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4th Weekend of Advent (C/RCL) Dec. 19 & 20 "Hail, Whatever Your Name Is"

Fourth Weekend of Advent (C/RCL): “Hail, Whatever Your Name Is”

December 19-20, 2015

Luke 1:39-55

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ

“Blessed are you among women,

blessed is the fruit of your womb….”

Ring any bells??  Where have you heard that before??

·         In today’s Gospel, the story of the “Visitation,” pregnant Mary’s trip to see her pregnant cousin Elizabeth.

·         In the Hail Mary, a beloved prayer of our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters.

Many folks aren’t aware that the first half of that prayer comes straight from Scripture.  Who says, “Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee”? This is the angel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary during the Annunciation, the announcement of Jesus’ upcoming birth.  “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus” are, as we just heard, the words with which Elizabeth greets Mary.  Straight from the Bible. 

            Usually the saying goes, “The baby is getting thrown out with the bath water.”  In the case of Mary, the Mother of Our Lord, though, it’s more like the mother who got thrown out with the bath water.  That’s probably because Luther and the other reformers taught it was unnecessary to pray to the saints.  They emphasized that Jesus is the Mediator, the One who pleads to the Father on our behalf; we don’t have to be afraid to turn to Him. 

By Luther’s time Mary had accumulated some rather lofty and even troubling titles, including Co-Mediatrix, meaning that she was partially responsible for our salvation.  That was a no-no for Luther.  He reminded the flock that Jesus has  already done everything necessary to save us from our sins; we can neither add nor subtract to what He has accomplished.  No argument there! 

            Regardless – many people don’t know that Luther had a great devotion to Mary.  One of the most beautiful reflections he ever wrote was about the Magnificat, Mary’s song of praise that we hear this weekend.  In the Lutheran Confessions, the foundational documents of our church, far from being dismissed as unimportant, Mary is referred to as Holy Mary, the Blessed Virgin, and Mary, pure and holy.   Luther says Mary holds a special place of honor because she is the first one through whom the Word took on flesh, the only one through whom the Word literally took on flesh.  One of Mary’s most precious titles throughout Christendom, both Eastern and Western churches, is Theotokos, the God-bearer. 

            Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, mother of John the Baptist, realized Mary was pretty special, too.  She voices two beatitudes, two “blessed are you” pronouncements about Mary.  We already heard the first one:

“Blessed are you among women,

blessed is the fruit of your womb….”

The second is:

“And blessed is she who believed there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1:45)

The Message paraphrases that:

“Blessed woman, who believed what God said,

      believed every word would come true!”

There’s the heart of why we admire Mary so, of how we would like to be like her: her deep, deep trust in God – her belief that God would keep all God’s promises.

            Which isn’t to say she didn’t wonder how she was going to have a baby…. 

“How can this be, since I am a virgin?”  The angel said to 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 holy; he will be called Son of God.  And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.  For nothing will be impossible with God.”                                        (Luke 1: 34-37)

That’s possibly my favorite verse in all of Scripture:  “For nothing will be impossible with God.”

            Another angel said to that to another couple, barren and sad, like Zechariah & Elizabeth: Abraham & Sarah.    Do you remember how two angelic men visited their tent in the middle of the desert, how the men were gladly welcomed, and served a nice meal?  Before they left, one promised that when they returned the following year Abraham & Sarah would have a bouncing baby boy.  Scripture actually says that when 100-year-old Abraham heard that, he “fell on his face and laughed.”  (Genesis 17:17)  [‘Reminds me of that cartoon you may have seen in a copy center or other store:  It’s of a little man splitting a gut, he’s laughing so hard.  The caption is:  “You want it when??”]  90-year-old Sarah is more subtle; she hides behind the tent flap and giggles to herself.  The straight-faced angel hears her chuckling and challenges them both: “Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?” (Genesis 18:14)

            Someone has asked a good question: “Why do we call impossible what God calls possible?”1

[T]he virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.”

[Statuette of pregnant Mary placed on pulpit.]

There was no write-in contest, no cutthroat competition to see who would get to be Jesus’ mother.  For some unknown reason, Mary had “found favor with God.” (Luke 1:30) She was only a child, perhaps 14 years old.  She certainly hadn’t done anything newsworthy or great in the eyes of the world.   Perhaps, in Mother Teresa’s words, she had simply done “small things with great love.”

            Martin Luther says the whole point is that Mary hadn’t merited God’s favor, any more than we do!  She wasn’t worthy of being our Lord’s mother.   (Who could be??)  She wasn’t worthy but she was chosen by God.  (God doesn’t need a reason to choose us, either – for whatever God chooses us.)  Bottom line: Mary was chosen and Mary was willing:

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

(Luke 1:38)

Do you have a morning prayer you pray from the mists of sleep, before you get out of bed each day?  This is mine:

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

In his Four Quartets T.S. Eliot refers to that as:

…the hardly, barely prayable

Prayer of the one Annunciation.”2

The Latin shorthand for that is “Fiat.”  “Let it be.”  “Let it be, Lord.  Your will, in my life.  Your will, on earth as it is in heaven.  Close to home.”

In summary, Martin Luther wrote:

“Honor the Mother of God, but in such a way as not to be detained by her; rather push on to God and fix your heart on Him.  Thus you will be keeping Christ in the center.”

Here’s a closing poem by a friend of Pastor Beth’s, named William Maxwell.  It’s called Ave, Whatever Your Name Is:

Hail Mary,

(John, Bill, Ruth, Sue, George, Julie: pick a name

or fill in the blank ________ with your name or with the name

of someone you love)

full of grace. 

Really full, with more grace,

if that can be measured,

than we can possibly imagine.

The Lord is with you.

And with everyone else here:

And with all those who aren’t here:

      and with Mbopo, and Moktada, and Pyotr, and

      all those others with names

      we don’t how to pronounce.

There is no one of whom we can say

the Lord is NOT with her!  Or him.  Or them.

God loves with a splendid lack of discrimination

and doesn’t leave anyone out.

Blessed are you among women

      or men, as the case may be.

Some of you don’t look very blessed, to be sure,

or don’t act very blessed.

None of that really matters when it comes to blessing.

Grace is never a reward for

      good behaviour

      or right thinking

      or bank balances.

God’s blessing just is.

And blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.

And blessed is the fruit of your

      mind and your imagination

      and your work and your play

      and your laughter and your grieving.

Of course, we manage to stifle the grace and the blessing

with some frequency and under various conditions,

but that doesn’t stop the flow

of God’s unrelenting love.

                                          Copyright by William Maxwell (used with permission)

Amen.

Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham

1Celtic Daily Prayer  (HarperSanFrancisco, 2002), p. 307.

 2T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets (The Dry Salvages, II).