Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Singers of Luke - 'Mary'

The Singers of Luke: ‘Mary’
December 10, 2014 – Vespers
The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz III STS

This has been Mary’s title ever since the earliest Christian days.
She is ‘the blessed Virgin Mary,’
or ‘the Blessed Mother.’
Millions of Roman Catholics and others pray each day
in the words of St Elizabeth,
‘Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.’
Her song is known to the church as the Magnificat,
taken from the first word in Latin, ‘Magnifies,’
and she sings, ‘From this day all generations will call me blessed.’

This song is sung each day and each hour around the world
wherever the sun sets and Christians gather for prayer;
Indeed, one imagines that in every minute that passes by,
somewhere the song of Mary is being raised God of Israel and of Jesus Christ,
God’s Son and Mary’s son.
It rises before God in an everlasting sacrifice of praise,
whether presented in glorious musical settings,
or in plainchant,
or simply recited in a flat tone with almost no hint of devotion at all,
but perhaps with great devotion just the same.

‘From this day all generations will call me blessed.’
So it is recorded in the first chapter of the Gospel according to Luke.
And yet, that very same Gospel also records the following in the eleventh chapter:
A woman who was listening to Jesus’ teaching
raised her voice and said to him,
‘Blessed is the womb that bore you,
and the breasts at which you nursed!’
But he said,
‘Blessed rather are those
who hear the Word of God and keep it!’

It seems as if Jesus is putting down his mother.
But that is not the case.
Indeed, Jesus statement does affirm that his mother is ‘blessed.’

Why do we call Mary ‘blessed?’
She is blessed, in Elizabeth’s words,
because ‘she believed that there would be a fulfillment
of what was spoken to her from the Lord.’
She is blessed, in her own words,
because ‘the Almighty has done great things for me.’
She is blessed, in Jesus’ words,
because she heard the Word of God and kept it.

The faith that it would be as the angel had said to her,
despite everything that would seem to make it impossible,
did not come from nowhere.
She was able to act in faith when the angel arrived
because she had already been formed in a faith
that expected God to do great things;
that already believed that God had mercy on those who fear him,
that God scatters the proud in their conceit,
that God lifts up the lowly and fills the hungry with good things,
but that God casts down the mighty from their thrones
and the rich he sends away empty.
This faith and trust is learned from the Word of God,
the song of Hannah
when she leaves her son Samuel in the Temple,
dedicated to the Lord.
It is learned from the psalms and prophets.
It is the faith of Israel the servant of God
which is expressed in her song.
It is this faith and trust that is not surprised
when God’s angel comes to her
and gives her a calling far beyond her comprehension,
but allows God room in her heart,
and in her womb.

When Jesus says,
‘Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and obey it,’
he is inviting us into the company of disciples
of whom Mary is the exemplar.
This is why the Church sings her song each and every day at the evening hour,
so that there is no moment when it does not rise to God.
It is because that God has done great things for the Church,
and calls all her members to the life of Mary,
who believed that there would be a fulfillment
of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.
This life of faith and trust in God’s promises
and willingness to become an instrument for God’s purposes
is the life that belongs to all the disciples
as it belongs to her, the first disciple.

Martin Luther writes:
Saint Bernard [of Clairvaux] declared there are here three miracles: that God and man should be joined in this Child; that a mother should remain a virgin; that Mary should have such faith as to believe that this mystery would be accomplished in her. The last is not the least of these three. The virgin birth is a mere trifle for God; that God should become man is a greater miracle; but most amazing of all is that this maiden should credit the announcement that she, rather than some other virgin, had been chosen to be mother of God.

Had she not believed, she could not have conceived. She held fast to the word of the angel because she had become a new creature. Even so must we be transformed and renewed in heart from day-to-day. Otherwise, Christ is born in vain.

This Advent,
let us open our hearts,
seeking the transformation and renewal
that comes through faith in Jesus Christ,
Mary’s son; God’s son.
Let us magnify the Lord and let our spirit rejoice in God’s salvation.
He looks with favor upon his lowly servants.