[based upon the alternate Gospel for the day, Luke 1:39-56]
I know you all think that I’m nuts when the subject of the Blessed Virgin comes up. But how are we to ponder the Holy Gospel today and not spend time talking about Mary? I would submit to you that we just heard and learnt from Elizabeth how to praise Mary aright.
Elizabeth no sooner hears the Blessed Virgin’s voice, than the baby in her womb leaps for joy and Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and begins to speak. Thus, not only are her words written down by inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, but they were first prompted by inspiration of God the Holy Spirit. And when Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit, what does she say? Listen to her 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?”
To anyone who dares to say: “Mary is just like anyone else” Elizabeth would stare you down and say: “Hush, child! You haven’t the foggiest notion what you are saying. For she is the most blessed of all women and there is no other woman in the world who is simultaneously both a Virgin and a Mother, and not just a mother of any child, but of that'“Blessed Fruit of her womb' – my Lord and yours: the Eternal Son of God."
Oh, we Lutherans know perfectly well that we are not to trust in the merits of the Blessed Virgin, or to place our confidence in her as though she were our Savior. But have we forgotten what our own Confessions say of her? I think we have. What titles do our Confessions give to the Virgin Mary? You might be surprised! In the official confessions of our Church she is called: “the most holy Virgin,” “the pure Virgin,” “the most blessed Virgin,” “the Mother of God,” “the pure, holy, ever-Virgin Mary.” I could go on, but you get the idea. The Lutheran Reformers, while totally rejecting any confusion of Mary with her alone-saving Son, did not at all reject the spirit of Elizabeth’s words. Mary is indeed, the most blessed among women, for as a Virgin she bore as the fruit of Her womb, the divine and eternal Son of God. We confess as much everytime we call our Lord, Emmanuel and confess that she is mother of Emmanuel, the Mother of the God who is with us. Again, this is how our Confessions express the mystery: “He showed His divine majesty even in His mother’s womb, because He was born of a virgin without violating her virginity. Therefore, she is truly the mother of God and yet has remained a Virgin.”
But Elizabeth has more to teach us about the blessedness of Mary. Listen: “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” And here we arrive at what Martin Luther called the greatest part of the miracle of the annunciation: not that a Virgin would conceive; not that her Child would be true God, but that the Blessed May would believe it. That’s the greatest miracle of all – and it brings us to the heart of Mary’s true greatness – a greatness in which God invites us all to share.
As Mary breaks forth into her song of praise, she lauds the Lord who has done such great things for her, who is her Savior, who looked in kindness on her humble state and lifted her up so that, in her own words, again, inspired by the Holy Spirit, “from now on, all generations will call me blessed.”
Thus, the title we use over and over again for her: the blessed Virgin, the one whom God favored and blessed above all women, and the one who points the way to faith in the promises of God.
Through the angel Gabriel, God had spoken a rather staggering promise to her. She didn’t dispute that what the angel said would come to be, though, remember she did ask for more information. She was not like Zachariah, who doubted the angel’s word and received muteness until the Word proved true. Mary had spoken her “fiat” – her “Let it be to me” to the angel and it was in this act above all others that Elizabeth saw the true greatness of Mary. She’s the one who leads our faith’s “yes” to God, to giving place to God in her own body, that from her He might assume a human nature and by her be born into the world in order that the world might be saved through Him. This she believed.
“Blessed is she who believed.” God speaks some staggering promises to you too. He tells you that in the Child of Blessed Mary, in your Brother according to the flesh, you meet His Eternal Son. He tells you that this Son has come into your flesh in order bring you salvation: the forgiveness of all your sins. He tells you that in that flesh He shares with you, your Brother Jesus Christ offered to His Father the perfect and final oblation, the sacrifice to end all sacrifices, the One offering of Himself that blotted out the sin of all people forever. He tells you that this blotting out of all sin is yours in Holy Baptism, when the water flows in the name of the Triune God. He tells you that because you are baptized into Christ, you have exchanged your sinful birth for His sinless one, so that – this is how Luther put it – you may rejoice in such a treasure that Christ is your true brother, Mary is your mother, and God is your Father. He tells you as He imparts His body and blood to you, that forgiveness and unending life are yours. The grave will never be the end for you – and when you stand before the dread judgment seat of God, you can be certain of His mercy and grace, for you have trusted in the gift of His Son.
“Blessed is she who believed.” Will you share this blessedness of Mary? Will you believe, say “yes” to the staggering promises of God to you? They are all true and He wants each one of you to have this salvation! For though you are lowly, He would raise you on high.
One last point. The blessed Virgin stayed with Elizabeth three months. And why do you suppose that was? Because Elizabeth was six months pregnant when she arrived. The blessed Virgin stayed to serve her elderly kinswomen Elizabeth throughout the trying and difficult days at the end of her pregnancy. How like her Son! Though she was truly the Mother of God, no, because she was truly the Mother of God, she exhibited the exact same kind of lowliness that her Son showed. A servant God He revealed Himself to be. And thus she speaks of herself as “His servant.” The most exalted Mother of all time was exalted in her humility! With joy, let us who share in her blessedness of faith share also in her utter humility that we might learn from the handmaid of the Lord the joy of serving others, counting each person better than ourselves. Amen.