And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my Spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has regarded the humble estate of his maidservant: for behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me and holy is His name! And His mercy extends from generation to generation of those who fear Him! Luke 1:46-50
HAGIOGRAPHY is the body of Christian literature that tells the stories of the martyrs and saints of the ages. It was written to instruct and edify us, and to teach us what true faith and a godly life are all about. Many of the church's saints are biblical ones that all Christians recognize: Noah, David, Esther, Ruth, the Evangelists & Apostles, St. Stephen the first Christian martyr, and St. James the second Christian martyr.
There are many others that followed in their sacred train: Clement, Ignatius, Justin, Polycarp, Perpetua, Felicitas, Sebastian, Agnes, Alban, Basil, Gregory and the Venerable Bede, who is the author of our beautiful Ascension hymn #212 "A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing." These are just a few, but the most blessed of all is the one whose feast the church celebrates today, St. Mary the Mother of our Lord, even as we hear in today's text: "From now on all generations will call me blessed for He who is mighty has done great things for me."
Yet for a thousand years, from the 6th to the 16th century, hagiography turned sour. The worship, prayers and praises due to God alone were redirected to the Blessed Virgin, and to a host of other saints so that people prayed to them, loved and trusted and put their hope in them instead of the Heavenly Father who alone supplies our every need, now and in eternity. It should come as no surprise, then, that one of the biggest grievances the Lutheran Reformers had against Rome is this very practice.
In Article XXI of the Augsburg Confession, which is our chief Lutheran confession of faith, the Reformers repudiate the false teachings and practices that had become so deeply entrenched in the medieval church (and still continues today), but they didn't only reject what was wrong, they also taught what was right, because they were reformers, not revolutionaries! For at the end of the day hagiography is a good and blessed thing; one the church disregards at her own peril.
So, how do we rightly remember the martyrs and saints today? It is the Lutheran Faith for which Christians should first thank God for converting sinners into saints by holy baptism, for you see, none of the saints started out as saints, but as died-in-the-wool sinners, just like us, just like all people. Yet if they can be made new creations in Christ, reasoned the reformers, then we can too, and this is reason to rejoice!
Secondly, our Lutheran confessions teach that we should praise God for giving the world such heroes of faith to be our examples of holiness, perseverance, patience in suffering, and of ultimate trust in God above for every need and every blessing; for giving us flesh and blood human beings, who by faith in Jesus, resisted the siren song of the culture; rejected the world's shallow wisdom and irrational ways of life; and who devoted themselves to the -teachings of Holy Scriptures as the only viable path for life.
Thirdly, our Lutheran Confessions teach that all people should imitate their faith, and the holy works their faith inspired. In this respect the church has many great saints, but none more honored throughout the ages than St. Mary the Mother of our Lord, whom the church remembers today.
Now it goes without saying that we do not pray to her or ask her to pray for us, or to intercede for us with her Blessed Son because that very Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, is the one and only High Priest, Intercessor and Mediator there is between God and man. No other can help, no other can save, no other can intercede.
Therefore in accord with our Lutheran faith let us this day join the Blessed Virgin Mary in magnifying God Most High for the holy Child she bore who is the world's Savior, and for her example of humility, faith, and holy devotion to God.
When the angel Gabriel first appeared to make the happy announcement (Annunciation / March 25th), the young Virgin was greatly troubled and deeply distressed, but Gabriel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall all his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end..."
Hearing this she was not only troubled, but now confused and perplexed beyond telling. She said to the Angel, "how can these things be since I am a Virgin?" To which Gabriel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy - the Son of God." To which the Blessed Virgin answered with these immortal words, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word."
Here is an example to follow; a most blessed model of humility, faith, and devotion to our God, but humility is a virtue that has gone missing in our day! We must find it again because no man can be saved without it, and because Mary's Son says many times in the holy Gospel: "whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted." There's nothing better than that.
Where can we find this godly virtue? How can we learn it along with pure faith and unwavering devotion to our God and to His perfect will for our lives? In a word hagiography; by studying the example of the Blessed Virgin and the saints of the ages, not only the ones written in Holy Scripture, but all those who followed in their train.
May we learn their stories, imitate their virtue, and rejoice with all the company of heaven, in never-ending gladness at the throne of the Lamb. Amen.
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras