Hail Mary!

 

Annunciation Triptych


Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women. And blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death. Amen.
Today, the 15th of August is the Feast of the Blessed Virgin, Miryam l’Natzeret, Mary of Nazareth, the mother of God. The ever-blessed virgin is the mother of our faith. And she reigns in the hearts of many Christians as the Queen of Heaven.
Sadly many other Christians cram her - her whole life and her entire pregnancy - into the four weeks of Advent. Sometimes she gets a nod for standing at the foot of the cross on Good Friday.Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women. And blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death. Amen.
Today, the 15th of August is the Feast of the Blessed Virgin, Miryam l’Natzeret, Mary of Nazareth, the mother of God. The ever-blessed virgin is the mother of our faith. And she reigns in the hearts of many Christians as the Queen of Heaven.
Sadly many other Christians cram her - her whole life and her entire pregnancy - into the four weeks of Advent. Sometimes she gets a nod for standing at the foot of the cross on Good Friday.
This morning let us contemplate the life of the woman who gave birth to the light of the world on the day that the Church has set apart to honor her by asking “What would you do?” and “What will you do?”
Who knows what the most common woman’s name is in the New Testament? Does anyone know why that is? (I gave you a hint earlier.) Miryam l’Natzeret, Mary of Nazareth, like all those other “Marys” was named for the prophet Miriam. In a sense they are all her daughters. (Reminds me of a book I read, I mean wrote.) The tradition of the early church was that her mother was also named for a prophet - Hannah is recognized as a prophet in Judaism. Hannah became Anna in English.
The invocations of these women prophets in her lineage suggest to me that her parents believed that she would be destined for great things - as great as Miriam who delivered Moses from certain death and who led the children of Israel out of Egypt while Moses held the waters open with the help of God. And like the first Hannah, she gave her miraculously conceived child over, body and soul, to the God who implanted him within her.
In biblical Israel including in New Testament times, marriage was the primary form of birth control - not pregnancy prevention mind you, but the means of ensuring that children were born into families. In order to achieve that goal teenagers married fairly soon after puberty.
We don’t know for certain how old she is when we meet her in the gospels, but 14 - 16 is a pretty good guess. Something in her, perhaps that very something that her parents saw when they named her enabled her to make an unimaginable choice.
Teen age pregnancies before marriage were not unknown in her time: If the couple was engaged or betrothed, they may have moved up the final ceremony. If the couple wasn’t engaged or betrothed, they got engaged or betrothed. If someone got someone else’s girl pregnant they called the whole thing off and forfeited whatever had already been invested in the union and bore the shame. What would you do? And, what will you do?
Miriam’s unimaginable choice, Mary’s choice was not whether to have sex, she didn’t, or whether to keep her baby, she did, but what happened between the two. Miriam, Mary, saw and heard things that no one had heard before.
To be sure, there was a story among her people about the time that Daniel met Gabriel in days gone by but that didn’t compare to what she experienced. Daniel 8:15 When I, Daniel, had seen the vision, I tried to understand it. Then someone appeared standing before me, having the appearance of a man, 16 and I heard a human voice by the River Ulai, calling, “Gabriel, help this man understand the vision.” And later: Daniel 9:21 While I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen before in a vision, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice.
Swift flight! Even if Gabriel was flying - the Hebrew can also mean “hurrying,” Daniel keeps calling him a man, literally a human male with a human voice - so even if he could fly - Daniel didn’t say anything about babies. How was a teen age girl, a bride to be - even with a good upbringing - supposed to make sense of an invitation to participate in an unimaginable pregnancy.
Now just in case the man talking to her was not as holy as he appeared, she made it plain that there had been no shenanigans in her past and I think she also meant that there would be none in her future - if that’s what he had in mind. If think that if the one calling himself Gabriel had been some kind of con artist or would-be player, she would have put him to flight all right. But the invitation he extends only requires of her trust - trust that God can do the unimaginable with and through her, and that whatever happens, she and the whole world will be blessed through her yes. What would you do? What will you do? Will you say “Yes!” to God?
That is one of the most familiar stories about the Blessed Virgin in the scriptures. There are, however, more passages of scripture devoted to Mary the mother of Jesus than one might imagine. There are the stories in Luke’s gospel that begin with another miraculous pregnancy and Mary’s trip to see with her own eyes what was possible with God. That visit between two women of God - Elisheva and Miryam, Elizabeth and Mary - gave us a number of beloved scriptural prayers.
First the Ave, the Hail Mary taken from Elizabeth’s greeting: Luke 1:41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
The second great prayer is the Magnificat, Mary’s psalm of praise based on Hannah’s psalm of praise so long - more than a thousand years - ago: 

Luke 1:46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for God has looked with favor
on the lowliness of God’s servant.
Surely, from now on
all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is God’s name.
50 God’s mercy is for those who fear God
from generation to generation.
51 God has shown strength with God’s own arm;
God has scattered the proud
in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 God has brought down the powerful
from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 God has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 God has helped God’s servant Israel,
 in remembrance of God’s tender mercy,
55 according to the promise God made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
 The gospel of the Lord. And the gospel of the day for the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary.   

There are other references to Mary of Nazareth throughout the gospels in addition to the stories about the birth of Jesus and the flight of the holy family that we hear every year during Advent. She is there for his circumcision and dedication in the temple where she receives a prophecy from another prophet Anna/Hannah. She is there when the holy child Jesus slips away to teach his elders. She and her children - who knows how many sons? (Jesus,  James, Joseph, Simeon and Judas) - Mary, her sons and an unknown number of daughters appear in Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55. She was there for his first miracle at the wedding of Cana in John 2. She was there at the foot of the cross in John 19:25.
The hymn writer asks, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” Mary was. What would you do? Do you have the courage to truly face the horror of the cross and not take back your “Yes!” from God?
And she was there for the birth of the church on the day of Pentecost: Acts 1:13 When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers and sisters.
Her gift of herself and her son became the foundation of the new church’s theology. Today’s festival epistle reading comes from Galatians: 4:4 When the fullness of time had come, God sent God’s Son, born of a woman, born under the authority of the Torah, 5 in order to redeem those who were under the authority of the Torah, so that we Gentiles might receive adoption as children. 6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of God’s Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God. (And I might add, through Miriam, Mary of Nazareth.)
The church doesn’t know what happened to her after John took her into his home. Some say she died at a good old age. Some say Jesus came for her and took her into heaven so that the woman who gave him life would never taste death. Many celebrate her Assumption into heaven on this day.
In her office as mother of God, mother of sorrows and some say the first priest of the church to offer the body and blood of Christ to the world, she endures as a shining light in the communion of saints. We believe in the communion of saints. We confess it on a regular basis and live it when we talk to our loved ones after their deaths at their graves or anywhere we feel their spirits.
We pray not so much to the Virgin as through the Virgin, asking her to pray for us now and in the hour of our deaths. We confess the communion of saints and eternal lives of all the holy dead believing that God is not God of the dead, but the God of the living. We ask the saints, prophets, martyrs and Mother of God to pray for us as we ask each other to do the same.
Mary’s earthly life was extraordinary and ordinary: unwed and pregnant, teen-aged mother, young bride in a rocky marriage, eventually a single mother - we don’t know if she was widowed or abandoned, a woman of sorrows acquainted with grief, mother of a wrongly incarcerated and executed felon, a woman who had to bury her first-born son, a woman who said yes to God when she was little more than a child, a woman whose holy faith shines through the ages. What will those who follow you in the faith say about your faith? Will your “Yes!” to God echo throughout the ages?
Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women. And blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death. Amen.

Madonna and Child