Mary as “Theotokos” *

 

The gospel reading for Christmas Eve is Luke 2:1-20.  The sermon text is Isaiah 7:l4, “The virgin with be with child and will give birth to a son, and will cal him Immanuel.”  Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection at the 11:00 p.m. Candlelight Service on December 24, 2006.

 

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

 

Tonight I want to focus our attention on Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Some of you were here 11 hours ago when I gave part one of this two-part sermon on Mary.  Thanks for coming back for more.

 

I concluded this morning’s sermon with an image that comes from a painting done on the eve of the Reformation.  Mathias Grunewald painted a scene of folks standing at the cross of Jesus.  Jesus is suffering until death.  John the Baptist, Grunewald imagined in his painting, was standing there pointing a bony finger at Jesus.  In faded red letters, in Latin, are the words, “He must increase, I must decrease.”  John points not to himself nor to anyone else, but to Christ alone.  The Blessed Virgin Mary is also a prominent figure in this painting.  She joins John the Baptist is pointing others to Jesus, representing the Church in our primary call to be disciples  and witnesses.

 

Tonight I want us to think Biblically about the Mother of Jesus.  What can we declare tonight about Mary that is faithful to scripture and undergirds our reliance on Jesus alone as our Savior?

 

Here are four ways I think we can biblically view Mary:  She was chosen; She points to both the human and divine natures of Jesus; She is not the Mediator between God and humanity; and Mary was a faithful witness the rest of her life.

 

I.                     Mary is called blessed in the gospel of Luke not because of her virginity or

because of her humility, but because she was chosen as the person through whom God’s glory would enter most deeply into the human story.

 

Luke writes of Mary as a rather ordinary young woman of first-century Judea.  He does not present her as especially holy or even humble.  We are given very few details about her nature or background.  What Luke does present is someone whom God has chosen to participate in a special mission.  This puts her right in line with other biblical stories in which someone is called by God and assigned a job to do.  Mary is sometimes referred to as “the first disciple.”  She is the first, in the story of Jesus, to say yes. 

 

 

II.                   The church through the ages has given Mary the title “theotokos.”  That is a Greek name that means, “the one who gave birth to the one who is God.”  Mary’s story points toward a central belief of Christians today: Jesus was both human and divine.

 

Through the years, Roman Catholic veneration of Mary has often detracted from her role in Jesus’ birth.  The church has over-emphasized Mary’s role by making her immaculate, sinless, and perpetually virgin on the one hand, and under-emphasized her as merely a poor, young, Jewish peasant woman on the other.

 

Here’s the biblical emphasis: Jesus alone is divine and the chosen Savior.  On purpose he entered this world as a human. The Nicene Creed uses these words to talk about him:  

 

·        “incarnate” – he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary

·        “made man” – he was made man

·        “crucified, suffered death and was buried” – For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried.

 

In other words, Jesus really lived, God really did give up his divine nature in order to come down from heaven and live in this world as one of us.  He alone overcame death and the grave and was resurrected and now has returned to heaven to be with God the Father. 

 

 

III.                  Christians ought to beware of an excess of piety toward Mary and the

thought that Mary is the mediator between God and humanity.

 

I know I am stepping on toes here tonight, especially among you who have been raised in the Catholic tradition.  But hopefully you will consider carefully, what I am saying.  We do not see biblical support for the Catholic teaching that Mary is someone to pray to, that she is a unique mediator who goes on our behalf to God and Jesus.   Instead we believe that we all have equal access to God and that Jesus alone is the one who has acted on our behalf as the Savior of the World.  Mary remains a humble servant who was chosen by God for an extraordinary mission. 

 

IV.               Mary’s discipleship did not end with Jesus’ birth and childhood.  She

continued to be faithful to the end, even to the foot of the cross.

 

 

We do not believe that Mary really knew what Simeon meant when he declared to her, “and a sword will pierce your soul too.”  But Mary remained faithful to her son, who is also her savior.  We find her at the foot of the cross not as a “queen of heaven” as many would understand, but as a grieving mother. 

 

Mary can rightfully be seen as an example and an inspiration to all of us.  She is justly called blessed, not because she was so special, but because she was chosen to be a part of God’s special mission.  She embodies one of the foundational affirmations of our Christian faith – that in Jesus Christ, we encounter God incarnate, God as both fully human and fully divine.

 

The other evening I stopped our Living Nativity on the front lawn of the church.  The Helwigs were portraying the Holy Family.  They wanted their picture taken as a keepsake and so I grabbed Pastor Carol’s Polaroid camera and snapped their picture.  When it developed it showed Josh and Jill and baby Abigail.  Jill then said something that caught my attention. Here is what I thought she said, “My hands are so large and Abigail is so small.  I feel like a shack.”

 

I told her I was impressed that she was saying something so theological, that she was describing her role of Mary as being a house or vessel for the baby Jesus.  Her response?  “That isn’t what I meant.  My hands look like Shaquille O’Neals next to Abigail!”

 

So I too have learned a valuable lesson: it is a good thing that the salvation of the world depends upon Jesus alone and not upon the imprecise and inadequate communication that we mortal messengers deliver.

 

Thanks be to God.  Amen.

 

*  I am grateful to Christianity Today and the 2003 Bible Study “Giving Mary Her Due” for providing lots of background information for preparing this sermon.