A sermon preached by the Reverend Trevor Jamison at Saint Columba’s United Reformed Church, North Shields,
December 20th 2020 – the fourth Sunday in Advent
This is a sermon about how Mary, the mother of Jesus, teaches us important lessons about God’s love and Christian discipleship in the twenty-first century world, because the Jesus who is born in Bethlehem is the ‘Son of Mary’.
What does it mean that Jesus is Son of Mary? In a previous era the woman’s contribution to the make-up of the child was seen as a minor. Women, so the image went, provided the garden in which men planted the seed that grew to maturity, reflecting the characteristics of the male line, especially if, like Jesus, it was a boy. But modern insights into genetics and DNA demonstrate that who we are physically, mentally and socially owes just as much (and perhaps sometimes more) to our mothers as it does to our fathers. Was this also the case with Jesus? If who Jesus became owes something to Mary, what are the implications for our faith?
Part of me, the old Irish Protestant part of me I suspect, wants to say ‘no’ to all of this: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you [Mary], and the power of the Most High [i.e. God] will overshadow you; for that reason the holy child to be born will be called Son of God”. (1: 35) Scripture does not inform us what part Mary’s genetic make-up may have played in the whole process and any suggestion is merely speculative.
But Jesus, whatever else he was, was a human being. Human beings inherit characteristics from their mothers. If Mary played no part in who Jesus was then in what sense could we claim that Jesus was really human?
That does not mean that everything then was out of God’s hands – just the opposite: “In the sixth month [of the pregnancy of Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth] the angel Gabriel was sent by God … with a message for a girl betrothed to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David …’Greetings most favoured one! The Lord is with you.’” (1: 26, 27, 28) Why did God favour Mary? Why did God pick out Mary for this unique role as mother of Jesus? Did God just choose at random from a world-wide first century human contact list?
No! God was looking for someone with attributes which would play their part in making Jesus who he was. So, physically, Jesus, like Mary, was a child of Adam and of Abraham. And, if, as was often the case, her marriage was in part an alliance of close families, then perhaps, like Joseph (and therefore Jesus), she was a descendant of David too.
Surely though, it goes beyond just general human attributes. God’s choice of Mary was grounded in things which were distinctive to her as an individual human being. Perhaps we hear that in her response the news of God’s choice and call: “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.” (1: 38) Mary was the sort of individual, who having heard God’s call, responds obediently, even though that made her vulnerable to suffering and death. After all, she accepted pregnancy and childbirth in an era when mortality rates among pregnant women were high and pain relief non-existent.
Also, Mary acted not just with her own situation in view, but with insight into how her response fitted with God’s will and loving intentions for the world; lifting up of whole groups of people, like the lowly, the hungry and, in the concluding words of that song – the Magnificat, “Abraham’s children’s children”.
Today, this Advent, preparing for Christ’s coming to the world, don’t we see in Jesus’s life manifestations and magnifications of his mother’s character? Here is the promised messiah, obedient to his Father, as Mary was when she received the angelic message. Here’s Jesus, the one who declares that his mission is to bring good news to poor and the lowly; accepting invitations to dine with the well-off, yet happily embracing the economically poor and socially marginalised amongst Abraham’s children’s children.
As Christians we are encouraged and guided in our lives through the influence and example of those who have preceded us in the faith: saints, some known throughout the church and some only to a few of us. Today, remember to include in that number Mary, the first person to encounter Jesus; a person of obedience; a person of bravery; and a person of commitment to others.
As we seek to live life as Christians in these times, obedience to God, bravery and commitment are attributes we want to develop too. Like Mary, we want to be ready to obey God; ready to take a risk for the sake of God’s love; ready to welcome others into our lives and to reach out to those who are struggling.
If we are willing to be inspired by Mary; to be encouraged in the direction of loving, Christlike attitudes; if our Christian witness resembles hers, (like children who resemble their mother) I believe we will be the better for it. Even as our worship and our lives acknowledge Jesus as Son of God, we should to some extent, we should also remember and celebrate him as his mother’s child.