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Ave Maria

During Elizabeth’s sixth month of pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin. She was engaged to marry a man named Joseph from the family of David. Her name was Mary. The angel came to her and said, “Greetings! The Lord has blessed you and is with you.”

But Mary was very startled by what the angel said and wondered what this greeting might mean.

The angel said to her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary; God has shown you his grace. Listen! You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of King David, his ancestor. He will rule over the people of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will never end.”

Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I am a virgin?”

The angel said to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you. For this reason the baby will be holy and will be called the Son of God. Now Elizabeth, your relative, is also pregnant with a son though she is very old. Everyone thought she could not have a baby, but she has been pregnant for six months. God can do anything!”

Mary said, “I am the servant of the Lord. Let this happen to me as you say!” Then the angel went away.

Mary got up and went quickly to a town in the hills of Judea. She came to Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the unborn baby inside her jumped, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She cried out in a loud voice, “God has blessed you more than any other woman, and he has blessed the baby to which you will give birth. Why has this good thing happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? When I heard your voice, the baby inside me jumped with joy. You are blessed because you believed that what the Lord said to you would really happen.”

Then Mary said, “My soul praises the Lord; my heart rejoices in God my Savior, because he has shown his concern for his humble servant girl. From now on, all people will say that I am blessed, because the Powerful One has done great things for me.

His name is holy. God will show his mercy forever and ever to those who worship and serve him.

He has done mighty deeds by his power. He has scattered the people who are proud and think great things about themselves. He has brought down rulers from their thrones and raised up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things. and sent the rich away with nothing.

He has helped his servant, the people of Israel, remembering to show them mercy as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his children forever.” Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.” Luke 1:26-56, NIV

We Protestants don’t talk much about the Virgin Mary, and I think that it’s to our spiritual disadvantage and shame. Our brother and sisters in the Catholic and Orthodox churches of Christianity do talk about her— a lot. And perhaps we have some things right, perhaps they do as well, and perhaps the truth is somewhere in the middle. I can attest to what I believe the Catholics are absolutely right about: Mary was the most blessed woman to ever live. God selected her to be on this earth at the precise time He wanted her here to do the most extraordinary and important task of any human being. I can also attest to this: She was a human being—just like you and me—-not a divine being. I mean by that, she was tempted, like all women are, she had fears and was unsure about why things happened as they did. She experienced frustration, as when she lost Jesus for a few days when he was twelve years old, she also suffered incredible sadness and shed many tears when Joseph, her husband died, and when her nephew, John the Baptist, was beheaded; she endured unspeakable horror and shock as she saw her son, Jesus, beaten to pulp….his naked body nailed to a cross….then forced to watch Him slowly die in agony. Is there any mother that could have suffered more anguish and torment over what she saw on that Friday?

The are a few areas where there are differences of opinions, and disagreements in doctrine about Mary’s birth and death—two events that are not recorded in the Bible. All we know about her life after Jesus resurrection and about her life before she became the mother of Jesus were written in the fourth century or later, taken from oral traditions.

Now I share this only to admit that there are areas where Christians disagree about Mary—and other beliefs as well. But I would also add that none of this has nothing to do with Christ’s work on the cross to redeem mankind, God’s plan for the redemption of mankind, my salvation, your’s, a Catholic’s or an Orthodox’s. I think it’s obvious that no one has everything right in terms of interpreting the Bible or getting the truth on every comment about Christ, the apostles, or Mary contained in traditions outside scripture. These are not matters essential for salvation, so we can agree to disagree and still love one another.

But I read an except from a book written a few years ago by by Erica Komisar, about the importance of a mother’s touch and care for her infant child. Thee book she wrote argues that the mom’s intimate presence with the baby is not only quite important for the first three years of the child’s development, but in a way a man or father could never equal.

More significantly, a neuroscientist named Dr. Tim Tottenham, has determined that not only are infants biologically dependent upon their mothers, but that babies are far more neurologically fragile than ever before realized. He remarked that babies are born without central nervous systems and that mothers are the central nervous system to babies, especially for the first nine months of life; but up until three years the mom serves an absolutely essential role for the baby’s development. So every time a mother soothes or comforts her baby, she is actually regulating the baby’s emotion from the outside.

