The Best Thing About MaryÖ
Luke 1:26-3826 ∂ In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 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, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." 34 And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" 35 And the angel answered her, "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. 36 ∂ And 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. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God." 38 And Mary said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.
Many years ago, when I was at the seminary, one of our professors asked each of us to take a turn beginning the class with a prayer. I suppose there was a bit of a risk in that since we were just seminarians and not pastors. Well one day that risked proved to true. A student in our class took his turn to pray and said, "Hail Mary, full of grace. Blessed art thou among women. Blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death." That is the prayer known as the "Hail Mary." It is probably one of the most widely spoken prayers in the whole world next to the Lordís Prayer. When he finished all of us in the room were wondering what was going to happen. Wise Professor Brighton slowly opened his eyes and said, "I believe the first part of that prayer. I just donít believe the second part." "íHail Mary, full of grace. Blessed art thou among women. Blessed is the fruit of thy womb, JesusÖí is straight from Scripture. The second part, ĎPray for us sinners now and at the hour of our deathí is a mistaken idea of man Iím sorry to say." Then Professor Brighton went on to explain how important Mary is for Christians when we understand her according to the Bible.
Hail Mary! Today weíre coming together at the brink of our Christmas celebration, and it is a real honor for me to preach about Mary. What was so special about her? Three things stand out in these verses from St. Luke. The first two are that she was a virgin and that she was favored by God. The third is the most important, and thatís the best thing about Mary.
Mary Was a Virgin
God was going to send His Son into the world. But how? How does Godís Son truly come into the world to become man? God could have created a brand new Adam out of the dust of the ground if He had wanted to. But Godís plan was not just to save mankind with "another" Adam. His plan was to save that first Adam with one of Adamís own children. Thatís important because God wants us to know that salvation has truly come to us. It didnít just come to earth.
Dirty, rotten sinners like you and me can take great comfort in that reality. I once had an infection in my leg. I had to go to the emergency room for it. The first doctor who came to examine me took one look at my leg and stood three feet away. He wouldnít come near it. They kept me in the hospital, and the next day my family doctor came. He not only looked at my leg, he took ahold of it with his hands and forced the infection out. It was quite an ugly scene. His nurse fainted from the sight! But thatís what it took. He had to get down into that infection to clean it out.
God the Holy Spirit came to the Virgin Mary and caused the Son of God to be conceived in her. That is a miracle beyond anyoneís understanding or explaining. But the reason for it is clear. This was Godís deep entry into this sinful world to bring about salvation. He is not afraid to lower His own Son into this sinful world to save it. The fact that Mary was a virgin is important. God chose her to show that the savior was not just a special man conceived in the normal way. This was His Son who had come to this sinful world to save it.
The world likes to ignore the reality of shame. But saying it doesnít exist changes nothing. People still go on rotting in their shame. As Jon Kern, our seminary student said Wednesday evening, "You can wrap yourselves up in all sorts of ways, but that doesnít change who we are deep down." Nevertheless, the miracle of the virgin birth assures us that God, who calls us out on it, is not ashamed Himself to come into this world and into our own hearts to clean and free us from the shame of sin.
Mary Found Favor with God
The second thing about Mary is that she found favor with God. When God says he likes somebody, I think we ought to pay attention. Iím not saying Mary was without sin, but I do believe it is fair to say that if John the Baptist was the greatest man born of woman, Mary might well be the greatest woman born of woman. What is it that God saw in Mary? Mary tells us herself: "I am the servant of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word." As far as we know Mary had none of the things we would esteem today: Incredible beauty, a witty personality, great intelligence, or wealth. But she stood in the right place with God. She wasnít a rebel fighting against Him. She wasnít a slacker taking Him for granted. She wasnít a hypocrite trying to use Him. She was a servant. And what does a servant do? A servant trusts and follows directions from the master. A servant can truly say "Let it be."
In 1969 Paul McCartney wrote a beautiful song by that title. The inspiration for the song came from his mother who had died of cancer when he was fourteen. Paul later had a dream of her saying, "It will be alright. Just let it be." I donít think Paul or anyone really can understand the significance of those words "Let it be" by themselves. We take them to mean, "Calm down, everythingís going to be OK." But in Maryís mouth those words suddenly take on a new meaning. Mary was about to undertake the greatest good work of all time. She was about to become the doorway for God into this world.
