Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Sermon: The Festival of the (Dormition of the) Blessed Virgin Mary

15 Aug 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 1:39-55 (Is 61:7-11, Gal 4:4-7)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

In the musical Mame, the family of everybody’s favorite aunt are sad and depressed. Mame decides that what will get everyone out of the doldrums is, in the words of her song “We Need a Little Christmas.” Auntie Mame doesn’t speak of Jesus at all, but for us Christians, the celebration of the Festival of our Lord’s Incarnation is certainly a great feast, a time of joy, a season to ponder the mystery of God come into our flesh to save us.

Today is our annual Christmas in August celebration - the Festival of the Blessed Virgin Mary, otherwise known as the Dormition, that is, the falling asleep of the Lord’s mother, of God’s mother. August 15 is the date of her death, that is, of her heavenly birthday.

And you can’t celebrate the heavenly birth of Mary without celebrating the heavenly birth of her Son. You can’t ponder the fact that God was born as a baby to a human mother without meditating on the mystery that God wears flesh and bones just like us.

In Scripture, the angel Gabriel calls Mary “full of grace.” In the same chapter, Mary’s cousin Elizabeth says: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”

Mary is indeed blessed: “For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.” Mary is blessed by the presence of her Son, whom she calls “God my Savior.”

This is why early Christian art always shows Mary depicted not on her own, but always bearing the child Jesus in her arms – even as she sings of the strength of His arm. Where you find Mary, you find her Son. Where you find the baby Jesus, you find His holy virgin mother. We don’t venerate Mary apart from her Son, just as her divine Son did not become flesh apart from His mother.

Mary, known to Lutherans as the “God-bearer” in Greek or the “Mother of God” in Latin, is a symbol of the Church. For she is fully human. She is holy by virtue of the holiness of Jesus. She is carried to heaven by the One she calls her Savior even as she carried Him to earth as the one He calls “Mother.” She carries God, in a humble form, within her body, which has become a temple of the living God. And we, as members of the Church, carry Him in our bodies in a humble form, just as our bodies too are temples of the living God.

Mary’s song is our song, the Church’s song. Mary is our Lord’s dear mother, and she is the Church’s dear mother. She is lowly, but has been exalted – as has the Church. She is hungry, but has been fed – as has the Church. She is called blessed by every generation – just as is the Church, now and unto eternity.

Mary calls her Son and Lord “Savior” because He has rescued her and the rest of those born of woman, born under the law. As Paul confesses in our epistle, “in the fullness of time” Jesus was “born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive adoption as sons… Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” A few verses earlier, Paul explains that becoming “sons of God” is “through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”

In other words, God became a human being with a body through a human being with a body. We are joined to the Lord’s Body by baptism – a bodily application of water and the Word of God. And in this adoption, through faith, we become adopted sons of God. By adoption, we can call Jesus our brother, we can pray to God “our Father,” and we can love and cherish Mary “our mother.”

As saints go, Mary is perhaps the greatest example for Christians to emulate. To be a pregnant teenager in that time and place would have been enough of a burden – but to be carrying the Son of God, to be charged with raising Him, with bringing Him to manhood, with enduring the relentless assaults of the devil who sought to destroy her Son – is a mighty example of faith put into action. For Mary did not resist, doubt, or refuse when Gabriel visited her with the unprecedented request from God. Instead, she prayed: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”

There is no greater Christian prayer of submission, of bearing the cross, of seeking the will of our Master than this prayer of our “most highly favored lady.”

For our Lord answers our prayer, Mary’s prayer, with His Word in our Old Testament lesson, as Isaiah proclaims: “Instead of your shame you shall have double honor, and instead of confusion they shall rejoice in their portion. Therefore, in their land, they shall possess double. Everlasting joy shall be theirs.

And so we pray, we proclaim, we sing with the Blessed Virgin Mary now and in eternity:

My soul doth magnify the Lord : and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded : the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold, from henceforth : all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified me : and holy is his name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him : throughout all generations.
He hath shewed strength with his arm : he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat : and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things : and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel : as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed, for ever. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Pondering Mary's response to the Angel, I can't help thinking that many Lutherans, in wanting to avoid the theology that Rome has developed out of Mary's Fiat, have gone too far in the direction of not seeing any meaning there for us. But God's Word is always a meaningful revelation to the Church of all time. So, what of her Fiat? As you put it in your sermon, it is a mighty example of faith. It also reminds me of the Our Father, in which the Christian daily prays, Fiat voluntas tua, sicut in caelo, et in terra. Mary is the typical woman of faithful prayer, and in this also she is the image of the Church, and the Christian, who as Christian desires nothing more than that his will be conformed more and more to that of his Lord.

Father Hollywood said...

It also seems that "fiat" is very similar to "Amen" - which is prayed every time a Christian prays. The NKJV translates the Blessed Virgin Mary's "fiat" the same way as the Lennon-McCartney version: "Let it be..."