He is truly God’s Son – and to fulfill Old Testament prophecy [Isaiah 7:14]. Mary can be called “Mother of God”, not to exalt her rank, but to show that Jesus truly is God; that the one born is truly “Immanuel”, “God with us” [Matthew 1:22-23]. The biblical witness is about faith in God our Savior.
The Lutheran way is to keep our eyes on this Biblical witness. In the text of today’s Gospel, Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, says of Mary, “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
“Blessed is she who believed”. The blessedness of Mary is the blessedness of faith in her Savior – “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Mary’s blessedness is that she believed in the promises of God – great promises for one who was “of low estate”.
In the Biblical text, Mary’s mind and heart is immediately directed to God and what He has done for her: “all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation. 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 (plural) of humble estate; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His offspring forever.”
Mary, the example of faith in the Savior, never desires to become an object of faith herself. She does not have divine abilities to hear and answer prayers. “For there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” – the name of Jesus [Acts 4:12].The Bible’s witness about Mary is about what God has done: “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.” [Galatians 4:4-5]
“We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” A person or spirit that points you to their own name for divine aid is not from God and is no saint. A true witness always points to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God that in the Scriptures, and in the Church, God has given such an array of witnesses, always pointing to your Savior Jesus crucified and risen for you. Amen.