What is the virginity of Mary all about anyway? That is what this sermon is about. Matthew tells you, but he tells you by pointing you at the Israel’s story, in this case at Ahaz and Isaiah. I’ll cut this short, it is about hope. It is about how God conceives hope, when all our natural hopes are gone. But this sermon takes a longer look at that. And why the Virgin Birth should conceive hope in all hearts.
An unfortunate circumstance of the reformation has been the tendency to look for things that say “not catholic”. One of the big ones is how Protestant’s tend to treat Mary. The first generation (i.e. Luther) didn’t have this problem. They went on as they had before. Mary just wasn’t an issue. She only became an issue in my historical understanding as later Protestants and Catholics made things that were not dogma prior into dogma. And it is a crying shame, because the Biblical Mary has a lot to tell us how to live the life of faith in her son. This sermon is an attempt to hear the annunciation story (advent 4) as original Jews and Gentiles/Pagans might have heard it, and then to to apply that to us moderns. I don’t think we are as far away as we might think. Mary’s faith and Mary’s wisdom are wonderful examples in contrast to our demands for signs and worldly wisdom. I’d invite you to give Mary a fresh look.
Worship Note: I’ve left in a bunch more music that normal. Our choir piece from this morning in is. The gorgeous hymn “The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came” is in. And I left in “Once in Royal David’s City” and the organ postlude.
Luke tells us a couple of things at the start of his gospel. One is the format, he’s telling a specific type of history, a diagasis which the dictionary defines as an orderly narrative. The second thing he tells us is that the eyewitnesses have delivered these stories to him and he’s compiling them. (Luke 1:1-4). It is not provable, but it has long been the supposition that Mary herself was the source for Luke’s first four chapters. (If you look closely at Acts there is probably even a time when Luke with Paul is in Jerusalem at the same time as Mary with John.) The repetition of the phrase “and his mother treasured up these things in her heart” is often taken as the textual signal of the source.
As with most saints, their reality is more interesting and human that the sanitized stories the church often tells. I think that goes in spades with Mary. Mary often gets transformed, like Jesus, into this meek and mild creature. That isn’t the story she tells, or the psalm she sings. These are full throated paeans of joy from someone who has had their dreams of conventional happiness shattered, but replaced with joy in the presence of God and his plan. And that is what this sermon attempts to explore, the source of joy in contrast to happiness. It winds through Dickens as an example of a surprising juxtaposition, but keeps Mary front and center. Joy in the presence of God.
Music Note: I’ve left in our opening hymn, Hark the Glad Sound LSB 349. This is one of the hymns I want at my funeral. The gates of brass before him burst, the iron fetters yield. Sin, death and the power of the devil give way before Christ. I’ve also left in one of the Magnificats or Songs of Mary that we sang today. Mary’s psalm has inspired some of the great hymns of the church as well as the standard chants in Vespers (West) or Matins (East). My Soul Rejoices LSB 933 is a modern text dating from 1991 paired with an older beautiful tune reflecting a little of the plain chant tradition. (I understand the need of publishing houses and hymn writers to have copyright, but it sure makes the sharing of the hymn experience difficult. I almost makes one favor older songs just because they are public domain.) I think both of these reflect the joy of the day even in the midst of Advent waiting and watchfulness.