This is another article on Mary that I wrote for Table Talk some years ago.
The beautiful Christmas story should become more and more familiar and dear to us as the years go by. But this familiarity can blunt the force of the story if we are not careful. The mere fact of the Lord’s advent should never cease to startle and amaze us. Though the world grows weary of its own Christ-less celebrations, we should be increasing and “growing fat” in our joy and wonder at the marvel of God’s fulfilled promises in His Christ.
We are blessed to see the whole picture now: Christ has risen! But those present at the stable saw by faith. John the Baptist leapt for joy in his mother’s womb when he heard Mary’s voice. So ought we to leap for joy as we listen to her song in Luke 1. She has much to teach us about humility and exaltation, for she was and is exalted. But she was humbled first, for she indeed had her own cross to bear. But throughout her Son’s life, God sent Mary messages of help and comfort and confirmation through His servants. Thus, her story teaches us, not only humble obedience and faith, but also God’s kindness and faithfulness to His people. He did not ever leave her or forsake her, but led her gently through to the end.
One of the predominant themes of Scripture is God’s exaltation of the humble. Consider Mary’s words in her Magnificat: “He has regarded the lowly estate of his maidservant” (v. 48); “He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their, hearts” (v. 51); “He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowlyâ€ (v. 52); “He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” (v. 53).
Mary identifies herself as a lowly maidservant. She was not the daughter of a wealthy landowner. But she was, as the angel said, the “highly favored one” and blessed among women (Luke 1:28). The Lord was with her. This is the highest commendation a young woman can receive: “You have found favor with God” (v. 30). God was pleased with her and bestowed His favor upon her.
Mary’s response is crucial. She magnifies the Lord, rejoices in her Savior, and submits to His authority and power over her. “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). She could not have understood all that was in store for her. But she responds in faith and obedience. This is humility: believing God’s Word and submitting to it even if we do not understand all that it means. She does not respond with excitement or praise for herself. She bends her knee to the sovereign will of God, whatever those plans may be, and whatever they may cost her.
Imagine the stir that Mary’s pregnancy probably caused. Even Joseph “was minded to put her away secretly” (Matthew 1:19) because he did not want to cause her public shame. The Scripture is silent on her troubles during this time, but surely at the least, it must have been difficult. How did her parents take it? What of her friends and neighbors? No wonder she went â€œwith hasteâ€ (Luke 1:39) to visit Elizabeth! And what a confirmation and comfort it must have been to have Elizabeth greet her with words of faith: “Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord” (Luke 1: 45). And no wonder the angel announced Elizabeth’s news to Mary. This was a way for Mary to visibly test the angel’s words. God provided comfort for her in the midst of her trouble, a clear reminder of His faithfulness to all His promises.
The next test for Mary that Luke records is the birth itself. I have often wondered what we would think if someone in our church had a birth story like Mary’s. We would all be mortified! Yet God chose to bring His Son into the world in a humble, unpretentious manner. God exalts the humble; this is His way. And it is emphatically not the way we would do it, were we in charge.
But God didn’t leave Mary wondering at the stable either. He sent shepherds to confirm again to her that He was still fulfilling His way. The shepherds spread “the saying which was told them concerning this Child” by the angel of the Lord. And Luke records, “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). She is remembering God’s faithfulness. She remembers Elizabeth’s word. Now she tucks away the shepherdsâ€™ words. All these things will help her through to the end. God shows Mary that she is still “highly favored”; He sends her comforting words through His servants, messages of His love and reminders of His promises.
When Mary’s days of purification were ended, Jesus was presented to the Lord in Jerusalem. Again, God sends a message to Mary: â€œBehold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealedâ€ (Luke 2: 34-35). I wonder if this parenthetical comment from Simeon came as the result of a worried look on Mary’s face. Either way, these were hard words for any mother to hear. We know that Mary would indeed be pierced as she watched her Son bear heavy piercing indeed. But God continued to remind her to remember His faithfulness to all generations.
God used the prophetess Anna (in Luke 2: 36-38), as well as the Magi to send other messages of confirmation and comfort to Mary. “And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11).
God sent His angel to warn Joseph in a dream to flee to Egypt, running away to save the life of the Child. Mary must have been comforted to know that God was now sending her messages of help and comfort through her own husband Joseph. He was confirming His plan for the Child, calling them back when it was safe, and directing them once they arrived.
When Jesus was twelve, He frightened His parents by staying behind in Jerusalem while they had started home. This time Mary receives the message from her Son (Luke 2:49). “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Fatherâ€™s business?â€ And Scripture says, “His mother kept all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51). The pieces of the puzzle were coming together. She was pondering, remembering all God’s messages to her from the angel of the Lord, Simeon, Anna, the Magi, the shepherds, Elizabeth, Joseph. God was calling her to continue to trust Him to fulfill His plans. She was still the Lord’s maidservant, recalling all His words to her.
In Luke 8:19-21, Jesus reminds His mother of His duties to God. He had begun His ministry now. Perhaps she was wavering, wondering what He was doing, questioning whether this was what God had intended. He was stirring up so much trouble. She was probably being asked many questions about Him. But He reminded her, “My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it.” Mary had heard the word of God, and she had done it. Jesus reminds her here to do so more and more.
And at the cross, we read of one last message to Mary. At the crises of the cross, Mary’s heart must have been breaking. Is this how it was all to end? But her Son remembers her: “Woman, behold your son!” (John 19:26). He had not forgotten her or her needs as flesh and blood. He assigns His disciple John to care for His mother. God is faithful to Mary to the end. Though Scripture doesn’t record it, Mary probably saw the risen Lord and all of God’s promises fulfilled.
Mary is not the possession of the Roman Catholic Church. The woman they make images of and worship and pray to is not Mary the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. No, she is some idol they have unfortunately named Mary. In much the same way, the holy day we celebrate on December 25 is not at all the same as the one that our culture celebrates. As C.S. Lewis lamented, too bad Xmas is on the same day as Christmas. Mary belongs to us. She is a remarkable saint that we should praise and exalt because God has praised and exalted her.
God delights in lifting up the humble and setting down the proud. If there is one thing that Jesus made abundantly clear in His teaching, it was this principle. “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 18:4). “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Mt. 11-12). Mary followed Christ to the end. She was faithful all the way to the cross. She did not desert Him. She bore her burden with humility and grace. She pondered. She was pierced. “For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.” (Luke 1:48-49).