Then Isaiah said, "Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of mortals? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right."
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."
And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."
And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
I was once allowed to speak with Mary, the mother of Jesus. She happened to be passing by, and appeared in heaven above my head, dressed in white garments that looked like silk. She paused for a moment to say that she had been the Lord's mother, and he was born to her, but he became God, putting off everything human that he had from her; and that she therefore worships him as her God, and she does not want anyone to think of him as her son, because all the divine is in him.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. (Luke 1:48, 49)
With a title like "The Blessed Mother" out on the wayside pulpit, anyone passing by could be forgiven for thinking we were a Catholic church. Catholicism has lifted Mary up above all the other saints, so that she is almost as likely to be seen carved in stone out in front of a Catholic church as is Jesus himself. Partly in reaction to this, Protestant churches have tended to de-emphasize Mary, focusing almost entirely on Jesus Christ.
Swedenborgians have long had the same focus. And well we should, since we go one step beyond Protestantism in worshipping Jesus Christ not only as the Son of God, but as God himself come to us in human form. We believe that ever since Jesus rose from the dead after the crucifixion, and ascended to God the Father, the divine Father and Son are no longer two distinct persons (if, indeed, they ever were), but are one and the same God. So for us, comparing Mary to Jesus is comparing the finite and limited to the infinite and limitless: there is simply no comparison.
Yet our Gospels are the same as those read by Catholics and Protestants. And in the divinely inspired Gospel of Luke, we do indeed find Mary saying that "from now on all generations will call me blessed." So as we continue our Advent theme of "Unto Us a Child is Born," let's turn aside for a moment to consider the role of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Sainthood aside, the Gospels do have good cause to consider Mary blessed. After all, from among all the young women who would have been available to be the vessel by which Jehovah God was born into the world, she was the one who was chosen. And though the Gospels tell us that the Lord chose to be born in humble circumstances rather than in the lap of luxury, they also tell us that the Lord chose a good and upright woman to be the vessel of his birth--one engaged to be married to a good and upright man. Jesus may have been born into a dysfunctional world, but he chose not to be born into a dysfunctional family!
Perhaps it is the humble acceptance of the Lord's will that made Mary a suitable vessel for Jesus' birth. As we read last week, Mary finished her conversation with the angel Gabriel, who foretold Jesus' birth to her, by saying, "I am the Lord's servant; may it be to me as you have said." Though she was surprised at the honor of being chosen to carry the divine infant in her womb, and also at the mode of his conception, she was willing to take on that sacred task. And we know from the rest of the Gospel story and from the book of the Acts of the Apostles that Mary herself became one of Jesus' followers. Mary was an exception to Jesus' own later statement, during his brief ministry, that "only in his home town, among his relatives and in his own house, is a prophet without honor" (Mark 6:4).
Perhaps this was another quality that made it possible for Mary to be the vessel of the Lord's birth. She was willing to put aside her own preconceptions and her natural motherly pride, and accept even the fruit of her own womb as being more than her own flesh and blood. She was receptive to the angel's prophecy that the holy one to be born of her would be called the Son of God. So the words she spoke to Swedenborg from heaven are quite characteristic of her, and quite believable to those who do not reject Swedenborg's spiritual experiences outright. She told Swedenborg "that she had been the Lord's mother, and he was born to her, but he became God, putting off everything human that he had from her; and that she therefore worships him as her God, and she does not want anyone to think of him as her son, because all the divine is in him."
This attitude of humility rather than pride at being a vessel of the Lord is reflected in the rest of our text for this morning: "Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed," Mary said, "for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name." Yes, it was Mary's view that it was not because of anything she herself did that she would be called blessed, but because of what the Mighty One, Jehovah God, was doing for her. She gave all the glory and honor to the Lord, and took none of it for herself.
This is where we, too, can count ourselves blessed if we will follow Mary's example. None of us, I would guess, will ever have quite such an epoch-making responsibility as that of Mary: raising the Son of God, who, glorified, would become one with the God of the universe, so that, as Matthew tells us, all power in heaven and earth was given to him (Matthew 28:18). Yet in a way, we do have the very same responsibility Mary did--if not for the whole world, at least for our own little world.
For each of us will also hear the voice of the angel Gabriel within us, if our ears are open to hear it, foretelling the birth of the Lord, our Savior, within us. We may not hear it in the literal words of an angel. But if we can be anywhere near as humble and receptive as Mary was, then when we are ready for the divine birth within, it will be announced to us. It may come as an inspiration while we are in church, or while we are thinking spiritual thoughts, or while we are simply going about our daily tasks. We will know and feel the certainty that the Lord is coming to us in a special way; that the Lord is about to be born anew within us; that we are about to enter a new, more spiritual and loving phase of our life.
When we receive and feel this heavenly assurance, then we, too, can be the blessed mother of Jesus. We, too, can be vessels for Jehovah God to descend into this world of ours and be born within us and among us, filling us with tender and infinitely human love, and enlightening us with the brilliant radiance of divine wisdom.
When we feel and know that this divine birth is about to take place within us, we will be truly blessed for all generations if we respond as Mary did, exulting not because we have been singled out for special honor, but because the Mighty One, whose name is holy, has loved us so much that he has done great and wonderful things for us. If we can, like Mary, accept the Lord's presence in our lives with both humility and joy, then the Holy Spirit will come upon us as it did upon her, giving us, not a literal child of flesh and blood, but the spiritual child of the Lord's birth into our lives.
Like a child of flesh and blood, this child will grow in our lives. At times it may seem to be a long and difficult process: nurturing that divine presence, putting aside our own thoughtlessness and impatience in favor of the divine qualities of compassion, kindness, and a joyful desire to serve one another. Yet as these qualities grow in us, the Lord is growing in us as well. As our lives are transformed by the gentle yet powerful presence of Jesus Christ within us, like Mary we will come to see the divine one who has been born within us, not as our own child, but as our Lord and our God--as the center of all our worship and all our life. Then we will be truly blessed, both here on earth and to all eternity. Amen.
Music: O Come Emanuel
Midi Sequenced by
Floating Star Script