You’ve seen this with babies and small children. The touch something hot, but their central nervous system has not properly developed to cause them to remove their hand from the stove or fire. An adult has to move their hand away for them. They might scream, but they’ve not developed fully enough to immediately remove their hand.

I once watched my two year old niece get stung by a wasp that landed in her hand. She screamed and cried as it kept stinging her, but she did not reflexively kill the wasp or flick it off her hand. It took her father, furious at the wasp, to remove the wasp and then extinguish it.

Now you might wonder why I am bringing all of this up. When I read this article three years ago, I did not immediately understand why it caught my attention. But as I was driving in the car one night on my way to a dinner it hit me: God chose a young lady named Mary to carry His beloved Son; and that same Son, Jesus, was born like all men are born, vulnerable and fragile, just like the babies described above. He was not born a “super baby” but was born into a very fragile environment. Jesus, like all infants, lacked the complete development of muscle mass, permanent teeth, and most importantly, His central nervous system, and therefore was dependent upon Mary’s protection, care, affirming words, and comfort for Him to develop as a young man.

What an honor that God chose Mary to be that mother! But what a wonderful young lady Mary must have been to be chosen. God trusted Mary with the emotional care of His Son—to see to it that He was properly loved, comforted, protected, and nurtured. Until then, I don’t think I have ever really grasped how incredibly responsible Mary was until I read this article in the WSJ. What an amazing task to lay upon a young mother and what a marvelous performance on her part.

But what does that have to do with you and me, though? God has not chosen us to nurture the baby Jesus. But, I was reminded that God has given me something just as holy as the baby Jesus. Paul told the Corinthians: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own.” (I Corinthians 6:19-20, NIV)….

We carry within us the Holy Spirit, a part of the triune God! Mary carried Jesus and was tasked with caring for that baby properly, but we carry God’s Holy Spirit within us and we are tasked with allowing nothing to cause Him (the Holy Spirit) disappointment, discomfort, or pain! We are not our own!….that’s how Paul eloquently puts it. (I Corinthians 6:19-20, Paraphrased) I not only belong to God, but I am carrying within my soul a part of Him. God forbid that my eyes, hands, mouth or imagination would see, touch, speak or conceive anything that would offend or hinder His work within me.”

Mary was chosen because she was very, very special. She was holy and set apart for something cataclysmic in the history of mankind. God selected Mary because He knew her humility and her heart—she was His proven servant. Listen to what she said again when the angel spoke to her: “I am the servant of the Lord. Let this happen to me as you say!”

You and I were born again not to pursue our own agendas, careers, pleasures, or personal enterprises, but to present our bodies, holy and perfect, as a living sacrifice and a dwelling place for His Holy Spirit… no less than Mary presented her body as a proper dwelling place for the baby Jesus.

But let me add this before I close: You might know that Mary’s words are very few. In fact, she only spoke four ties in the entire Bible. Three of the four passages are from the Gospel of Luke. Those three times are when she spoke with the angel (Luke 1:34 and 38); and went visit to Elizabeth and sings the psalm of praise known as the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55); and the time that Jesus was lost in the Temple and Mary admonishes him (Luke 2:48).

The fourth time she spoke, recored in John’s gospel, was during the story of the “Wedding at Cana”. She tells Jesus that there is no more wine (John 2:3) and then tells the servers, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5 NIV). That’s the last thing we have a record of her saying anything. What a beautiful valediction, or last words spoken! Mary never drew attention to herself, she pointed to the Son. So should we. My preaching, your teaching or serving, should never draw folks to us, but to Him. The best advice ever given in the Bible, perhaps, is Mary’s advice: “Do whatever He tells you…”

Finally, consider what Jesus said about Mary—the mother He loved: “As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” Luke 11:27-27, NIV. Think about that! When we choose to hear the word of God and obey we are as blessed as the Virgin Mary! We can’t all be the mother or step father of Jesus, but we can choose to obey and be a blessing to God!

Let Your goodness, Lord, appear to us, that we, made in your image, conform ourselves to it.

In our own strength we cannot imitate Your majesty, power, and wonder nor is it fitting for us to try.

But Your mercy reaches from the heavens through the clouds to the earth below.

You have come to us as a small child at Christmas, but you have brought us the greatest of all gifts, vthe gift of eternal love

Caress us with Your tiny hands, embrace us with Your tiny arms and pierce our hearts with Your soft, sweet cries."

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