Rev. Doug Floyd (delivered by Kelly Floyd)
And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
Last week we rehearsed the prayer of John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Today we come to the power and beauty of Mary’s prayer, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
We might begin by asking, “Who is Mary?” Why did God choose her? In the standards of the day and even by the standards of many cultures today, she is nobody. In other words, she is not important. She has no power. Luke Timothy Johnson writes,
Mary holds no official position among the people, she is not described as “righteous” in terms of observing Torah, and her experience does not take place in a cultic setting. She is among the most powerless people in her society: she is young in a world that values age; female in a world ruled by men; poor in a stratified economy. Furthermore, she has neither husband nor child to validate her existence. That she should have found “favor with God” and be “highly gifted” shows Luke’s understanding of God’s activity as surprising and often paradoxical, almost always reversing human expectations.
God often calls the overlooked to change the world. Consider King David. He was Jesse’s forgotten son. Yet the stronger, older sons are rejected. If society was holding a contest for choosing the mother of the Messiah, Mary would not even be in the running. God created her and God choose her to reveal His great glory.
Today as we meditate upon Mary’s words, I want us to hear some of how the Church Fathers view this marginal woman who becomes the very center of the early Christian faith.
First, Mary is seen in relation to Eve. One of the earliest Church Fathers, Irenaeus refects on this mystery.
So the Lord now manifestly came to his own. Born by his own created order that he himself bears, he by his obedience on the tree renewed and reversed what was done by disobedience in connection with a tree. The power of that seduction by which the virgin Eve, already betrothed to a man, had been wickedly seduced was broken when the angel in truth brought good tidings to the Virgin Mary, who already by her betrothal belonged to a man. For as Eve was seduced by the word of an angel to flee from God, having rebelled against his Word, so Mary by the word of an angel received the glad tidings that she would bear God by obeying his Word. The former was seduced to disobey God and so fell, but the latter was persuaded to obey God, so that the Virgin Mary might become the advocate of Eve. As the human race was subjected to death through the act of a virgin, so was it saved by a virgin was precisely balanced by the obedience of another. Then indeed the sin of the first formed man was amended by the chastisement of the First Begotten, the wisdom of the serpent was conquered by the simplicity of the dove, and the chains were broken by which we were in bondage to death.
Bede writes, The new era of salvation begins with the conception of Jesus in Mary. As Eve contained in her womb all humanity that was doomed to sin, now Mary contains in her womb the new Adam who will father a new humanity by his grace
God forms Adam of the clay and breathes into him. A rib is taken from Adam to create Eve. But now God will raise up a woman by the Spirit, and she will give birth to the Son of God. The first Adam was born of breath but the second Adam is born of Spirit. This is a mystery. St. Peter Chrysologus (Cris-A-logus) writes,
The Spirit and the Virgin—this is not an earthly union, but it is a heavenly mystery. This is a reason why that which is born is divine. Therefore, we must acknowledge the fact that He was born, but remain silent about how He was born. For, that which is secret cannot be known, that which is shut up admits of no opening, and what is unique cannot be represented by an example.
Chrysologus continues, “Fittingly the angel did add: ‘Blessed art thou among women.’ Through the curse she incurred Eve brought pains upon the wombs of women in childbirth. Now, in this very matter of motherhood, Mary, through the blessing she received, rejoices, is honored, is exalted. Now, too, womankind has become truly the mother of those who live through grace, just as previously she was the mother of those who by nature are subject to death.”
In reversing the condemnation of Eve, the Lord honors a specific woman but simultaneously honors womanhood. Even as Mary is chosen by God to bear the Son of God, she has become a dwelling place for God.
Thus the church considered Mary in light of God’s Presence. If we consider the writings of Scripture, we see how God comes to Moses in the burning bush. The bush is not consumed and remains a bush, yet God reveals Himself through the bush. Or consider the Tabernacle or the Temple. These are understood as a dwelling place of God and yet the Temple cannot contain God. In his dedication of the Temple, Solomon prays, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! 28
Here is the mystery of Mary. She has been called to contain He who cannot be contained. Theophanes reflects on this in his words of worship. He gives voice to Gabriel and Mary reflecting on this great mystery.
The angel: Rejoice, lady; rejoice, most pure virgin! Rejoice, God-containing vessel! Rejoice, candlestick of the light, the restoration of Adam and the deliverance of Eve! Rejoice, holy mountain, shining sanctuary! Rejoice, bridal chamber of immortality!
Theotokos: The descent of the Holy Spirit has purified my soul; it has sanctified my body; it has made me a temple containing God, a divinely adorned tabernacle, a living sanctuary and the pure mother of life.
The angel: I see you as a lamp with many lights; a bridal chamber made by God! Spotless maiden, as an ark of gold, receive now the giver of the law, who through you has been pleased to deliver humankind’s corrupted nature!
Thinking of Mary as a Tabernacle helps us now to see Mary as an image of the church. In Mary’s confession, the Fathers saw a pattern of discipleship in the church. “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” This is the confession of the people of God across the ages. St. Ambrose writes,
“Fittingly is she espoused, but virgin, because she prefigures the church which is undefiled yet wed. A virgin conceived us of the Spirit, a Virgin brings us forth without travail. And thus perhaps Mary, wed to one, was filled by Another, because also the separate churches are indeed filled by the Spirit and by grace and yet are joined to the appearance of a temporal Priest.”
The church is the bride of Christ. The church is the virgin who bears many children. Christ calls the early disciples and through them founds a communion, a church, a called-out people. As a community, we utter Mary’s confession, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
Thus, the church, the people of God both locally and across the ages becomes the Tabernacle, the dwelling place of God. When we gather we worship, we rehearse the Scriptures, we meditate upon the Good News, we pray for the world, we offer our gifts to God, and God in His goodness transforms our gifts, and we receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Finally, we are sent out as His people, His representatives, His image into a world in need.
This morning I chose to focus on Mary for several reasons. First, the Anglican church and the Protestant churches in general tend to downplay Mary for fear of worshipping her. As you can see from the early Church Father, they saw Mary within the redemptive story of God’s grace. Next, I wanted to consider Mary because she was a marginalized person. In the grand scope of things, she was consider unimportant and overlooked. Yet, God in His grace chose Mary for the joy and sorrow and bearing Jesus.
Here we are reminded of the Gospel of grace. God chose Mary and He chooses us in His lovingkindness—not because we deserve His mercy and grace.
Lastly, in Mary we see the cost of a life of discipleship. From the moment of conception, she would begin to let go of the child she was bearing. She couldn’t hold onto Jesus or shape Him into her image of a child. Her life would be one of letting go and submitting to Jesus and His call to obey the Father. We as individuals the church as a whole must submit all our plans and ideas and hopes and dreams to the Lord. We let go and submit, trusting that He will fulfill Hs purposes in our lives.
 Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, ed. Daniel J. Harrington, vol. 3, Sacra Pagina Series (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991), 39.
 Arthur A. Just, ed., Luke, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 19–20.
 Arthur A. Just, ed., Luke, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 12.
 Peter Chrysologus and Valerian, Selected Sermons of Saint Peter Chrysologus and Saint Valerian’s Homilies, ed. Hermigild Dressler, trans. George E. Ganss, vol. 17, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1953), 113.
 Peter Chrysologus and Valerian, Selected Sermons of Saint Peter Chrysologus and Saint Valerian’s Homilies, ed. Hermigild Dressler, trans. George E. Ganss, vol. 17, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1953), 228.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Ki 8:27–28.
 Arthur A. Just, ed., Luke, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 19.
 Arthur A. Just, ed., Luke, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 14.