The phone rang in the middle of the night, and my friend
groggily picked up the receiver. It was a long-distance call. His
heart was hammering as he heard his mother's voice, "Is that you,
son?" "Mom!" he said, nervously, "is everything all right? What's
wrong?" "Nothing's wrong," she told him. "It's your birthday." My
friend was less than thrilled, "Good grief, you didn't drag me out
of bed at 3am just to say 'Happy Birthday,' did you?" "Well," she
answered, "you made me get out of bed at 3am 30 years ago
tonight-and I felt it was high time I paid you back!"
Today, we recognize Mary, the mother of our Lord. The Gospel
reading was about her visit to Elizabeth and Mary's response to
her, which we love and know as the "Magnificat": Mary rejoices
that she has been chosen to give birth to Jesus, our Savior.
Giving birth is probably the event for which we most remember
Mary. And it's the aspect of Mary that most women who are mothers
identify with. But there are several other distinct moments where
we encounter her. First, in the annunciation, an angel appears to
her and tells her she will give birth to a son who will redeem
God's people and be known as "Immanuel," that is, God with us;
next, this passage, her visit to Elizabeth, who is pregnant with
Jesus' cousin, John, later to be known as John the Baptist.
We next encounter her with Joseph in Bethlehem searching for a
place to stay, and of course, then, giving birth to Jesus. Most
folks don't really remember the next encounter much because it
gets passed over because of how we mix the Matthew and Luke
accounts of Jesus' birth and have the Magi showing up on the night
Jesus was born.
But actually, in Matthew's account, the only mention of the
Magi, they don't arrive till 2 years later because, we are told,
they go to a house to see the "mother and the child," and King
Herod, in his attempt to kill Jesus, orders all males two years
and under to be killed. So, folks don't usually recall this
account of Mary and the 2 year old Jesus.
Then we have the wonderful scene in Luke, the only one of its
kind where we see Jesus as a youth growing up, being left behind
in Jerusalem while his parents think is in the caravan. They
discover he isn't there and go frantically searching for him and
find him in the Temple with the scholars.
Next we encounter Mary at a wedding in Cana where she asks
Jesus to do something about getting more wine because it has run
out. This is the scene, recorded in John, where Jesus performs his
Then it's not until his crucifixion that we encounter her
again. She is not one of the women at the resurrection. There we
encounter another Mary, a Mary who has gotten a really bad
reputation, and quite undeservedly. It will be the subject of one
of my Wednesday night Bible studies in September. The Mary I'm
speaking of is Mary Magdalene. Nothing in the Bible says she was a
prostitute. Nothing. Only a stretch of the imagination and total
assuming can make a connection, and men and women scholars today,
acknowledge that she wasn't a prostitute since it can't be
Yet, just like today, once such a rumor starts, it is very
hard, maybe impossible, to dispel it even with proof and fact to
the contrary. And this Mary Magdalene, at the crucifixion, and the
burial, is the first person, a woman, to see the risen Lord.
We have another Mary we encounter, and that is Mary the sister
Martha. Probably the three most famous passages regarding Mary
and Martha are where Mary washes Jesus' feet, where Martha
complains to Jesus asking him to tell Mary to get up and help be
hostess and not just sit and listen to what Jesus is sharing, and
where Jesus comes to them because their brother, Lazarus, has
died. It's in this encounter that we have the first person, a
woman, in the Gospel acknowledging who Jesus is, when Martha runs
to meet Jesus as he is coming after Lazarus has died. It is in
this encounter that she says, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are
the Christ, the Son of God, who has come into the world."
And it is women who go to the tomb and who are greeted by an
Angel and told that Jesus has risen. They run to tell the male
disciples who don't believe them, even think they're being
emotional maybe even hysterical.
Over and over in Scripture, throughout the Old Testament and
the New, women play an integral part of God's revelation to
mankind of God's will, intention, and manifestation through Christ
and the Holy Spirit.
We mostly concentrate on the men in the Bible, but it is the
women who are the ones who build the church. Paul and other
apostles come and preach and establish churches, but it is the
women who keep the church going by opening their homes for the
gatherings of the believers, the women who we are told support the
church through encouragement and faithfulness and also through
their gifts of money.
