(Modified 2021-08-15: Added audio recording of this sermon.)
You might have realized the change in the altar colour and clergy vestment from green last Sunday to white this Sunday. This feels and looks really unusual for a Trinity Sunday.
The reason for the change in colour is because we are celebrating the Feast of Mary the Virgin, the Mother of God (Theotokos) Jesus Christ. We are learning more about the person, attributes and role of Mary the Virgin through her own song of praise, commonly known as the Magnificat.
In the Anglican tradition, we sing or say the Magnificat mostly during the Evening Prayer, where we open our hearts and minds to the Lord, our God, loudly raising our voices, saying: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour…” (BCP 21).
We put ourselves in the shoes of Mary, the blessed servant of the Lord whose acceptance of the word of God has become a great example of discipleship. Her song becomes our song, her praise our praise, her humility our humility, her fear our fear, and her joy our joy.
Through the Magnificat, we have a glimpse of two types of people that Mary has foreseen in her vision of the salvation of the world and the restoration of the new creation through Jesus Christ.
We learn that those who have received God’s mercy and favour are the lowly (the humble), those who fear God, those who are hungry, and those who are in need. In short, the people who turn their hearts and minds away from worldly desire and put their trust in the Lord.
Through the witness of Holy Spirit of Christ, our souls also magnify the Lord and our spirits rejoice in God our Saviour. Mary, who bows down in humility and says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38), shows a great example of discipleship and hospitality reflected in the first group of the lowly, the hungry, and the fearful, whose faith, confidence and trust are in the Lord, our God.
In contrast, the proud, the powerful, and the rich receive different outcomes from God because they depend on their own skills, power and treasures rather than putting their trust in the Lord.
As you might have realized, God does not condemn the proud, powerful and rich people right away. He gives them a warning and an opportunity to turn from their own ways through some positive reinforcement—explaining the good things that come to the humble and the faithful.
What do we learn from and about Mary from the Magnificat?
In the course paper, “Mariology in the First Five Centuries: An Introduction to the Development of Mariology in the Early Church” (Green, South Carolina, December 2016), L. Jared Garcia concludes, “While Mary is certainly a remarkable servant of the Lord that God used to bring the Messiah into the world, she was not born without original sin, she has no part in man’s redemption, and neither is she worthy of veneration” (p.18).
I disagree with Jared only on one point, that “she (Mary) has no part in man’s redemption”.
Mary is the centre of human redemption. From our readings this Sunday, especially from the psalms, we learn that Mary is the dwelling place, a temple, for the Lord wherein Christ became a human flesh and joined human nature. Without Mary—and I am not saying Almighty God could not have chosen a different human medium for the purpose of human salvation as he wishes and according to his will—Christ could not have become human to save us from our sins. Since Christ became human through Mary because God had chosen Mary for this purpose according to God’s will, we affirm without reservations that Mary has a great role in human redemption.
Mary is the redemptive timeline of our salvation: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman…” (Galatians 4:4). This is a significant role in our salvation. This is not a role calling for worship or giving of reverence to Mary.
That Christ was born of a woman is an affirmation of Christ’s full humanity—Christ is one of us, he has been born of a woman like us. He has been nursed and cared for by the woman like us. His placenta is buried like ours. And if he were born during the technological advance, he would have worn diapers like most children of this age. No limitation in his humanity apart from sin.
We remember Mary’s significant redemptive role when we pray together with Mary, the humble, faithful, obedient and caring servant of the Lord, and the Mother of God to affirm the mighty hand of God to deliver us from our enemies and restore the world from sin through Christ.
We remember Mary as the disciple who has given up her heart and womb for the new creation, who has opened the way that the Lord has destined for his people to sing with joy to the coming of the new age for the indwelling of the Lord on earth. We pray to God, “May your faithful people sing for joy” (Psalm 132:9b, 16).
God’s joy is out joy because that is what the story of Mary teaches us. And such joy is an acknowledgement of the grace, favour, of God, to save us from sins through the Virgin birth.
Therefore, the declaration, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman” (Galatians 4:4), is reminding us that Christ was born of a woman when God had found favour in the most faithful, obedient and humble human being, a willing disciple who has given up her womb for the birth of Christ and the salvation of Israel and the world.
This incarnational birth, the joining of human nature with our Creator in Christ, is special because it comes to us through the promise of God to restore his people Israel and the entire world through the womb of the Virgin that opens the way to the Word of God to become flesh.
Mary obediently submits to the promise and responds to the Lord, “Let it be according to your word.” What is the Word of God? It is Jesus Christ—Mary welcomes the Lord with humility. It is the Scripture through which God’s mystery is revealed to the world. It is the preaching of the death and resurrection of Christ to save us from sin. It is our death and new life in baptism.
All this is bundled up in the most significant acceptance of the redemptive role: “Let it be with me according to your word.” When you relate this statement with the identification of the intimate relationship between Mary and God, where the angel has disclose the secret of God’s favour for Mary, saying, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30), you find the relevance of both the redemptive role of Mary in Christ’s birth and our discipleship in Mary’s acceptance of the Word.
Usually, we learn about Mary in the context of Christology, the study of the identity and role of Jesus Christ, who, as we read last Sunday in the context of the Holy Communion, is the bread of life that has come down from heaven. When Christ says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51), we learn that the joining of the divine and human natures of Christ is the centre of our redemption. And Mary is the centre.
He who is neither born of human nor taken on human flesh cannot save human beings from their sins. This Sunday, we learn about the redemptive duties of Christ from Galatians 4:5-7: (1) adoption to become children of God; (2) freedom from the law through the guidance of the Spirit of God; and (3) inheritance of the kingdom of God—we become heirs of God through Christ.
What then has Mary accomplished for us? Why does it matter to know her redemptive role?
“The Magnificat is a revolutionary song of salvation whose political, economic, and social dimensions cannot be blunted. People in need in every society hear a blessing in this canticle. The battered woman, the single parent without resources, those without food on the table or without a table, the homeless family, the young abandoned to their own devices, the old who are discarded: all are encompassed in the hope Mary proclaims” – Sister Elizabeth Johnson, 2012.
In addition to St. Paul’s teaching about the fullness of time where Mary has become the centre of salvation, our minds and thoughts are directed to the role of Mary in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, Mary is known as “The Mother of God” (Theotokos), a title formalized at the ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431 CE, because Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ, who is affirmed the second person in the Trinity, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
The honourable title Theotokos does not imply Mary is a divine figure to worship. The Magnificat, Mary’s own song of praise, and the Old Testament and Epistle readings during the Feast of St. Mary the Virgin do not allow such interpretation for worship. Mary herself praises her God and Lord to show the way for us that only our God deserves our worship and praise.
We rather honor Mary as the Mother of God (Theotokos), Lord Jesus Christ, and the greatest example of Christian discipleship. We acknowledge her life is a fountain of God’s love and favour. We participate in this love and favour when we sing or say the Magnificat, when we open up for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in us and for the world. We join Mary in asking for more blessing and favour when we come to God in humility, “Let it be as you will Lord.”