The Mother Of My Lord
One of the reasons Christmas is so controversial is that Christmas, rightly understood, makes a shocking and offensive claim. Christmas implies that we humans need a saving that we cannot bring about for ourselves. Christmas declares that we could not produce our own redeemer, which means (1) our sin and guilt are great and (2) our savior must come from the outside.
Now, God could have made his entrance as human in any number of ways. He could have come as a grown man. He could have given a Spirit-sanctified pregnancy to an already married couple. But he chose in his wisdom to mark his coming in a special way — with an utterly unique conception — that would set his Son apart as not only fully human but distinct. This unique entrance of the Son of God into the world we call “the virgin birth” (or more precisely, the virgin conception). And not only is it offensive to some but folly to others. “This is not how humans are conceived” — and that’s exactly the point.
Scottish theologian Donald Macleod writes, “The virgin birth is posted on guard at the door of the mystery of Christmas; and none of us must think of hurrying past it. It stands on the threshold of the New Testament, blatantly supernatural, defying our rationalism, informing us that all that follows belongs to the same order as itself and that if we find it offensive there is no point in proceeding further” (Person of Christ, 37).
So here we are, on the second Sunday of Advent, at the door of the mystery of Christmas, and instead of hurrying past, we’re going to linger. This account of Mary’s visit from an angel and her virgin conception is blatantly supernatural, defies our rationalism, and exalts her son in a way that cuts to the heart of Advent and Christmas.
In these four Sundays of Advent, we are moving together through chapters 1 and 2 of the Gospel of Luke. Last Sunday, we met John the Baptist; today Mary; next week Zechariah; December 23 Jesus. As we turn to Mary, let me draw your attention to the three most important truths about Mary. No other Gospel tells us as much about her and Luke. He seems to have known her personally and interviewed her. So let’s highlight the three most important truths about her, all here in this passage.
Three Truths About Mary
1) Admire Mary’s Submission (verses 26–38)
Mary’s submission is the climax of verses 26–38, but first let’s set the scene.
Mary is from Nazareth. Today we recognize the name Nazareth because 2000 years later it has been made famous, and positive, by Mary’s son, “Jesus of Nazareth.” But Nazareth was very unimpressive, to say the least. The Old Testament never mentioned Nazareth. We sing today about the “little town of Bethlehem” — and Bethlehem may have been small compared to Jerusalem — but Bethlehem, “the city of David,” dwarfed Nazareth in terms of prestige and pedigree.
Nazareth was a podunk, backwater town. Some thirty years later, a man named Nathanael would express to the common sentiment of first-century Jews when he said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). So the virgin conception begins very humbly, with an unmarried woman in an unimpressive place.
The angel Gabriel (one of only two names angels in the Bible, along with Michael) appears to Mary to deliver the announcement. He’s the same messenger who visited Zechariah earlier in this chapter (Luke 1:19). And the one who appeared to Daniel some 500 years before (Daniel 8:16; 9:21). He reveals to Mary that she will have a son who will be the long-awaited , much-prophesied descendant of Israel’s greatest king, David, from a thousand years before.
Mary then asks, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34). Now, last week, we saw Zechariah respond to the angel’s announcement with a question, and he was struck with silence because, as the angel said, “you did not believe my words” (Luke 1:20). But it’s different with Mary. She asks in faith, and Elizabeth will celebrate in Luke 1:45 that Mary “believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” So, there is a place in faith for questions, and a way to ask questions in faith. Submission doesn’t mean Mary doesn’t have any questions. Rather, it means she asks in faith, knowing God has the answers and will reveal them in due season, in his proper timing.
Verse 35, then, is the best explanation of the virgin conception we have:
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy — the Son of God.”
God’s Spirit will overshadowher — that’s the key word. The only other place the word for “overshadow” (Greek episkiazō) appears in this Gospel is Luke 9:34 at the Transfiguration when “a cloud came and overshadowed them” (also Matthew 17:5 and Mark 9:7), depicting God’s presence. It’s an image for God’s presence as the Spirit hovered in creation and the cloud surround Mount Sinai when Moses received the law. Matthew 1:20 gives another summary, with less detail than Luke: “that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” God doesn’t give all the details, but he does clarify that he, not any man, will conceive the child in Mary.
