Full of Grace
Luke 1: 39-45 (46-55)
Luke 1: 39-45 (46-55)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today is the day when the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church has chosen to commemorate the death of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The day is called the Feast of the Dormition of Saint Mary, Mother of God. Now, before you go off thinking that your pastor has left Lutheranism for the shelter of the Roman church, let me remind you that although the Lutheran Church does not pray to or worship the saints, we do thank God for them and remember what it is that made each of these people saints. For the moment, let us look past all the heresies and pious opinions that have sprung up around the mother of God. After all, it does us no harm and much good to remember the good and gracious work God has done for and through the Blessed Virgin.
The angel had just appeared to Mary and had revealed to her that she would be the one through whom the Savior of the world would be delivered. Can you imagine? An angel of the Lord has appeared to you and told you that the Messiah promised from the moment that mankind fell into sin will be revealed to the world through you. So what did Mary do? She didn’t call for a press conference. She didn’t stand at the well and brag to all the women who would be coming to carry home the day’s water. Instead she got up and journeyed to visit her pregnant cousin, Elizabeth.
And then a most remarkable thing happened. Before Mary could do anything more than greet her cousin, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for joy. As for Elizabeth, she was filled with the Holy Spirit, which is how she knew, without having to be told, that Mary carried in her own womb the Christ. She called Mary and the fruit of her womb “blessed”. And she added, “Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”
The world has two reactions to the blessedness of Mary. The first reaction is to take it too far. They say things about Mary that Scripture doesn’t say. Some of them are pious opinions, some of which Luther and many Lutherans hold to. For example, some believe and teach that Mary was conceived immaculately, which means she was conceived by the Holy Spirit the way Jesus was. Some believe and teach that Mary remained a virgin throughout her life. These are pious opinions which give Mary honor, but they do not have clear backing in Scripture. On the other hand, some believe and teach insidious heresies related to Mary. The worst is that some believe and teach that Mary is co-redemptrix—that is, she, along with Jesus, is Redeemer; that she, along with Jesus, has the power to forgive sin. This is false and perverse, for Scripture clearly teaches that there is no other name in heaven or on earth or under the earth by which we may be saved than the name of Jesus. Such a teaching does not only dishonor Mary, but it attempts to lead the faithful astray.
The other worldly reaction to the blessedness of Mary is to belittle it, to despise it. Since some take the honor of Mary too far, others ignore it. They would say, “The Lord could have chosen anyone to be mother to the Christ. Mary doesn’t deserve special honor for something over which she had no control.” Again, this is insidious and sinful, for Scripture itself teaches us that Mary is blessed. The angel of the Lord told Mary that she is “full of grace” and that “the Lord is with [her]”. The Holy Spirit led Elizabeth to tell Mary that she is “blessed among women”. Mary is the theotokos, the God-bearer, the mother of God. The Church and the world ignore that to their own peril.
Mary, for her part, was humble. She recognized that God had blessed her in a very special way. She believed God, and trusted the Word which the angel brought to her. She stands out as a picture of what happens when God’s Word has its way with someone. Out of the faith she had in God, out of the trust she had for God’s Word, she accepted the will of God as her own, accepting the unbelievable task of carrying the Savior of the world in her womb. She waited patiently and joyfully as the Baby grew in her womb, praising God for the Child and the promises He came to fulfill.
That is why we honor Mary today: she points us to her Son, her Redeemer. Mary did not exalt herself. Instead she points out that God has lifted her out of her lowly estate. She makes clear that God is merciful to those who fear Him. She acknowledges that God has graciously fulfilled the promise He made to Abraham and his children. If Mary had exalted herself for the blessing God gave her, we could not honor her; but her soul magnifies the Lord and rejoices in the promised Messiah. She moves the focus away from herself. She moves the focus to her Son, her Savior, Jesus—who is the completion of the lifting up of the lowly, the realization of the mercy to those who fear God, the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham. The picture of Mary with the Christ in her womb is a picture of the Church, for the Church is not the Church without the presence of Jesus—just as Mary is merely another unmarried pregnant teenager if the child she carries is not the Christ. But in her womb she carried the Son of God, the One conceived by the Holy Spirit, the One born to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
No: Mary is not the co-redeemer with Jesus. She does not answer prayer, nor should we pray to her. She is no goddess. Yet she is a saint. She is a saint because God has exalted her. She is a saint because of the faith she was given. And like Mary, you are a saint, for God has exalted you, lifting you from your sinfulness, covering you with the blood of Jesus the Lamb which forgives your sins. Like Mary, you are a saint, for God has given you faith in the waters of Holy Baptism, faith which clings to the Word, faith which believes that the death of Christ atones for your sins and the sins of the whole world. Like Mary, we are saints; and so we can say without hesitation: “Hail Mary, full of grace: the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed be the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” Today we honor Mary as blessed, for she bore Jesus in her womb. Today, with all generations, we honor Mary, for we are blessed by the fruit of her womb, and her faithful confession continues to point us to Jesus. Thanks be to God that He chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus; for in Mary we can see ourselves, too: both sinner and saint, redeemed servants of God. And like Mary, who we honor this day, our souls magnify the Lord, for He has done great things for us. That’s what this feast day is all about. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.