Sermon for Midweek Advent 3
Romans 1:16-25 + Luke 1:39-56
If you’ve spent any time in Roman Catholicism, if you’ve ever prayed the rosary, or if you like classical music, then you’re probably familiar with the Ave Maria: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” Why don’t we Lutherans pray the Hail Mary? Is there something wrong with the words? Well, the first sentence of the Hail Mary is a quotation of Gabriel’s words to Mary when he announced that she would be the virgin mother of Jesus. You heard it just last week. The second sentence you heard just this evening; those were Elizabeth’s words to Mary when Mary entered her house. The last sentence asking Mary to pray for us sinners was added much later by the Roman Church.
We don’t pray the Hail Mary because God never directs us in His Word to pray to any of the saints, or to ask Christians for favors after they die. Besides that, in order for Mary to hear the prayers of Christians throughout the world, she would have to be omnipresent like God, and she isn’t. She’s a humble human being, like us, a sinner who was saved by faith in Christ, just as we are. So it would be foolish and contrary to the Scriptures for any of us to try to speak to Mary, to pray to her or to ask her for help.
But it was good and right for Elizabeth to speak those words to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” She was speaking by the Holy Spirit! And when the Catholics refer to Mary as Mother of God, they aren’t wrong. Elizabeth herself called Mary “the mother of my Lord.”
That brings us to our meditation for tonight on the third article of the Augsburg Confession. Why was Mary blessed among women? Why do all generations—including us—call her blessed? Why is it right also for Lutherans to call Mary the mother of the Lord, or the mother of God? Because of who Jesus is. He is The Son of God.
1 Our churches teach that the Word, that is, the Son of God, assumed the human nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. 2 So there are two natures—the divine and the human—inseparably joined in one person. There is one Christ, true God and true man, who was born of the Virgin Mary, truly suffered, was crucified, died, and was buried. 3 He did this to reconcile the Father to us and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of mankind.
4 He also descended into hell, and truly rose again on the third day. Afterward, He ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. There He forever reigns and has dominion over all creatures. 5 He sanctifies those who believe in Him, by sending the Holy Spirit into their hearts to rule, comfort, and make them alive. He defends them against the devil and the power of sin.
6 The same Christ will openly come again to judge the living and the dead, and so forth, according to the Apostles’ Creed.
Let’s consider a few things in this article. The Word, the Son of God, assumed the human nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There’s the great truth of John chapter 1, which we’ll hear in the Gospel for Christmas Day, one week from today. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. The Word, the Son of God, has no beginning. He is God’s Son from eternity, not just when He was born of Mary. God’s Son, and God—truly divine, truly of one essence with the Father.
But then, as our Confession says, He assumed the human nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. That’s worded very carefully. Christ didn’t change into a human being. He didn’t go from being divine to being human. He didn’t mix the human nature with His divine nature, like taking an egg, and then taking flour, and then mixing them together and baking it into a cookie that is now no longer either flour or egg, but a cookie. No, Christ “assumed” the human nature. He took it up into Himself.
So we say there are two natures—the divine and the human—inseparably joined in one person. That’s what Paul says in Romans 1. Concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh (that is, according to His human nature), and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness (that is, according to His divine nature), by the resurrection from the dead. So Christ remains fully divine and fully human, from the time of His conception and forevermore. But He isn’t two separate people, or half God and half Man. He is one Person. He is one Christ who is God and Man.
There is one Christ, true God and true man, who was born of the Virgin Mary, truly suffered, was crucified, died, and was buried. He did this to reconcile the Father to us and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of mankind.
So anything you can say about Jesus, you can say about God and Man. Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary; God was conceived in the womb of Mary. Jesus was born and laid in a humble manger; God was born and laid in a humble manger. Jesus suffered and died for all the sins of mankind; God suffered and died for the all the sins of mankind. Not God the Father—He was neither conceived nor born nor suffered nor died. But God the Son—He was born and wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger; He hungered and thirsted and slept, and suffered, and died.
That’s why we can and must say, if we would be Christians, that Mary is the mother of God, because Mary is the mother of Jesus, and Jesus is God. To call Mary “mother of God” is not to acknowledge the greatness of Mary, but the greatness of Jesus.
He also descended into hell, and truly rose again on the third day. Afterward, He ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. There He forever reigns and has dominion over all creatures. He sanctifies those who believe in Him, by sending the Holy Spirit into their hearts to rule, comfort, and make them alive. He defends them against the devil and the power of sin. Christ, the God-Man went to hell and crushed Satan for us. Christ, the God-Man, rose from the dead. Even now, Christ, the God-Man, is not idle. The Son of God reigns for us at God the Father’s right hand. And when we speak of the Holy Spirit working in us through Word and Sacrament to sanctify us and lead us into every good work of love and service to our neighbor, it’s Jesus actively sending the Holy Spirit to us to do all that. When the bread and wine are blessed in Holy Communion, it’s the body and blood of God and Man that we receive.
The same Christ will openly come again to judge the living and the dead, and so forth, according to the Apostles’ Creed. This is the Christ whom we confess and worship as both true God and true Man. This is the Gospel of which St. Paul says in Romans 1 (as we heard earlier this evening), “I am not ashamed, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”
We must not be ashamed of this Gospel, either. To confess who Jesus is, to confess what He has done for us, to confess our faith in Him, is to worship the only true God. So we won’t go around, like the Roman Catholics do, talking to Mary or asking her for favors, because we already know and confess Christ as the one Mediator between God and Man. We won’t pray the Hail Mary. But we Lutherans also won’t hesitate to refer to Mary as the Blessed Virgin, and as the Mother of God, because she brought Jesus into the world. She was blessed to be His mother, even as we are blessed to know and confess Him as the Son of God, as our Savior and as our Brother. Amen.