There were so many women, and we know their names, but seldom
give them the credit they're due. But they didn't do it to garner
fame for themselves; they're acts were in service to the Lord, and
in faithfulness to their witness about Jesus, the risen Christ.
Today we celebrate the life of Mary, the mother of our Lord. In
the Lutheran church we approach this Mary quite carefully so that
we don't over do our praise of her. We don't elevate her to the
levels that the Roman Catholic Church does-we don't venerate her,
don't claim her to be without sin. We take the words of the Gospel
to heart that she gave birth to other children besides Jesus, with
James, the brother of Jesus, playing a leading role in the church
But Mary deserves more attention than we give her. She was just
a teenage girl when she became pregnant with Jesus. And Scripture
tells us of Joseph's dilemma because he had not yet slept with
her, but he decides not to abandon her but to marry her. But
without knowing this, she still willingly accepts the role that
might even bring her shame. Even today there is still a stigma to
being an unwed mother, especially a teen.
Yet, back in those days of Mary and Joseph, the stigma was even
worse and the woman was permanently ostracized. So think of it.
Mary is just a young teenager who is told she will become
pregnant, and not in any ordinary way, and the child she will give
birth to will be one who is a Savior, who will redeem the people
of the world. Good grief. Imagine if that were being told to a
Think of it. Think of a teenage girl you know today. Think of
how frightened girls are who aren't wed and find they're pregnant.
There are so many things that run through their head about not
being accepted and how they will be seen and probably labeled.
Yet look at the incredible example they have available, that we
ALL have available to us in the young Mary. She humbly accepts her
role. And she praises God for having chosen her for this great
For every child that is born to an unwed mother, HOW the child
was conceived is not important. The child is a miracle of God.
It's only through the grace of God that the church has survived
to this day. And the grace of God has been manifest in women down
through the ages. We certainly have the women of the Bible from
whom we can draw great examples of courage and faith and devotion.
But God didn't stop creating amazing women. Every congregation
that exists today exists because of the women who are the
The men are the strength, the women the backbone. But the women
are more. Recently I put on the outdoor sign board "Faith of our
Mothers, living still." We sing about faith of our fathers, but it
is the faith of our mothers that kept alive the faith of our
We have the amazing grace of God shown to us in the person of
Mary, the teenage mother of our Lord. And though she is just a
teen, she is an amazing woman because she accepts the role God
asks her to play in the plan of redemption. We are never told that
she is a spiritual or religious girl. She knows of God, yes, but
we don't know she is deeply religious as a teen.
God includes us in the plan of redemption because we are all,
each in our own way, asked to be part of it. We are asked to play
some role. We can accept it or not. If we choose not to, you can
be sure that God will find someone else, but we will have lost out
on the special role God intended for us. God isn't done with us if
we choose not to accept a particular role, and will ask us again
and again until we accept a role. The longer we take to accept,
the longer we'll be losing out on the blessings of accepting the
Some women accept role after role. God keeps asking them when
they have finished one role, to accept another. Even in sickness
God will still ask us to accept a role. It's not the role of being
sick, but the role of not being overwhelmed by the sickness. Even
in the midst of a devastating illness God asks us to play a role
that is part of God's plan of redemption.
We have many roles in life, but always one of them will be the
role that God asks us to play in God's plan of redemption. Amazing
women, amazing grace. We know the grace of God through our Savior,
Jesus the Christ, but God chooses women to be the bearer of that
grace. God chose Mary, and God continually chooses women to be the
bearer of God's grace.
Amazingly, many men don't get it. For those who don't, God
works around them, and grace is still available to them, even if
they don't realize it.
In closing I'd like to read two verses from a hymn entitled
"For All the Faithful Women." We'll sing it some Sunday soon.
Here are the two verses: "We sing of Mary, mother, fair maiden,
full of grace. She bore the Christ, our brother, who came to save
our race. May we, with her, surrender ourselves to your command,
and lay upon your altar our gifts of heart and hand. For all the
faithful women who served in days of old, to you shall thanks be
given; to all, their story told. They served with strength and
gladness in tasks your wisdom gave. To you their lives bore
witness, proclaimed your pow'r to save."
Amazing women - amazing grace. May God continue to bless us
with a church full of amazing women, bearing us God's grace.