23 December 2007

Homily - Advent 4 - Rorate Coeli

The Mother of God
Luke 1:39-56

She was just a teenage girl, only about 14 or 15 years old. She had long dark hair and a dark, Middle-Eastern complexion. She wore humble clothes, nothing showy about them. She was not married, but she was engaged. Then, all of a sudden, she had an unplanned pregnancy. Think of it – an unmarried teenager, pregnant outside of wedlock! It’s enough to make you gasp. It surely made Joseph, her fiancĂ©, decide to “divorce her quietly” (Mt. 1:19). But this is Mary…the pure Virgin…the Mother of God!

We do well to honor this pure Virgin. Yes, you heard me right. We Christians, even we Lutherans, do well to honor Mary. No, I did not say “worship”; I did not say “pray to” her. I simply said, “honor her.” Some in the Church may go overboard and say that she is a “co-redeemer,” but we Lutherans tend too go to far in the other direction and sideline her altogether. As we try not to worship her, we forget to give her proper honor. So, today let’s honor Mary, the Mother of God, even as we worship her Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Let’s honor Mary, the pure Virgin, the Mother of God, just as the angel Gabriel did. When he greeted her, he called her “favored one.” Some translations even say, “highly favored.” What made Mary “highly favored”? Gabriel said, “the Lord is with you.” Mary found favor with God because God showered her with His grace and mercy. Mary was nothing special in herself, but God did choose Mary to carry and give birth to His own divine Son. We honor Mary because she shows us the way of humble faith. After the angel told her all the great things about her Son, the Son of God Most High, she faithfully said, “Let it be to me according to your word.”

Let’s honor Mary, the pure Virgin, the Mother of God, just as Elizabeth did. After Mary heard the announcement that she would give birth to the Savior of the world, she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth. We honor Mary because she shows us the way of life in God’s creation. As soon as Mary greets Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s own baby leaps in her womb. What made Elizabeth’s baby leap? When Mary walked into the room, she carried God-in-the-Flesh in her womb.

Somehow pre-born John knew that he was in the presence of pre-born Jesus, and he leaped for joy inside Elizabeth. Both John and Jesus were more than “tissue mass,” as some say today. They were full-fledged human beings. They had God’s gift of life from the moment of their conception. We honor Mary because she shows us that life begins at the moment of conception. When the Creator of the universe, the Son of God, was conceived, He showed that life in the womb is truly precious and sacred. Let’s honor Mary and worship her Son by standing firmly against abortion and embryonic stem cell research. But let’s also honor Mary and worship Her Son by bringing those brutalized by abortion into the Church to hear the healing forgiveness of Jesus the Savior.

Let’s honor Mary, the pure Virgin, the Mother of God, in the same way that Elizabeth did. Let’s call her “blessed…among women.” Why? Because the Fruit of her womb, Jesus, blesses her by being present in the flesh. Elizabeth called Mary and the Fruit of her womb “blessed” by singing a hymn of praise. She worshiped in the very presence of God in the flesh. Elizabeth did not merely say, “Nice to see you, Mary,” and then rush off to her other duties or activities. She did not view her worship as just another chore or obligation. No, Elizabeth paused. She sang her liturgical hymn. She realized that God Himself was present, so she sang with awe and amazement.

So, how’s your worship? Are you worshiping just because it’s on your schedule? Are you more concerned about who is or isn’t here, or what choir is or isn’t here? I urge you to imitate Elizabeth. Worship and sing your liturgical song with awe and amazement. You see, God still comes to you in the flesh. Jesus, the Fruit of Mary’s womb, comes right here. Worship is not some mere schedule filler. It’s our very lifeline with God; it’s where we meet God in the flesh, God who comes to us in His Son. Elizabeth could not see Jesus any more than you can now. Then Jesus was hidden inside His Mother’s womb. Later He would be hidden by the shame of a dead Man on a cross. Now He is hidden under His Gospel message, His Baptismal water, and the bread and wine on His Altar. But He is still present to bless and forgive. So, sing your song of blessing. Honor Mary and worship her Son.

Today’s Gospel reading sounds a lot like the story of David bringing the Ark of God back to Jerusalem 1000 years before Jesus (2 Sam. 6). Just as David arose and journeyed to Jerusalem, so did Mary. David took the Ark of God – the seat of God’s presence – to Jerusalem. So did Mary as she carried Jesus. Both the Ark and Mary are greeted with shouts of joy. The Ark was brought to the house of Obed-Edom. Mary brought Jesus to the house of Elizabeth. David cried out in terror: “How can the ark of the LORD come to me?” Elizabeth cried out in awe and amazement: “Why is it granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” The Ark of God stayed at the house of Obed-Edom for three months and was a source of great blessing to his house. Mary stayed at the house of Elizabeth for three months and was a source of great blessing to her house.

The Ark was the seat of God’s presence in the Old Testament. In the New Testament Mary becomes the seat of God’s presence. Now, in our day, the Church is where the Lord is present in His Gospel and Sacraments. And the Church carries more than Mary did. The Church carries not only the Savior conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary; she also carries the Savior who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. She carries the Savior who rose from the dead on the third day. The Fruit of Mary’s womb still comes to you. And this very house is incredibly blessed. Here, in this place, you receive Jesus and His gifts of newborn life and cross-won forgiveness. So, we get to honor Mary as the Mother of God and worship her Son who is still God in the flesh and with us still.

Finally, let us honor Mary, the pure Virgin, the Mother of God, just as Elizabeth did. Let’s echo Elizabeth’s words: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Mary shows us how to live by faith. She was a virgin yet pregnant. She would give birth to a Son, and yet she would remain a pure virgin. Our Lutheran Confessions say it this way: “[Jesus] showed His divine majesty even in His mother’s womb, because He was born of a virgin, without violating her virginity. Therefore, she is truly the mother of God and yet has remained a virgin” (FC SD VIII:24). God would use this humble virgin to carry out His work of saving sinners such as us.

One writer said this about Mary: “If Jesus Christ is the Savior, Mary is, par excellence, the image of the saved” (Hopko, Winter Pascha, 20). Mary is the perfect picture of the Church and of individual Christians. She received Jesus by the word of the angel. You receive Jesus by the words of God proclaimed into your ears. Mary trusted that God would preserve and keep her, no matter what people around her might say. You may trust God to keep and preserve you no matter what happens in your life, no matter what the world around you says about you or your Lord Jesus.

Mary was made pure by God’s grace. So are you. Mary had the mission of carrying Jesus, God’s Son, into the world. You get to do the very same thing. The world started celebrating its backwards version of Christmas right after Thanksgiving. Now everyone is tired from the shopping, the partying, and the rat race they call “Happy Holidays.” But you, dear people of God, now you get to carry Christ to people around you. You get to announce the Savior who forgives sinners and reunites them with the God who gives life and light. You get to sing with Mary: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

One preacher once said this about Mary: “As long as the focus of the spotlight is on the Lord Jesus Christ, the richer the radiance that reflects upon His Mother the better.” Let’s honor Mary, the Mother of God, because she brings us our Savior and shows us how to receive His salvation. Amen.

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