Herrenhuter readings for Wednesday, the 3rd December 2014

Simone_Martini_and_Lippo_Memmi_-_The_Annunciation_and_Two_Saints_-_WGA15010The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him. (Psalm 28:7 KJV) And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. (Luke 1:46-47)

St. Mary must have really gone through some deep waters. Although the evangelist Luke does not dwell on that excessively, we can imagine that without too much effort. Yet that would be speculation and adding twos and twos together from what we know in similar situations or at least seem to know. What is written in God’s holy gospel of St. Luke however, is that the holy virgin Mary was betrothed to Joseph, the carpenter from Nazareth, that they were both descendants of King David and in the bloodline of Jesse – that royal lineage from which the Messiah was to be born. Royalty for sure, but over the generations somewhat impoverished and not at all high and mighty by any standard.

Now before St. Joseph actually brought her home and married her, his young bride was visited by the archangel Gabriel. He had a most wonderful message for this young lady from Nazareth. A message that was God’s answer to all his promises from of old. A gospel that was awaited most anxiously by all the faithful in Israel. Good tidings that would change everything.

What an imposing figure that angel must have been! The messenger from the living God. Authoritative, with divine glamour still reflecting off his persona just as Moses face had been shining so brightly after his meeting with God – how much more would this angel be gloriously illumined as he was constantly in the presence of the almighty King of kings in the heavenly realms? And he appears with godly revelation in the humble abode of those Nazarene commoners giving it the divine glamour befitting such a momentous occasion.

St. Mary – that virgin bride of St. Joseph – was initially troubled by his weighty greetings: Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. (Lk.2,28) She was not used to such salutation and probably thought the angel was making fun of her, taking a cheap shot at her and plainly not being serious. Yet, the high and mighty angel Gabriel did his best to dispel her troubles and concerns: Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. That alone mattered in the end and I believe that sentence carried a lot of weight and brought a lot of comfort to the becoming mother of God St. Mary: Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. Mary was not to be slighted, not harmed and not put into a negative predicament. Rather God’s favour rested on her. She had nothing to fear. This off course was strong comfort steeling and bracing her for the big news, which was about to be revealed to her, because the angel did not stop with that healing balm for the little Mary, rather he went on to tell her the good tiding, which was about to come to pass: And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. That was a mouthful – even for the archangel of the Lord. Enough to bowl everybody over – especially the one, who was at the receiving end of it. This was the divine response to address our most serious and deep seated calamity from of old, it would bring about help, peace and salvation for us and all mankind – through this godly son Jesus Christ, our great Lord and the highest King over all – and Mary was supposed to be the blessed fount, the true crucible, the treasure trove and human receptacle.

The evangelist Luke does not elaborate much with fancy details, but rather keeps this biggest and most beautiful and precious exclamation simple and straightforward so that the lovely mother-of-God-to-be would not be bowled over, but hear it and remember it and carry it in her heart, what God had in store for her and all of humanity. Nobody could have dreamt this up. This was essentially God’s key for the greatest game changer of all. Jesus was coming to catch and bind the devil, harrow hell and overcome all evil for us and our salvation. This little baby still going to be conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, was going to do, finish and perfect what all the king’s wise and strong men never could accomplish in all those centuries despite all their heroic efforts and attempts – put our lives back together again to be holy, at peace with God and one another and thus be god-pleasing once again.  Yet Jesus was coming to do just that + and St. Mary, was to be his mother. She was to bear him for nine months under her heart. She was to care and nurture him like mothers do with help- and hapless babies, so that he would grow up to be God-fearing and familiar with the good faithful ways of ancient Israel, learning to walk in the very light of God and living obediently in his ways all the days of short life – from the very beginning in Bethlehem to the end in Jerusalem, where all prophets end up.

The angel addressed some concerns businesslike – making it clear that neither St. Joseph nor any other man would be the father, but rather God himself. This was God’s way and his ways are always best not only for St.Mary, but also for the rest of us. To underline this coming fact the archangel Gabriel tells the blessed Mary that her cousin up in the mountains of Judea was also pregnant although she was old and past childbearing: For with God nothing shall be impossible. 

