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Faces around the Manger - Mary

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Faces Around the Manger: Mary (Luke 1)

Protestants have been reluctant to speak of Mary. She is the victim of circumstances that have obscured her real character. The Roman Church has made her the divine queen of heaven and, in the process, virtually canceled her humanity. On the other hand, we have emphasized her humanity to the extent that we have feared to speak of her as part of God's redemptive intention.

Phillips Brooks's hymn, "O Little Town of Bethlehem," notes that "The hopes and fears of all the years Are met in thee tonight." This is even more true of Mary, mother of our Lord. Our hopes and fears are all reflected in her response to God's act of grace.

Mary Maintains the Continuity of God's Purposes

The opening chapters of Luke's Gospel read more like the Old Testament than the New. We move in the midst of that remnant that represents the very best of the Old Testament. Critical of the Pharisees, we often forget that the best of the Old Testament religion produced a people "agog" for the coming of the gospel.

The poetic songs of Mary are alive with Scripture, saturated with the Old Testament. There are reflections of 1 and 2 Samuel, Psalms, Job, Isaiah, Genesis, and Micah in her Magnificat. She takes up themes from Sara, wife of Abraham, and Hannah, mother of Samuel. Additionally, prophecy had stopped with that of Malachi; Mary is involved in its renewal at the birth of Jesus. Mary seems to be connected to the house of King David. Mary is living proof of God's capacity to sustain His purposes across the ages.

Mary Models the Mosaic of Human Response

All of us respond differently to God's purposes. Mary mirrors our responses. Seven times Mary speaks in the Gospels, and then she is silent. Her first word is a question of confusion, "How shall this be?" (Luke 1:34, KJV). Mary raised the first objection to the incarnation. Her second word is an affirmation of submission, "Behold, the handmaid of the Lord" (v. 38, KJV). Next, there is the word of communication and compassion. She visits her kinswoman, Elizabeth, to share in the joy that only one woman may communicate to another. We do not know what she said, but the impact of the incarnation on her life was to turn her in service to another. There is then a word of jubilation as she pours herself into the praise of the Magnificat. After twelve years of silence, there is the word of consternation, "Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us?" (Luke 2:48, KJV) She did not always understand the purposes of the One who had grown beneath her heart. There is the word of intercession, "They have no wine" (John 2:3, KJV). She recognized in Him the One who could redeem any situation. Finally, there is the word of commendation, "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it" (v. 5). She is the one who presents Him on the occasion of His first demonstration of superhuman authority.

Mary Manifests the Fragility of God's People

Mary is not only the obedient maiden; she is not only the sorrowing mother. She is also one who does not understand what God's purposes are, who intervenes when she ought to keep silent, who interferes and tries to thwart the purposes of God, who pleads the ties of filial affection when she should learn faith. And that is what we are like. We are not only faithful; we are faithless. We are obedient and interfering, perceptive and opaque, faithful and contradictory. Mary confesses that she is not worthy to be chosen of God. That is not false humility, it is the truth of every human being's situation before God. Mary is inspiration and encouragement that people such as we are can be taken up into God's purpose, iustus et peccator simul (Luther).

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