Mary’s Preparation

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto - Dec. 13, 2009

“With God nothing will be impossible.”

The most tender and wonderful of the teachings about the Lord’s incarnation is the description of how, when presented with a most astonishing proposal, Mary humbly presented herself as willing to undertake a supporting role in greatest miracle of all time.

I.       What do we know about Mary from Scripture? And, what can be inferred about her from what we know about the times. (There is much that is “traditional” or legend that we will leave out because there is no evidence to support it.)

A.   We know that Mary was a virgin – that Jesus Christ was not the natural son of Joseph.

1.     Translation issue

a.     The word used in the original text can be translated either “virgin” or “young woman.”

2.     Prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.

a.     It’s neither a sign, nor a miracle, for a young woman to conceive.

3.     Then there are Mary’s own words as recorded in Luke, “I do not know a man” (LUK 1:34)

4.     Genealogy in Matthew

a.     …Eliud begot Eleazar, Eleazar begot Matthan, and Matthan begot Jacob. And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ. [MAT 1:15-16] The pattern is deliberately broken to distinguish the Lord’s birth from all the others. Joseph is the husband of Mary, but Joseph did not beget Jesus.

5.     Joseph’s reaction to her pregnancy

a.     If betrothal DID permit living together as some insist, then why was he surprised at her pregnancy? This was something that should have been welcome news.

i.       Except that he knew the baby was not his own.

II.    We know that Mary was a faithful member of the Jewish Church

A.   She knew the prophecies about the Messiah. And her own song of praise is reminiscent of the song of Hannah (1SA 2:1-10) that was read as the first lesson.

B.   Hannah was the barren wife of Elkanah. You’ll remember that Elkanah had another wife who was not barren, and she was unkind to Hannah. Hannah prayed to the Lord for a child, and if she were to have a son, she promised to give him to the Lord to serve in the temple. Her prayer was answered, and Samuel was born. 

C.   After he was weaned, she took him to the temple to be the servant of Eli, the high priest. It was then that she prayed a prayer of thanksgiving and praise that is recorded in the second chapter of 1st Samuel.

D.   What is interesting is the similarity between these two speeches credited to women who, separated by a thousand years, each found herself involved in a miraculous birth.

E.    Hannah’s speech begins, My heart rejoices in the LORD; my horn is exalted in the LORD, while Mary says, My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour.

F.    Both Hannah and Mary speak of the proud, who represent those who refuse to accept the Divinity of Jesus Christ:  Hannah says, Talk no more so very proudly; let no arrogance come from your mouth, for the LORD is the God of knowledge; and by Him actions are weighed. Mary says, He has shown strength with His arm; he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

G.   Both Hannah and Mary speak of the warriors, those who should be using their powers to defend and protect the Word, but who instead seek to do it harm, and show how the Lord will use His power to protect and uplift those who have been humbled:

1.     Hannah says, The bows of the mighty men are broken, and those who stumbled are girded with strength,

2.     while Mary says, He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly.

H.   And finally, both Hannah and Mary speak of how the Saviour put down the self-righteous, and those who profit from the pain of others, and that those who seek to be filled, who while acknowledging their errors yet seek to be corrected, will be given that which they need and be lifted up. 

1.     Hannah says, Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, and those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. Even the barren has borne seven, and she who has many children has become feeble. “The LORD kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up. The LORD makes poor and makes rich; He brings low and lifts up. 

2.     Mary says, He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.

I.       All this demonstrates that Mary was familiar with the scriptures, and that those who were familiar with the scriptures would see the prophetic element of the Samuel story being fulfilled with Mary.

III. We also know that Mary and Joseph were betrothed and therefore looking forward to a husband and family.

A.   We can reflect on all the changes that happen why a couple agrees to become husband and wife, and being preparing themselves for a life together. 

1.     Gradually, from being man and woman, they become husband and wife.

2.     It was that attitude of mind in Mary that was necessary for her to receive the Holy Spirit.

a.     The whole of the Word teaches that the Lord never does anything without first preparing the way through prophecy or other means. 

b.     In order for Mary’s mind to be ready to do its part in this miracle, it had to be prepared by the same process that every woman prepares herself to become a wife and mother, to think in new ways about the lives she will soon be responsible for.

IV.So, how does Mary’s experience help us to prepare for the Holy Supper? How do we prepare ourselves for the close presence of the Lord?

A.   All these things tell us that, in the Divine Providence of the Lord, Mary was prepared to receive the Divine physically, mentally, and spiritually.

1.     Do we receive the Lord in much the same way by the things that we choose to do with our lives?

a.     Physically

i.       Do we exercise the self-discipline necessary to promote health and well-being

ii.     Do we keep ourselves in external order and keep the civil laws?

b.     Mentally

i.       Do we read the Word regularly and reflect on its impact on our lives?

ii.     Do we discuss with others how the Word applies to our life and work?

iii.  Are we careful not to encourage harmful fantasies?

c.      Spiritually

i.       Do we examine ourselves for things that are contrary to the Lord’s intention and Will?

ii.     Do we work to remove those things from our lives?

B.   These things are not easy for us. Certainly the things that Mary faced were far more difficult. But let us not feel bad by comparison, but rather let us be encouraged that a mere mortal, and a very young person at that, could show that degree of poise, of commitment to something of value, and of trust in the Lord.

1.     When faced with difficulties and challenges, as we all are from time to time, let us remember, and draw strength from Mary’s example and welcome the inflowing Divine into our hearts and lives. Let us each strive to come into a state where we can say to the Lord, honestly and humbly, Let it be unto me according to your word. (LUK 1:38)

First Lesson:  1 Sam 2:1-10

And Hannah prayed and said: “My heart rejoices in the LORD; My horn is exalted in the LORD. I smile at my enemies, Because I rejoice in Your salvation. {2} “No one is holy like the LORD, For there is none besides You, Nor is there any rock like our God. {3} “Talk no more so very proudly; Let no arrogance come from your mouth, For the LORD is the God of knowledge; And by Him actions are weighed. {4} “The bows of the mighty men are broken, And those who stumbled are girded with strength. {5} Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, And the hungry have ceased to hunger. Even the barren has borne seven, And she who has many children has become feeble. {6} “The LORD kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up. {7} The LORD makes poor and makes rich; He brings low and lifts up. {8} He raises the poor from the dust And lifts the beggar from the ash heap, To set them among princes And make them inherit the throne of glory. “For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, And He has set the world upon them. {9} He will guard the feet of His saints, But the wicked shall be silent in darkness. “For by strength no man shall prevail. {10} The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken in pieces; From heaven He will thunder against them. The LORD will judge the ends of the earth. “He will give strength to His king, And exalt the horn of His anointed.” Amen.

Second Lesson:  Luke 1:26-38

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, {27} to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. {28} And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favoured one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” {29} But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. {30} Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. {31} “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. {32} “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. {33} “And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” {34} Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” {35} And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. {36} “Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. {37} “For with God nothing will be impossible.” {38} Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Amen.

Third Lesson:  TCR 827

To this I will add this most notable fact: Mary the Mother of the Lord once passed by and appeared overhead in white raiment. Then pausing a little she said that she had been the mother of the Lord, and that He was indeed born of her; but that when He became God, He put off everything of the human He had derived from her, and that therefore she now worships Him as her God, and is unwilling that anyone should acknowledge Him to be her son, since in Him everything is Divine. Amen.