Now verse 38 gives us Mary’s remarkable response (she even says, “behold,” which sounds like an angelic announcement):
“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
One commentator notes that this very well may be the most faithful response to God’s will in Scripture yet to this point. “No one in Israel ever responded to God as does Mary. Mary demands no outside proofs or signs that the impossible shall be made possible. She receives God’s word in abandonment and trust” (James R. Edwards, Luke, 50).
And like mother, like son. This, of course, will not be the last humble, submissive embrace of God’s will in this Gospel. Mary’s response of submission to God’s will anticipates her Son’s submission to his Father’s will in the Garden the night before he died.
Think about the model and molding this woman provided for Jesus — and all she provided for God’s own Son — not just an ovum, nine-month gestation, and the pains of childbirth, but also “the home, the environment and the nurture within which Jesus grew up and may well have had to do so as a single parent” (Macleod, 42). He grew under her care (Luke 2:52). She never disowned him or abandoned him, even to his utterly shaming crucifixion (John 19:26).
Just imagine the impact this woman had on our Lord. No other human so deeply shaped God’s own Son in his humanity.Which merits a special word of encouragement to mothers.
Moms, you have the most important calling in all the world. And one of Satan’s best strategies in our world today is trying to get you think otherwise. (And that is in no way to say dads are dispensable.) We’re not sure what happened, but at some point in Jesus’s teens or twenties, Joseph disappeared off the scene. Yet Mary is there at the cross. God raised his Son, at some point, without a human father, but not without mama. He kept Mary there for his Son all the way to Calvary. Moms, God has placed a unique calling on your lives. Draw strength from Mary’s example. Her glad submission and faithfulness to God’s call is a good model for us all two millennia later.
So, in verse 38, we admire Mary’s submission. Now skip down to verses 46–55 and let’s hear her sing.
2) Hear Mary’s Song (verses 46–55)
After Mary’s visit from the angel, and then her visit to Elizabeth, Luke records a psalm Mary wrote. Christians call it “the Magnificat” based on the first word (Magnificat) in Latin. Her song has three distinct parts:
Verses 46–47: what Mary is doing — praising God
Verses 48–49a: why: what God has done for Mary
Verses 49b–55: who God is for us all, all the time
Look at verses 46–55:
46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
The heart of this song of praise from Mary (verses 49–55) is a remarkable celebration of God and his surprising ways. This is the kind of God he is — different from us humans — he shows his strength not by recruiting the strong but by rescuing the weak.
This is not just a celebration of God’s kindness to Mary (vv. 48–49) but a profound window into who God is in this world for his people all the time. This is not a personal journal entry from Mary. This is a profound summary of the whole Bible, and one of the best glimpses we have in all the Scriptures as to who God is. The essence of his holiness (“holy is his name,” verse 49) is that he does things differently than our human instincts, his ways are higher, the older serves the younger, he rallies to the weak, not the strong. God is not just this way for Mary and a few others. This is who he is all the time, as he makes foolish the wisdom of the world (1 Corinthians 1:27). Over and over again, we think we have him figured out with our small human minds, and he shatters the mold. And Mary’s son will literally embody this.
We humans naturally tend to rally to the strong and neglect the weak. But God rallies to the humble and puts down the prideful. There are three pairs here of the proud/mighty/rich being made low while God raises up the humble/weak/hungry:
Verse 48: “he has looked on the humble estate of his servant”
Verse 51: “he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts”
Verse 52: “he has brought down the mighty from their thrones”
Verse 52: he has “exalted those of humble estate”
Verse 53: “he has filled the hungry with good things”
Verse 53: “the rich he has sent away empty”
Verse 54: “he has helped his servant Israel”
One way to say it is that Christmas turns the world upside down. God humbles the proud and exalts the humble. Instead of visiting the palace in Jerusalem, God comes to a rustic, forgotten town, to a young unmarried woman — and he magnifies his strength by exalting human weakness.
And Mary’s song not only celebrates thathe does it but also shows us how. How is he magnified in us? The answer in verses 46–47 is through our rejoicing in him. Look at verses 46–47:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
This is a lifechanging truth if you catch it. God is magnified in us when we, like Mary, rejoice in him.
