Monday, March 27, 2017

Does the Virgin Mother Still Have a Role in Our Lives Today?


At the time of the Fall, Adam saw the motherhood of his wife as a sign of hope. When God had cursed snake, woman, ground, and man, when mortality became a fact of life, Adam called his wife "Lifegiver." That was a sacramental naming. Jesus did similar things with Simon and Saul, giving them the baptismal names of Peter and Paul. Adam would not presume to name himself, since he had no such authority. He knew full well that he was not the measure of all things. God had already named him, and if it had to be done again, God would have to do it, but two of the patriarchs received sacramental names. Abram was named Abraham when he was given the covenant of circumcision, and Jacob was named Israel when he wrestled with the Lord all through the night. These people were part of salvation history, but the true mother that bore Immanuel was not Eve. The real mother of hope was a virgin espoused to a man named Joseph, who conceived God Incarnate in a miraculous way.

Why a virgin? I cannot tell you all the reasons for this, except that it was God's decision to do it that way. He wanted it to be a miracle, to call attention to it. He wanted to put the promise of Genesis 3:15 into effect in an unmistakable way, having the Deliverer be the offspring of the woman. He determined to send His Son in the womb of a virgin. He proclaimed through the prophesy of Isaiah that Immanuel would be the Virgin's Son, and once He proclaimed it there was no turning back. The Word had to be fulfilled. In the past the Church has stated that somehow this avoided the taint of original sin. Virginity alone is not a sufficient reason for this. Had God chosen a man to be the father of Jesus, He could still have arranged for him to be sinless, but it is pointless to speak of what God could have done. He chose to permit the Virgin Mary to be the Mother of His Son. That became a fact of history.

Eventually, God had to let Mary know. He sent an angel to tell her. Gabriel gave her a royal greeting as recorded by the evangelist, a greeting that is well-known now as the first verse of the ave Maria. And was she surprised! But she did not complain. She said, "I am at the Lord's service." Did she have any idea what that service would be? Of course she knew what motherhood was. In fact, she is an ideal type of all Christian mothers. If the home is the heart of the family, the mother is the keeper of the home. She wasn't worried about keeping up with the neighbors, or about how she looked. Or even about whether Joseph would be displeased. She was looking forward to her marriage with the carpenter, but the idea that her first child would not be his did not get in the way. "I am at the Lord's service. So be it."

The message was from God. The angel told her that her child would be conceived by the Holy Spirit, and would be called the Son of the Most High. Just as Jehovah is the Old Testament's name for God the Son, so the Most High is the Old Testament's name for God the Father. Then, the angel told her to name the child Jesus, the Greek translation of Joshua. As the Old Testament Joshua conquered Canaan, so the New Testament Joshua would fulfill what God had told Adam and Eve about conquering evil. St. Matthew adds that another angel gave a similar message to St. Joseph in a dream. So the husband and wife were on the same page.  

About the time Mary was due, the census interrupted her life. She and Joseph, who did marry, had to make that famous journey to Bethlehem, where they couldn't find a vacancy. The prophecy of Micah, which the scribes quoted to Herod to the Holy Family's disadvantage, is for us a clear direction as to where to look for the Messiah. That is all part of God's plan. You see, the Holy Family is not complete without us. I do mean us. The Holy Child was none other than God who became one of us to taste death. We confess that today when we refer to Mary as the Mother of God. St. Paul teaches us in Philippians 2: He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, presenting Himself in human form, becoming obedient to death. There was no Son of God in heaven while Jesus was on earth. He was no less omnipresent than before, but in His humiliation He did not employ His majestic attributes. The Son of God, in His totality, spoke the fourth word on the cross, forsaken by God. Moslems are offended when we call Mary the Mother of God because they don't believe God needs a mother, but our God is very human. Our God dealt effectively with sin. The Moslem God ignores sin. Our God forgives it by paying its price.

If we are included in the Holy Family, does that make Mary our mother? No, it does not. The New Testament tells us plainly that our mother is the Holy Church. She fulfills the maternal and nurturing role in the Family of God. Mary, during her lifetime, gave Jesus her full love and affection as a mother gives a child. From the first chapter of Acts, it seems clear that she became a believer, as did her son James, but she could not bring us to faith, nor can she nurture us now. It was Mother Church who bore us as children for the Lord, and it is she who feeds us with Word and Sacrament. The Church raises us to spiritual adulthood, protects us from dangers, and assures us of our place in God's extended Family. We cannot talk to Mary today. She is departed to be with Jesus. We cannot communicate with those who are in the place of eternal life, but Mother Church is as near as our telephone.

One more thing should be clear to everyone. I mean that the people in the church are our brothers and sisters, members with us in the extended Holy Family. It is true that our earthly brothers and sisters, and sons and daughters for that matter, might get in our way. One can only imagine how things were in Mary and Joseph's house, but they stayed together, raised all their children, taught them God's Commandments, observed the festivals, and provided a good example to us all. Mary certainly had a key role in this, for as the mother she was the keeper of the home. Jesus and His family had a good home. That is what God was asking of the virgin from Nazareth, and that's what she gave Him, at the Lord's service. AMEN.

~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

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