Summary: Mary is a regrettably divisive person; some honor her too much, others not enough...yet she is one truly "blessed" and "full of grace" (Given as a Mothers Day sermon).
Mary the mother of Jesus has regrettably become a divisive figure. Some Christians come dangerously close to worshipping her. Mary is not the “Queen of Heaven”, yet she is worthy of honor, and we should not take her willingness to serve God lightly. In an over-reaction to the devotion given Mary, many nearly treat her as a nonentity. In other words, she’s either given far too much respect or not nearly enough. I think Mary’s reflection may need some adjustment and be read: “All people shall call me blessed…except Protestants.” We’ve not claimed her as our own. We fear that lifting her up might bring Jesus down. Can we call her “blessed”? Her cousin Elizabeth, in the first beatitude of the Gospels, said to Mary: “Blessed are you who has believed the Lord would do what He said.”
While Mary is not a prominent figure in the Gospels, we should not ignore her. She followed Jesus from the cradle to the cross and was with the disciples who first saw their risen Savior. She’s been called the “first Christian” and “first disciple.” She is one of the saved and not a co-savior. Because of her willingness to serve God, she deserves favor. She said “yes” to God, knowing how dangerous for her that “yes” would be, and all the loss she might suffer. As an engaged virgin she could have lost her fiancé Joseph and become an outcast in her community.
Mary is part of a prophetic lineage of pious mothers such as Sarah, Rachel, and Ruth. In her song, Mary proclaims what God is about to do in Israel. Caesar is about to meet his match. The Messiah will triumph over all earthly powers and His Kingdom will be everlasting; “Holy is His Name”.
As a daughter of Zion, Mary stands at a unique intersection between the Old and New Testaments, and sounds much like an Old Testament prophet: The enemy rulers of an occupied Israel would be overthrown. We picture her as meek and submissive, yet she boldly utters a charge against the most powerful empire on earth. The rich would be sent away with nothing, while the humble will be filled with good things. This is a protest song against the current state of affairs, envisioning dramatic social change, a revolutionary rallying song, an anthem for the oppressed. And it is sung by a teenage Jewish girl from a poor family from Nazareth. Even her fellow Jews figured nothing good could come from such a God-forsaken town like that. Her cry for justice has been called an unlikely “voice at the bottom of society.” She expresses the frustrated hopes of Israel.
Mary would learn that, on the way to the crown, her Messiah-Son would die on a cross. A sword would pierce her soul in the process. Sorrow would await this young mother. Before anyone else, Mary would see and proclaim the redemptive nature of Jesus’ mission.
Mary had chutzpah; she was not one to be trifled with. We don’t credit her enough because we read her protest song long after Jesus’ resurrection and the fall of Rome. But in the days of Herod, such a song was dangerous, inflammatory. People were losing their heads for such treason. Yet Mary’s song came true: Caesar wasn’t as strong as Caesar thought. Looking back, we know she was right.
Mary knew the divine identity of her son, and she was the only one who could tell the Gospel writers the Nativity details that were recorded in the New Testament. Mary was at the cross, where her beloved Son suffered and died. Unlike most of Jesus’ followers, Mary did not flee. She knew what to expect at Calvary, yet she endured the anguish. She did not fear the soldiers or the angry crowd. This Jewish mother was fearless, a force to be reckoned with.
When the angel Gabriel told Mary she was to be the God-bearer, her response, “Let it be”, has been regarded as one of the most critical moments in history. Mary provides the model Christian response. She knew God was with her and in her. If we know we belong to the Lord; that we’re not alone and not on our own, this changes everything. Gabriel told Mary that she was “highly favored”, “full of grace.” Yet “we do not believe that God chose Mary because she was some sort of superwoman” (Longenecker). From this passage we get some of the text of the hymn “Ave Maria”. She was the recipient of God’s favor and was given a privileged role in the plan of God.
Eve, the first virgin, said “no” to God. The Early Church saw Mary as the new Eve, who said “yes” to God. Many people bore witness to the Word, but Mary bore the Word. Our love of Mary is not in place of her Son. She gave us our Savior and she leads us to Him.