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Remembering Mary

A guest post by Krisi Hillebert

300px-Caravaggio_-_The_AnnunciationGod always does what He promises. He always follows through. Our job is to believe Him.

Mary is a woman remembered and revered throughout every generation. There is no woman more famed than her. Yet our knowledge of her is extremely limited. She was a poor girl living in Nazareth. She was betrothed to Joseph. And she had found favor with God. Her story in many ways mirrors the story of Elizabeth, her relative. Both Mary and Elizabeth are told by an angel that they will bear a son who will play a major role in the salvation of Israel.

However, there are striking differences to their stories as well. Zechariah and Elizabeth in many ways are what we would expect for the parentage of a divine agent. They were both from a priestly line and were righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all His commandments.

In contrast, there is no background information on Mary’s life previous to God’s intrusion. We are not told why Mary is favored – only that God had chosen her for a divine task. Perhaps the gospel writers are trying to emphasize the free gracious choice of God to use Mary for His purposes. God is at work here, not mankind, to execute His salvation. Zechariah and Elizabeth are a picture of Old Testament Judaism, but Mary is a picture of something new.

She is not presented to us in relation to the law. Our picture of Mary is that God chose her, and she consented to His plan. If Abraham’s faith was the start of the Old Covenant, Mary’s faith was the start of the New Covenant.

Luke’s account of Gabriel’s message to Mary quickly shows that this Child is unlike any other. Here the story drastically veers from Gabriel’s promise to Elizabeth. For this Child of Mary will be called Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His Kingdom there will be no end (Lk 1:32-33).

Mary is troubled and pensive when she hears this message. Unlike Zechariah who was fearful and required proof of God’s promise concerning the birth of John the Baptist, Mary ponders this strange message and tries to understand its meaning. She does not question God’s fulfilling of the promise; she merely asks the means by which this miracle would occur since she was a virgin. Gabriel tells her that she will conceive by the Holy Spirit, and then offers her a sign – Elizabeth who was barren had conceived in her old age. This would be the sign to Mary that nothing is impossible with God.

Mary asked no further questions and made haste to see Elizabeth. It would have been a 50-70 mile journey for Mary to reach the hill country where Elizabeth lived. This great distance gave her time to ponder over all she had heard. But rather than doubt setting in, her faith grows stronger. When she reaches Elizabeth, her joy is overflowing, and Scripture records her song:

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked on the humble estate of His servant. For behold, from now on 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 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” (Lk 1:46-55).

Mary believed that what was happening to her was the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham and Israel. Hundreds of years had passed since the prophecies were spoken, and she was going to watch God’s faithfulness unfold. He was going to overturn the dreadful norm. The rich and the proud would be brought low, and the hungry and poor would be remembered. God’s grace had come. And she believed that He would accomplish all that He said.

When we remember Mary and her belief that ushered Christ into this world, we should consider that perhaps the most difficult moment of faith was not in accepting the angel’s words initially. Perhaps even you and I would accept the message of an angel.

But Gabriel departed, and she was left there alone.

She was left with the task of telling Joseph that she was pregnant in a community that could execute her for conceiving out of wedlock.

She had to wrestle with Simeon’s prophecy that her child was appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel and that a sword would pierce her own soul.

How difficult it must have been to understand her twelve-year-old son who stayed behind in Jerusalem while they frantically searched for him for three days.

She watched Jesus do the miraculous, but she also watched Him called blasphemous and insane.theotokosvladimir

And oh the struggle to reconcile God’s promise to her while she watched her Son, the Son whom the angel had promised His kingdom would have no end, executed on a cross.

In these darkest moments, with no angels around her, she had to believe that God would still do all He had promised. She had to remember all those things she had treasured and pondered in her heart. This is the Mary that we remember, whose faith endured the deepest crisis. The woman who clung to Gabriel’s promise, “Nothing is impossible with God” (Lk 1:37).

* * *

References:

Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Mary: Glimpses of the Mother of Jesus

Hans Urs von Balthasar and Joseph Ratzinger, Mary: The Church at the Source

Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives

 

A timely holy day

Today is the feast of St. James of Jerusalem.  Apart from writing the New Testament epistle of James, his major claim to fame is his work as an early church leader in Jerusalem.  Some disagreements had arisen, and James wisely arbitrated at a large gathering.

Some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”  And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question…

All the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.  After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me.  Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name.  And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written…

You can read the whole story in Acts 15, but suffice it to say here that this a timely holiday for us.  James was not a political leader, exactly, but he was a leader nonetheless, and his example of wise discernment and reconciliation are a timely reminder to pray for such leaders to be raised up (and/or elected) in our own midst today.  As the collect of St. James’ day says:

Grant, O God, that, following the example of your servant James the Just, brother of our Lord, your Church may give itself continually to prayer and to the reconciliation of all who are at variance and enmity; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Blessed Lord,

who hast caused all holy Scriptures

to be written for our learning:

Grant that we may in such wise hear them,

read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them,

that by patience, and comfort of thy holy Word,

we may embrace, and ever hold fast

the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

 

In First Things, 9 scholars offer 13 theses on marriage, sexuality, and gender in defense of what they call “heteronormativity.”

Kurt Willems, over at Patheos, explains why he’d consider becoming Anglican–if he wasn’t already an Anabaptist.

Paul Lickteig, a newly ordained Jesuit priest, reflects on the ways the priestly vocation emerged in his life.

Leroy Huizenga wonders if traditional Christianity will survive the latest heterodox textual fragment claiming Jesus took a wife (hint: he thinks it will).

 

 

O GOD, the Creator and Preserver of all mankind,

we humbly beseech thee for all sorts and conditions of men;

that you would be pleased to make thy ways known unto them,

thy saving health unto all nations.

More especially we pray for the good estate of the Catholic Church;

that it may be so guided and governed by thy good Spirit,

that all who profess and call themselves Christians

may be led into the way of truth,

and hold the faith in unity of spirit,

in the bond of peace,

and in righteousness of life.

Finally we commend to thy fatherly goodness all those,

who are any ways afflicted or distressed in mind, body, or estate;

[especially those for whom our prayers are desired;]

that it may please thee to comfort and relieve them,

according to their several necessities,

giving them patience under their sufferings,

and a happy issue out of all their afflictions.

And this we beg for Jesus Christ his sake. Amen.

 

 

O LORD our heavenly Father, Almighty and everlasting God,

who hast safely brought us to the beginning of this day:

Defend us in the same with your mighty power;

and grant that this day we fall into no sin,

neither fall into any kind of danger;

but that all our doings may be ordered by thy governance,

to do always that is righteous in your sight;

through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

 

Thinking Christian ponders the question: Is Christian worship manipulative? Do people willingly subject themselves “to emotional manipulation with [their] minds in cognitive neutral?”

Jeremy Mann, from Mere Orthodoxy, discusses the erosion of the Evangelical pastorate, arguing that the church is running out of good Evangelical pastors.

At Patheos, an agnostic imagines what kind of god she would believe in, if she believed. The article is interesting in so much as her definition resonates with classical understandings of God.

Craig Evans reviews the book “Sin: An Early History of an Idea,” by Paula Fredrikson.

Mark Galli, editor of Christianity Today, explains why Evangelicals are so fascinated with the Dead Sea Scrolls–and why they display a “reverent hush” whenever they come into presence of the actual scrolls. Turns out Evangelicals are sacramental after all.

Kevin Miller offers four conversation skills every leader or pastor must have to be successful.

 

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