39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be[a] a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
Today’s passages from Luke we read them slightly out of order but hopefully it makes sense to you now why we did that. They are interconnected to one another. Yet who is this woman named Mary and what do we know about her? If we only got our information from the hymns we sing at Christmas time it would look like this.
Silent Night, Holy Night!” – one of the most popular Christmas carols – describes Mary as “yon virgin.” But what does that truly mean? The meaning of the phrase in the song depends on the line before it. In the context, all is calm and bright around that virgin mother over there and her child. Another, “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” calls her “the virgin mother kind.” And “Once in Royal David’s City “tells us “Mary was that mother mild.” Then, “In the Bleak Midwinter” has Mary “in her maiden bliss” worshipping Jesus “with a kiss.” Finally, “Gentle Mary Laid Her Child” reveals in the title the assessment of Mary’s demeanor: gentle. It is no wonder then, when we envision Mary, we picture meek, mild, gentle, young and vulnerable. Artists through the ages depict Mary as either the maiden terrified by the angel at the annunciation or the new mother cradling her baby in bliss.
The Magnificat or the part we read together paints a little different image of Mary and quite honestly most women of the bible are in a slightly different light. Most blessed of women be Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, of tent-dwelling women most blessed” (Judges 5:24). Remember the story of Jael and Sisera when we had Deborah as one of our Faces of Faith? (Story time) Mild and gentle, I don’t think so.
Here is another one named Judith. I know, I know, the book of Judith is not in our Protestant canon, but given that the book is included in the Septuagint, the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox canons, let’s give her a look, this most blessed among women. Judith saves her people by tricking the enemy general Holofernes and beheading him with his sword while he lies in a drunken stupor. Here is the account from Judith 13: “She went up to the bedpost near Holofernes’ head, and took down his sword that hung there. She came close to his bed, took hold of the hair of his head, and said, ‘Give me strength today, O Lord God of Israel!’ Then she struck his neck twice with all her might, and cut off his head. Next she rolled his body off the bed and pulled down the canopy from the posts. Soon afterward she went out and gave Holofernes’ head to her maid, who placed it in her food bag.” Uzziah, the magistrate of the besieged city says, “O daughter, you are blessed by the Most High God above all other women on earth; and blessed be the Lord God, who created the heavens and the earth, who has guided you to cut off the head of the leader of our enemies.” That is not a “Mother meek and Mild”.
Our series Faces of Faith has taught us that when God calls women to do something they don’t mess around. They are bold and audacious, brave and willing to take risks. When God calls them to participate in the salvation of their people they step in and take charge of the situation. The women of the scriptures are truly blessed among women. Mary’s soul magnifies the Lord as she sings about the coming great reversal where God scatters the proud and brings down the mighty. The world is about to turn and Mary, like Jael and Judith before her, helps it turn.
Nonetheless there are some profound differences between Mary and the most blessed among women who came before her. Mary’s soul which magnifies the Lord will be pierced when Jesus is crucified. Hers is not to be a military victory accompanied by the cheers of her people. She will ponder things in her heart. She’ll witness the murder of her son. Mary alone bears God, ushering in the incarnation that will save not just Israel, but all creation. Mary births the Prince of Peace, not a judge or prophet, earthly king or military leader. Mary exhibits her strength not through tent pegs or swords, but through giving her body to birth and nurture the one who will surrender his body on the cross. She is called blessed for generations not because she entices a military general into trusting her, but because she trusts God wholly.
When Mary shows up at Elizabeth’s house and they see each other Elizabeth says, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” The baby John the Baptist leaps in Elizabeth’s womb in anticipation of the coming Christ. Can you imagine the two women standing together their bellies touching each with a hand on each other’s baby bump as they feel each other’s child stirring? One woman too old to have a child and the other too young yet knowing that God had directly intervened in both of these pregnancies. When these two women gave birth to their sons, the world turned just a little towards hope.
John the one who would bring the message of one coming to baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit. The one who would bring salvation. Jesus who would bring the gift of God’s love in the hope of eternal life. Hebrews 10:5-7 puts it this way, 5 Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; 6 with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. 7 Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, my God.’” Because Jesus came to the earth, God in the flesh, we see the love God has for us and the joy in giving that gift.
Jesus was born of a very strong woman, just as all of us were. The mother of Jesus was like many other mothers, human. The role model of giving herself to not only her child, but to the will of God. The joy that Mary feels in being chosen to bear the Savior of the world is wonderful.
We celebrate each year the love that she carried in her heart for God’s Son. Yet, we also celebrate the fact that she gave birth to a human child. Whenever we see a baby we can relate to the miracle of life. This miracle came from none other than God. We glimpse the face of God in each child born and in each other. As we celebrate the joy of Mary this season, we celebrate the gift of salvation. May we continue to look for God in each person we meet. Amen.