In Revelation chapter twelve John tells us just how ferociously angry Satan was at Mary. He pictures Satan like a dragon, waiting to devour the child she is about to bear. But she bears that child anyway, and Satan does not prevent it. Mary found favor with God because by His grace she could say, "Let it be to me according to your word."
Satan can hound us to hell if we let him. He doesnít have to bother the world that is already moving his way. Since he has limited resources he sets himself to bothering those who want to serve God. You can believe that he is going to throw every fiery dart possible against that person. One of my favorite sayings apart from the Bible is found in the Hebrew book of Sirach. "Son, if thou come to serve the Lord, prepare thyself for temptation" (2.1).
What Satan started long ago eventually reaches all of us. The bad choices that one person makes hundreds of miles from here and decades ago makes a painful impact on this person and then on that person, and then on anotherÖ until it makes an impact on this person (pointing to my heart). It impacts me. When this happens we begin to ask "Why? What did I do to deserve this?" I have been trying to serve God with all my heart, and yet I have such turmoil to deal with. "Iíve lost my job. Iím estranged from my children. Iíve been diagnosed with cancer!"
Couple that with the fact that I donít always make good choices, and we have a lot of pain to go around. The Bible tells us that this goes back all the way to a beautiful garden in which two people had everything they could have possibly needed. But they were deceived by a big lie that still deceiving many today: You can have more if you just sin against God.
And thatís why Mary is so important. The Holy Spirit had overcome the big lie and replaced with a beautiful trust: "Let it be to me according Your word." In her womb was a little boy (hold hand like feeling an unborn child). He kicked, wiggled, and sucked his thumb just like every other baby boy. But this boy would be different. He wouldnít be born with the big lie. He wouldnít make any bad choices. Instead all those arrows of sin from all over the world from all time and from all of us would find their way to His heart. This is the Son of God who would take it all to take it all away from us. This is the One who makes it possible for Mary and for all of us to just sayÖ "Let it be."
The Last and Best Thing About Mary
Now we come to the best thing about Mary. One day I was listening to the radio, and I heard a nun being interviewed. She was talking about Mary. She said a few things about Mary that were incorrect. We canít say Mary was without sin. We canít consider a "co-redeemer" alongside of Jesus. But she said something I will never forget: She said, "The best thing about Mary is that her Son turned out so well." Mary was the doorway for God in this world. The ancient Christians rightly called her "The Mother of God" because she brought the Son of God into this world.
First, His name will be "Jesus," which means "The Lord Saves." I know that sometimes life can tear us all down. That combination of our own sins and the sins of others is a deadly potion that will destroy us. There is no medicine or therapy for this. There is only One, and there has only been one who can save us from our sin and the effects of the sins of others. Jesus said it Himself: "The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19.10). Iíve found great comfort in this on many occasions. I canít say to my parents, or to my spouse, or to my children: "Save me." But I can say it to Jesus. "Save me, save me, save me." And He will!
Maryís Son did turn out very well. Gabriel said that He would reign on the throne of David forever. Jesus is not only our personal Savior, He is the King of Kings. That is especially important to remember as we watch the scene of world and national events unfolding around us. Nations and movements come and go. Kingdoms rise and fall. Is Christ just another one of these? Godís resounding answer is "NoÖ of His kingdom there will be no end." A whole array of people would like to have a party on the grave of Jesus: Proponents of Gay Marriage, Islamic Jihadists, and The New Atheists. They can dance all they want. Heís not there. Heís alive, and Heís here with His word and sacrament to guide us in truth and to hold us in love. His kingdom is forever, and we can believe that whatever seems incomplete, unfair, and just not right will be made right in His eternal kingdom. One of my favorite hymns (Come, Ye Disconsolate) ends with this beautiful promise: "Earth has no sorrow that Heavín cannot heal."
So as these Christmas celebrations let us rejoice in the greatest pregnancy of all time: "Hail Mary, full of grace. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Ė Jesus." Amen.
Pastor Michael P. Walther
Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 21, 2008
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 1300 Belt Line Road, Collinsville, Illinois, 62234
618-344-3151 / fax 618-344-3378
The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod
Michael P. Walther, Copyright, 2008
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