She is rarely spoken of in so called “Protestant” circles. In fact of the many hundreds of sermons I have listen to, apart from at Christmas time, I cannot recall her ever being mentioned, other than in passing, far less preached about. Yet Mary is the most significant woman in the NT. And it is the gospel writer, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who accords her a place of honour when he records the moment the pregnant Mary met her pregnant cousin Elizabeth –
“Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. Why am I so honoured, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.”
Luke 1: 42 – 45
Mary is blessed in many ways [“above all women”] – but Elizabeth [ under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit] – highlights her faith in particular.
The Jewish and Christian traditions are comfortable in seeing Abraham as the father of the faithful [Galatians 3:16-29; Romans. 4:11] – yet for anyone in my tradition to refer to Mary as the mother of the faithful in the New Covenant – would be tantamount to blasphemy. Nevertheless through her faith and obedience she became the mother of Jesus – the one we believe is God incarnate [so the title of this post is not heretical after all].
The biblical similarities between Abraham and Mary are staggering*. In both instances God called Abraham and Mary to extreme faith! Later God appeared to Abraham and asked him to give up – to sacrifice his child of promise – the bearer of all his hopes and dreams. In a similar way – implicitly although not explicitly – Mary as asked to do the same. Abraham climbed mount Moriah [a short distance from Calvary] with Isaac – to the place of sacrifice – where we know his hand was stayed and an animal ultimately sacrificed in his place. Mary followed Jesus up to Calvary – but her lamb – Jesus, was not spared – he became the ultimate sacrifice for sin. The truth is – more was asked of Mary than of Abraham!
Let us pause here for a moment to consider a separate but yet connected issue. Abraham – as we have said is considered the father of the faithful – both in Jewish and Christian theology. From Abraham subsequently came the law, the priests, the prophets, the temple – and so on. In Matthew 11:13 Jesus says –
“For all the prophets and the law have prophesied unto John.”
So with John something ended – with Jesus something new arrived – you could say the old ended with John – and something completely new – something earth shattering arrived in the person of Jesus. And the connecting link is Mary – for it was with her firstly, that things appear to change. She is the catalyst for a new day! We could look at this in some detail – but just to give a flavour of what is going on – think for a moment of the parallels between the birth account of John and the birth account of Jesus.
The coming of John was announced to an old Priest – his father – Zechariah – in the temple – the most holy place of Judaism – in Jerusalem – the holy city. The temple was that place which embodied everything of the religion of the Jewish people and God’s covenant with Abraham and Israel. But with Jesus – the angel goes to an unmarried, unknown teenager called Miriam – in the humble home of a despised village called Nazareth.
There is something, which although silent, is very significant here. It is a symbolic Mission Statement! The focus has shifted from the temple – the official place of religious activity – to a humble home – from a male priest to a poor girl – from one who, even given his title and role, doubted God – to one who humbly believed God. The hero of faith here is not Abraham – but Mary – not a man but a woman – in fact a very young woman!
And it is in her example of faith [in which she stands as a holy woman] that she become a model believer for us all. Hers was not a faith that stood only in the good times. Neither was hers a faith that stood only when God answered her prayers! How often must she have prayed and hoped against hope for the salvation of her firstborn child on that fateful day in Jerusalem – but it was not to be . Every hope was dashed – every prayer unanswered. And as she stood below the cross she witnessed first hand the death of all her hopes and dreams. Yet her faith prevailed! May God help all of us to follow her example – and honour her as we should.
“How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
and from now on all generations will call me blessed.”
Mary – Luke 1:47-48
* I am indebted to Raniero Cantalamessa for some of these comparisons.