Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.
Have you heard the phrase, “Count your blessings” before? I’m sure you have. The idea behind it is to be grateful for all you have, all that God has given you. This isn’t bad advice, but this also presents a problem. How many individually identified blessings count as being highly blessed? Think about this: are wealthy people more blessed than poor people? What do we count as a blessing? Counting one’s blessings may actually miss the point of what it means to be blessed by God. In our Gospel today, Mary and Elizabeth help us see the true nature of blessedness: we are blessed by God through the presence of Christ.
To be blessed by God comes from the presence of the incarnate Christ. To be blessed by God does not come from ourselves. The angel Gabriel had visited Mary and what took place was nothing short of a miracle. He came to her to tell her that she had found favor with God. What exactly does that mean to find favor with God? It means that God shows His grace upon us. In Mary’s case, Gabriel shares with her great news: “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” She will conceive and bear the Son of God.
No sooner had Gabriel announced to Mary that she would be the mother of the Savior world, she hurried off to visit a woman she knew who would understand and share her joy: her relative Elizabeth. What made Mary think that Elizabeth would know what she’s going through? It comes from what Gabriel shared: “And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.” A miracle was happening to Elizabeth just as it was for Mary.
As Mary arrives at the house of Elizabeth, upon being greeted, the baby who would be known as John the Baptist leaped in the womb because he was in the presence of his Savior. Elizabeth declares something to Mary, something that is not to be glanced over by any means: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!… And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
What a feeling to be called blessed by God! It should be noted that Mary is blessed not because of what she has done, but rather what God has done for her. She acknowledges that she is indeed blessed moments later in her song, the Magnificat, but she is not blessed, however, because of who she is. In her hymn, she notes the humble estate of God’s servant. She calls God her Savior because she is a sinful human being like everyone else is, and she knows she is in need of saving. She makes it abundantly clear that it is God who has done great things for her, and so she gives all glory to Him.
Unlike some teachings, Mary wasn’t blessed because she was sinless. Mary wasn’t blessed because she was somehow better than another young girl her age. Mary is blessed, as Elizabeth tells us, because of the blessedness of the “fruit” of her womb. What made Mary blessed is the presence of Christ within her womb. And because of the Child that Mary bears in her womb, we, the Church, are blessed as well.
What we have to understand is that we as the Church are not blessed because of who we are. Who are we? We are dead in our trespasses and sins. We deserve God’s eternal punishment and death. And yet given who we are, we are blessed. Our blessedness consists in the presence of the incarnate Christ who is the ultimate source of every true blessing. Jesus entered the womb of Mary so that He could be born, live a sinless life and ultimately die on the cross for our sins, only to rise again triumphantly three days later. It is through the death of Christ that takes away our sins that separate us from God and now brings us back into God’s presence now and forevermore.
That happens in our Baptism where we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ, forever replacing our sinfulness in the Father’s eyes so that all He sees is the perfection of His Son. That same presence is realized also in the true body and blood of Jesus Christ in His Holy Supper where our Lord comes to us with His gifts of forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
Being blessed by God is received through faith in the promise of the Child whom Mary bears in her womb. Being blessed by God is received through what God does for us in Christ and not through what we do for ourselves. That is the whole theme behind Mary’s song and it is the whole theme for Christianity with regards to our salvation. There is no chance of salvation by ourselves. Adam and Eve failed to keep God’s Word as do we. Only by keeping God’s Word perfectly can we achieve salvation. That is not something that we can do, no matter how hard we try, no matter how much we think we can. Our sole means of salvation comes from the Child that Mary carries. Mary understands God’s grace and finds her peace in the promise of Gabriel’s message.
Listen to these words from the Magnificat: “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” What Mary says is a direct fulfillment of God’s prophetic promises made long ago. She believed in the promise made by God so long ago and now she sees it being fulfilled in her own life and it comes through the fruit of her womb.
Just as Mary accepted this message of the Savior through faith, so do we in the Church accept this by faith, faith that comes from the Holy Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit, we understand and respond in faith to the continued proclamation that our Lord Jesus Christ, who took on human flesh and dwelt among us, is our promised redemption and salvation.
And so here we are. Mary will give birth to her first-born Son. He will grow and become a man, a man who had an appointment with a cross. As God stepped down from heaven into the womb of the Virgin, He took His first step to the cross. The cross is the reason He took up human flesh in the first place. He came to be Mary’s Savior, and not only her Savior, but also the Savior of all mankind. For as He took up human flesh He also humbled Himself under the Law in order to fulfill the Law in our place. Then as He suffered on the cross, He took up the wrath of God that we all earned with our sin. This is the way in which He is Mary’s Savior and the Savior of us all.
We are, on account of Christ, exactly what is attributed to Mary: blessed; blessed for Christ’s sake, blessed for we are in Christ. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.