And the little Mary answers in a most perfect and faithful way: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her. She does not argue. She does not object against these amazing and profound ways of the Lord. Rather she accepts her role of being a handmaiden of the Lord, at his disposal and at his convenience. It was not going to make her life easier, more comfortable, more profitable or luxurious. No, she was to be a mother of a little boy – and this would demand all that it did for mothers from the early time of Eve, who first had to bear children with pain and great tribulation. St. Mary was not to be different. She would have to face hardship, distress, homelessness, rejection, persecution, exile even in the earliest of her babies days. The dark forces were out to kill her and the little baby – the evil dragon was waiting to bring peril, war and bloodshed and everlasting darkness on earth by disposing of this godly baby to save the world. That’s not the kind of life we’d expect for a heavenly Queen and exulted mother of God, but St. Mary was obedient under the weighty, but caring and sustaining hand of the Lord. She would not rebel. She would not reject his ways. She would not argue – just yet – even if at the wedding at Cana and when Jesus was preaching later on, she would come up with ideas of her own – after all she was not perfect, she is not co-redemtrix, but rather she too is saved by the mercy and forgiveness of her son our Lord, who finally bears the cross alone even while the sword pierces his mothers heart. Yet she says: Be it unto me according to thy word! 

Now exulted and on high St. Mary has already seen, what she on earth just believed. We are not there yet, but we cling to these wonderful words from of old and bear them in our heart, meditating on them, recalling them especially when dark and heavy our days, drawing comfort from them, because the Lord is faithful and does not neglect those he calls and prepares for his mission. He does, what he says and he let’s us join in and sing in anticipation of his glorious fulfilment and final happy end for us and all his faithful people: The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him. (Psalm 28:7 KJV) And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. (Luke 1:46-47) Amen.

Dear Lord our heavenly Father: Your ways are wonderful and full of wisdom and truth and goodness too. You lead your holy ones steadily on the way that leads to the final destination – the heavenly realms and your lovely presence. I thank you for your election and calling of St.Mary, the blessed mother of your Son Jesus Christ. You kept and provided for her in the dark hours of her life and made her see, how your holy Son worked obediently and faithfully for us and our salvation throughout his life even unto the cross in Golgotha. Let us not shrink from your calling either, but rather strengthen our resolve and diligence to follow you faithfully, going about our mission as you would want us to. I thank you also that you gave St. Mary a good and caring husband in St.Joseph, a good and compassionate cousin like St. Elisabeth, willing sponsors and donors like those kings from afar, supporters and givers like those shepherds from the fields of Bethlehem, faithful prayer mates like St. Hannah and St. Zachariah in the temple, more children and then also other friends and fellow believers like the holy apostles and faithful disciples of Jesus. Thank you that you have called, gathered and sanctified us in your holy community of the sacred Church – the fellowship of true believers – the cloud of witnesses – the migrant people of God on their way to our heavenly home. Let us also live faithfully this day, keep us from all sin and let us trust solely in you – our Lord God and redeemer. Amen.

“Saviour of the Nations, Come”
by Martin Luther, 1483-1546

1. Saviour of the nations, come, Virgin’s Son, make here Thy home! Marvel now, O heaven and earth, That the Lord chose such a birth.

2. Not by human flesh and blood, By the Spirit of our God, Was the Word of God made flesh– Woman’s Offspring, pure and fresh.

3. Wondrous birth! O wondrous Child Of the Virgin undefiled! Though by all the world disowned, Still to be in heaven enthroned.

4. From the Father forth He came And returneth to the same, Captive leading death and hell– High the song of triumph swell!

5. Thou, the Father’s only Son, Hast o’er sin the victory won. Boundless shall Thy kingdom be; When shall we its glories see?

6. Brightly doth Thy manger shine, Glorious is its light divine. Let not sin o’ercloud this light; Ever be our faith thus bright.

7. Praise to God the Father sing, Praise to God the Son, our King, Praise to God the Spirit be Ever and eternally.

The Lutheran Hymnal
Hymn # 95  Text: John 1: 14 Author: St. Ambrose, +397
German version translated by Martin Luther, 1524
Translated by: William M. Reynolds, 1860, alt.
Titled: Veni, Redemptor gentium
Tune: Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland
1st Published in: Geistliches Gesangbuchlein
Town: Wittenberg, 1524, ad.

About Wilhelm Weber

Pastor at the Old Latin School in the Lutherstadt Wittenberg
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