Leonardo da Vinci, Annunciation (ca. 1472-1475)
Christmas is the one time of the year that it’s okay for us Protestants to talk about Mary. The Protestant movement of the sixteenth century was a reaction to perceived abuses in the Catholic Church. Anything considered idolatrous or unbiblical was rejected. The reformers saw popular devotion to the Virgin Mary with all of the statues and images and prayers to her as superstitious at best and idolatrous at worst, so they said it had to go. That’s why Protestants have a kind of spiritual amnesia when it comes to Mary. She appears in nativity scenes, Christmas pageants, and old familiar carols. But after Christmas Mary gets wrapped in bubble wrap and put away for another year, and then she’s forgotten.
But we shouldn’t forget about Mary. She’s the mother of our Lord. Instead of forgetting about her, we can learn from her example. Mary was the first and greatest disciple. When the angel Gabriel told her she would conceive by the Holy Spirit, she said, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Her immediate reaction was humble submission. She didn’t protest or bargain with God. She didn’t complain that a miraculous conception might get in the way of her plans to marry Joseph. She simply said yes to God’s will, even though God was calling her to do something that would cause both great joy and great suffering.
Mary’s obedience can be seen throughout her life. At Cana, where Jesus performed his first miracle turning water into wine, Mary said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). That’s good advice for us all.
When Jesus was being crucified, and his disciples had fled, Mary remained, watching her son suffer. From the cross, Jesus entrusted John, the beloved disciple, to his mother’s care, saying to Mary, “Behold thy son!” and to John, “Behold thy mother!” (John 19:26-27). There’s a sense in which Mary became not only a surrogate mother to John but to the whole church. Without Jesus there would be no church. Without Mary there would be no Jesus. Mary was also present in the upper room on the day of Pentecost, praying with the other disciples for the coming of the Holy Spirit. And even though we Protestants don’t pray to Mary the way Catholics do, I believe Mary prays for us in heaven because spiritually we are all her children.
Just as we are all children of Eve, we are also all children of Mary. Through Eve’s disobedience sin entered the world and passed unto every one of us. Through Mary’s obedience, the remedy for sin entered the world: Jesus Christ, the Savior. Mary is the new Eve.
The miracle of the incarnation is the greatest miracle and it required Mary’s cooperation. The word “incarnation” means God took on real human flesh and blood. Jesus wasn’t half God and half man. Jesus was no demigod. He was fully God and fully man. As the Nicene Creed puts it, Jesus is “God from God, light from light, true God from true God.”
The baby Mary carried in her womb and nursed at her breast was none other than the God of the universe. That’s why she’s called the Mother of God. Not because she came before God or caused God to exist, but because her baby Jesus is truly God. The churches in the East call Mary theotokos, which is Greek for God-bearer, or as Jaroslav Pelikan translated it, “the one who gives birth to the one who is God.” The greatness of Mary depends on the greatness of Christ.
When she gazed into her infant’s eyes, did she see the galaxies he made? When she nursed him at her breasts, did she realize that he was the bread of life, sent from heaven? As she fled to Egypt with Joseph to save Jesus from Herod, did she realize that she was saving the Savior of the world? When she watched her beloved Son die, did she realize he was dying so that others might live?
These are some questions for us to ponder when we get out the bubble wrap and put Mary away for another year.