You might say, “But that’s not what the verse says. It says ‘and’ – not ‘when’ or ‘by’ or ‘through.’” The question, then, is how does God’s magnification relate to our rejoicing? God is ultimate, not man, which Mary’s song makes clear. How does a soul/spirit magnify the Lord? Put it together like this: our spirit rejoicing serves to magnify God. God is magnified in Mary as she rejoices in him — because we magnify, or glorify, or honor, what we rejoice in. John Piper calls this truth Christian Hedonism, that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. And your pastors believe and love this truth and find it to be powerfully insightful for all the Christian life. And there’s a beautiful, biblical statement of it right here in Mary’s song: God is magnified in Mary when her spirit rejoices in him. God’s design for our lives that we magnify him means that all his sovereign power is on the side of our spirits rejoicing in him. God doesn’t just command our rejoicing but stands read to supply it.
So, we’ve looked at Mary’s submission and her song; now let’s jump back up to verses 39–45 and finish with the most important truth about her: her Son.
3) Worship Mary’s Son (verses 39–45)
In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
For our purposes, the key is verse 43 and Elizabeth’s phrase “the mother of my Lord.” This idea of Mary being “the mother of our Lord” or “the mother of God” has a long, controversial history in the church.
In 431, the Council of Ephesus affirmed Mary to be theotokos (Greek, “mother of God”). Originally, affirming Mary as “mother of God” wasn’t as much about Mary as it was about Jesus. She was clearly human and no more. And her son was plainly human, but the question was whether he was more than just human. Calling Mary “mother of God” was a way of affirming Jesus’s deity.
However, over time the veneration of Mary went too far in far too many places. And that word “veneration” is important. The Catholic Church does not claim to “worship” Mary but to “venerate” her.It also claims, through church tradition, other things about her plainly not represented in Scripture: her “perpetual virginity,” her bodily “assumption into heaven,” her “immaculate conception” whereby not only her son but she herself was sinless, and that she is “queen of heaven” (again not worshiped but venerated). These false doctrines are not excusable, but it is easy enough to see why they might develop, given the tremendous honor and blessing it is to Mary to carry God’s own Son in her womb and be his mother. We can hear it in the repetitions of the words “favored” (verses 28 and 30) and “blessed” (verses 42, 45, 48), and Elizabeth’s memorable line repeated by Catholics over and over again when praying the Hail Mary: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (verse 42).
But the over-appreciation of Mary is something Jesus himself hedged against, and Luke, of the four Gospels, who honors Mary most also makes that the clearest. Luke 11:27–28: “A woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!’ But he said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’” Now, don’t mistake me; Jesus doesn’t dishonor his mother, but he honors her by honoring what would be her wish: that she would not distract people from her Son. (See the similar effect in Luke 8:20–21.)
In Luke 2, it is Mary who is blessed (by God!), not Mary who is the blesser. She is “blessed” (not deserving) to receive this grace (favor) from God, to mother his Son. She is not the blesser or the giver of grace.
Finally, to Elizabeth’s phrase “the mother of my Lord.” The word “lord” appears 25 times in the first two chapters of Luke, but only here and in Luke 2:11 does “Lord” refer to Jesus. (Luke 2:11: “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”) However, by the end of the Gospel, the title “Lord” applies to Jesus just about every time. At this point in the story, it is shocking that the title “Lord” used for God himself through the Old Testament would begin to be applied here to this baby Mary will carry, birth, and raise.
What’s shocking enough in this passage is that at long last (after a thousand years) David’s long-awaited descendant is finally coming. There’s the hint in verse 27, when Luke mentions Joseph as “of the house of David.” And the angel announces in verse 32 that “the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David.” This would be what Mary would have originally understood about this child being “Son of the Most High” (verse 32) and “Son of God” (verse 35). He would be God’s human “son” over his people by ruling over them as his king.
And not only this but verse 33: “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Jesus will not only be king, but king forever. His life and reign, somehow, will not end. God had promised to David, “My steadfast love will not depart from [you] . . . and your house and kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:15–16). Not only will David’s line not end, but one in his line will live forever and never need to be replaced. And this is Jesus.
And even more than that, he is “Lord” — God himself. What is hinted at here, and will become clear during his life, is that this Jesus is not merely God’s human “son” as David’s kingly heir, and not merely an eternal king (mindboggling as that is), but he is in fact God’s eternal Son made man to save us. He is not only David’s son but also David’s Lord. He is the Lord of heaven himself, comes as man, to rescue us.