In this Advent season, as we wait upon the coming of Christ at His Nativity, let us consider Our Lord’s mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. I believe her to be a wonderful example of Christian humility and willful submission to God. We encounter her in Luke’s Gospel. In Scripture we find that the Mother of God is presented simply as “a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David”. Her betrothed is a simple carpenter from a once great line that has been brought low by years of invasion and oppression. Mary was also from the line of David. At one time this line would have been something impressive, but since this line had long since been defunct, it was not something that would have gotten the pair VIP seats at the Temple.
Mary’s life is not something presented as anything other than ordinary. She, as well as Joseph, was a Galilean. Galilee was a region whose inhabitants were considered as no more than country bumpkins by the Jewish elite in Jerusalem. At this point, Mary’s life is changed drastically. We learn later in Scripture that Christ took the form of a servant, and humbled Himself. In the choice of Mary as His mother, He humbled Himself there also.
Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel, who greets her with these words: “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women.” (KJV) Mary was not at all sure how to take these words. “Highly favoured”? “Blessed among women”? Here was this young lady from Galilee, poor, no hope of having an extraordinary life, and this supernatural messenger of God comes to her and tells her she is “highly favoured”. What must have went through her mind!
Gabriel then tells her of what The Almighty has purposed to do. “Fear not Mary, for thou hast found favour with God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest, and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David. And He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there shall be no end.” If the angel’s initial greeting surprised Mary, I wonder what ran through her mind at this point?
Her reply is interesting to me. Instead of mentioning any of the wonderful things concerned with the child Himself, she instead is worrying about the improbability of even having a child to start with. Gabriel then tells her “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee. Therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” He also tells her of her cousin Elizabeth who had conceived when she was previously barren, and speaking of both Mary and Elizabeth he says “For with God, nothing shall be impossible”.
Mary would have been scared, confused, and shocked at this, but her faith and trust in God over-rid these feelings. Her answer to Gabriel was thus: “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word.” Mary put her trust in God. She submitted to the will of the Almighty. The unique position of Theotokos she took on herself trusting God, as well as the scorn of being pregnant out of wedlock (which, believe it or not, was actually scandalous at the time, not something shamelessly done as today).
“Be it unto me”; without hesitation. “Be it unto me”; without argument. Whatever God’s will is; “Be it unto me”. What a picture of submission! What a picture of humility! Mary didn’t turn from this because it may have been inconvenient or uncomfortable, nor did she doubt God, but in this she set a precedent for herself throughout Scripture of submission and obedience.
Mary then sets out to visit her cousin, Elizabeth. Elizabeth echoes the words of the angel when they meet: “Blessed art thou among women” –thus recognising Mary’s place as the most unique woman in all of history, the Mother of God- “And blessed is the fruit of thy womb”– thus giving honour to the yet unborn Christ. Mary greeted her, and the baby inside of Elizabeth, who would become known as John the Baptiser, leapt as Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She then says “And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” She then commends Mary’s faith with the words “blessed is she that believed”.
Mary then offers a hymn of praise, one of the most beloved in Scripture, the Magnificat.
“My soul doth magnify the Lord.”
Here she gives great praise and honour to the Almighty.
“And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.”
She is thinking about what the angel said to call her son, most likely. The name Jesus means “Saviour”. The Son of God, born of Mary, will be the Saviour of the World. Mary has need of Christ as Saviour, the same as anyone, and I regard it as papist superstition that which says that she was “conceived without sin”. Mary, as well as the rest of mankind (Christ excepted) were and are sinners in need of a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.
“For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.”
This Galilean maiden who had neither riches nor great honour has been regarded by God, and chosen by Him. Not just at this time though. Our Lord knew Mary and the special place she would have in world and redemptive history. Imagine! Our Lord was the creator of His own mother and chose her to be such.
“For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.”
Indeed she is blessed! She is the Theotokos, God-bearer and Mother of God. She holds a unique and special place. We do call her blessed, and do recognise her special position.
“For He that is Mighty hath done to me great things, and holy is His Name.”
Mary recognizes that people down through time will call her blessed, but she doesn’t dwell there, rather instead she extols the name of God, and shows forth what things He has done. “A virgin shall conceive”, a great thing indeed!
Even though she is the Theotokos, she wants to take no honour which is due to God away from Him. “To God be the glory, great things he hath done” to quote an old hymn.
As a quick aside, I want to point out two wrong attitudes to have toward the Mother of God. Either the attitude is excessive attention (as in the Roman and Greek churches) or none at all (as in a good number of Protestant churches). We should all speak of the Mother of God with the respect due her, and not disregard nor ignore her. Would you like it if someone ignored your mom, or do you ignore a good friend’s mom? Well, this is the mother of Our Lord that some ignore and want nothing to do with. Remember though, her words in Scripture “all generations shall call me blessed”. I think all Christians, and our sisters-in-faith especially, would greatly benefit by upholding her to the position she is worthy of, that of Mother of God, but also that of faithful and obedient servant of God, thus recognising her special position and also as an example. I think some may fear being thought of as Roman if they even so much as mention her. Have no such fear, and uphold her as you do the other great heroes of the faith such as a St. Peter or St. Paul.
“And His mercy is on them that fear Him, from generation to generation.”
God had shown His mercy before, but never in the same way as He did when He sent His Son. There is a perpetual promise here. God offers all mercy, but it is given only to those who fear Him, that honour Him, and that put their faith in Him.
“He hath shown strength with His arm.”
Which echoes a plea of the prophet Isaiah (51:9).
God who had not been heard from by priest or prophet in some 400 years, now, at the ordained time begins the mightiest work He has done yet. Starting with the word of the angel to Zacharias, that Elizabeth would conceive and bear a son, this chain of events leading to the plan of redemption brought forth by the work of Christ, who was prophesied even before Adam and Eve was exiled from the Garden. As we wait upon Christ in the season of Advent, we mirror this broken world before His birth, but no matter the time or season of the year, these words ring true:
“No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.”
Matthew Henry writes: “It has been a common observation that God in His providence puts contempt upon the haughty, and honour upon the humble.”
So thus we are shown…
“He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He hath sent empty away.”
“He hath holpen (helped) His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to His seed forever.”
No doubt some in that day, who were under the shackles of Rome, were like the Hebrew children inEgypt, who had went 400 odd years without a word from God. But now God is sending a Prophet, just as He sent Moses, but this Prophet is far greater than Moses. He will not just be a Prophet, but a Priest, a King, a Saviour. God has not broken His promises. This is spoken of also in Luke 1:68-79.
I will not go into the time of the Nativity, nor of the rest of Scripture where Mary appears, but this Advent season, as we wait upon Christ at His Incarnation, let us consider His blessed mother as an example to us all of Christian humility, obedience and submission to the will of God Almighty, and, as she would no doubt have us to do being a faithful servant, let us turn to Christ for the grace and strength to do so, now and always.
I will end with a verse of a Christmas carol for a prayer:
O holy child of Bethlehem!
Descend to us we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in;
Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel.
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.