16th January, 2008
Beautiful and complex, Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, drifts in and out of the Scriptures with the result that we know little about her.
MARY, MOTHER OF GOD: Charlotte Durut says Mary's laudable qualties included her obedience,
humbleness, trust, faithfulness, joy, courage and steadfastness. PICTURE: Matic Zupancic (www.sxc.hu)
MARY IN THE BIBLE:
“Mary, you have found favour with God. You will…give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High...” (Luke 1:30-33)
“I bring you news of great joy…Today in the town of David, a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)
“Suddenly, a great company of the heavenly host appeared…praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests’.” (Luke 2:13-14)
However, the Gospels describe Mary as a witness to Jesus’ most significant moments, including His first visits to the Temple in Jerusalem, His first miracle at the Cana wedding, His death, and beyond to Pentecost.
Since Pentecost, Mary has been raised to the - often contested on the basis it's Biblically-unsound - status of "Queen of Heaven", born without original sin, a virgin throughout her life, assumed body and soul into heaven, and an ever-holy mediator between mankind and God.
Other Christians view Mary as simply a humble servant of the Lord who cared for His son throughout His life.
So is Mary a heavenly mystery beyond our understanding or a believable reality we can learn from?
Searching the Scriptures
Of the four gospel writers, only Matthew and Luke - in particular the latter - describe the birth of Jesus. Yet even Luke describes Mary herself as merely “a virgin pledged to be married to...Joseph, a descendant of David”. (Luke 1:27)
It falls to the messenger angel Gabriel and Mary herself to reveal the character of Jesus Christ’s mother. Gabriel describes her as highly favoured by God, and Mary’s obedience to God’s seemingly impossible command may have been the reason for this.
“I am the Lord’s servant...May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38), she tells Gabriel.
Mary’s obedience is in stark contrast to Moses, who pleaded with God, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it”. (Exodus 4:13)
One of the greatest prophets of the Bible, Jeremiah, also professed doubts about his prophetic ability: “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.” (Jeremiah 1:6)
Mary’s humble obedience to God’s command was followed by great joy, a joy almost unbelievable in the face of the troubles she faced.
This joy, and consequently her true character, is revealed in her beautiful Magnificat.
“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour...All generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me - holy is His name.” (Luke 1:47-49)
Mary’s faith in God’s grace never wavered. She laid her troubles at God’s feet and with incredible courage, chose to see her burdens as blessings. Mary learnt to praise her Lord and to reach beyond current crises to see the big picture of his mercy in both her own life and in the life of the world.
This same obedience, faith and courage continued as, heavily pregnant, Mary journeyed to Bethlehem on the back of a donkey, and gave birth in a stable, with only an inexperienced husband to assist her.
Physical pain, spiritual burdens, and emotional self-searching all played a part in Mary’s early life with her newborn Saviour. Yet even after Simeon’s dire warning that a sword would pierce her soul (Luke 2:35), she continued to care for Jesus throughout his life, and at his cross.
THE MARIAN DOGMAS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH:
(These beliefs are frequently contested by other sections of the Church.)
1. Divine Motherhood
(Council of Ephesus, 431)
Mary is called the “Mother of God”, which translates as Theotokos or Birth giver of God.
2. Perpetual Virginity
(Baptismal formula, 3rd century)
Mary was a virgin before, in and after Christ’s birth. Jesus Christ was Mary’s only child, with the “brothers and sisters” of Jesus mentioned in the Gospels believed to be close relations not direct family.
3. Immaculate Conception
(Pope Pius IX, 8th December, 1854)
From the first moment of her conception, Mary was kept free of every stain of original sin.
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated on 8th December.
(Pope Pius XII, 1st November, 1950)
After finishing her life on earth, Mary was elevated or assumed into heaven, body and soul.
The Feast of the Assumption is celebrated on 15th August.
And although she is not specifically mentioned at Pentecost, she is mentioned as being one of the crowd of believers who gathered after the resurrection in the Jerusalem room - “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus.” (Acts 1:14).
Mary neither fought against God’s will for her nor ran away from what the future would bring. She did not let doubts overwhelm her or allow fear to shake her. Instead, she bowed her will to her Saviour and trusted in him as his servant. She danced for joy as she sang her Magnificat. And she treasured her experiences with her Lord and pondered them deeply in her heart. (Luke 2:19, 2:51)
Walking with Mary
The 15th August is a special day in the Catholic Church and a special day for me. Catholics believe Mary, the mother of God, was assumed into heaven body and soul on this day. And as I was born on August 15, my mother gave me the middle name of Mary.
As a result, I was very close to Mary in the early years of my life and even now in a Baptist church, still have a strong bond with her. While I may no longer pray to her as a mediator between God and myself, I do believe we can all learn great lessons from her.
Her willing surrender to God; her humble obedience; her beautiful joy; her courageous faith; and her ability to feel blessed instead of burdened, are all traits I admire and wish I had more of.
As Christmas draws near once again and we remember our Saviour’s birth, it is also a good time to consider the mother of our Saviour and her story.
Her beautiful qualities can teach us to live our lives very differently.
This article first appeared in Christian Woman magazine, www.christianwoman.com.au.
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