“She is full of grace, proclaimed to be entirely without sin—something exceedingly great. For God’s grace fills her with everything good and makes her devoid of all evil.” – Martin Luther’s Little Prayer Book, 1522
The Gospel of Luke has a sequel: Acts of the Apostles. Some say that the title: Acts of the Holy Spirit is more appropriate a title and they might well be right. The first book also might deserve its own title: Acts of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Indeed, was one to search for the term “Holy Spirit” in an electronic concordance one would discover that it only appears in the Gospel (13) times. In Acts it is attested 42 times, not counting the occurrences of Luke using the shorthand “Spirit.” In the Gospel, very few are filled with or speak in the Holy Spirit. The unimpressively short list is: John (1:15), Mary (1:35, 46-53- implied), Elizabeth (1:41), Zechariah (1:67), Simeon (2:25-26, Anna by extension and narrative), and, naturally, Jesus (3:22, 4:1, 10:21). The remaining occurrences of “Holy Spirit” are in Jesus’ teaching.
I noted on Advent 2 that the beginning of Luke is filled with canticles that people, filled with the Holy Spirit, and angels just sort of break into spontaneously. There and here, the canticles set the stage for what will come next. The canticles sung also harken back to the holy word of God in all their verses, not only in message but also in actual word. For example: Mary’s Song, the Magnificat is an echo of the following: Gen. 17:19; 1 Sam. 2:7– 8; Ps. 138:6; 71:19; 126:2– 3; 111:9; 103:17; 98:1; 118:15; Isa. 41:8; Hab. 3:18.
Mary and Zechariah’s songs are songs of fulfillment, not of a radical new thing, no they are about an old promise, a promise all the way back to Abraham, all the way back the Spirit pondering over the deep, that is now coming to be filled.
The Spirit also speaks blessings today: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” (Lk 1:42) “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord” (Lk 1:45) The first made it into Christian spirituality through the. Dominicans and the Rosary prayers the latter did not far that well, regrettably. But, the council of Trent (1566) wrote about the first sentence:
"we render to God the highest praise and return Him most gracious thanks, because He has bestowed all His heavenly gifts on the most holy Virgin ... the Church of God has wisely added prayers and an invocation addressed to the most holy Mother of God ... we should earnestly implore her help and assistance; for that she possesses exalted merits with God, and that she is most desirous to assist us by her prayers, no one can doubt without impiety and wickedness."
Protestants might ought to remember that Luther thought highly of the Hail Mary, though the second portion of it, imploring Mary to pray for us, was not added until 1555 and would probably bother old Martin.
Yet, Elizabeth’s second blessing might interest us. We might think about it this way: Mary ventured out for a three day trip to the Judean hill country. Did she go by herself? A single young woman traveling by herself would certainly have been foolish if not madness in her days, unacceptable even. Where there no protectors with her? Was no one found to vouch for her safety on the road? She is pregnant already, by traveling alone would she not seal the case on the opinion that her pregnancy was merely loose living?
Luke, regrettably, is silent about how the trip was arranged or guarded. Maybe it was indeed and unchaperoned trip. Was Mary’s commitment to the cause so large that not only did she agree to bear the Son of the Most High into the world but so large that she had such trust in the message of Gabriel and truly believed that the Lord was with her on her journey and remained with her on the journey and was her escort and protector on that journey?
“Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord” Elizabeth sees Mary’s presence as proof that Mary believes all that the angel has said to her. She heard and acted fearless as a result, trusting that God would protect her because she, Mary, was carrying his Word to the world.
In many a pageant and movie we have made her a somewhat frightened girl. In popular song we have doubted her understanding. Yes, Kenny Rogers, Clay Aiken, Mary did know that her baby boy was the Great I am and that he would save her ”sons and daughter,” but more about them later. It is not by accident that she will soon sing of Abraham and his children. The faith she displays as the result of the visit of Gabriel is alike that of Abram when the word of the Lord came to him and demanded that he depart Ur and become a nomad. Total commitment to the promise is rendered. Yes, I know about Abraham’s follies. They follow a beginning that is total faith.
Hans Urs von Balthesar and Arthur Carl Piepkorn both have published articles with such a monumental title as: Mary, Archetype of the Church. I must admit, since reading them, I have never been able to read any reference to Mary without automatically thinking about the Church. It is good for the church to sing Mary’s song. She has traditionally done so daily since the 8th century, and probably longer but Bede reports it as common practice then.
More important, the Mother of Faith needs to remember that blessing that the Mother of the last Prophet blessed the Mother of the Lord, saying: "Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
Church, Mother of Faith: Do you believe what the Lord has spoken about you? That even the gates of Hades will be no mach for you? That the Lord is with you? That the Holy Spirit will sing from within you?
Yes, blessed is your proclamation for it is what you bear to the world. But will you, like the mother of the Lord be brave and venture undaunted by the turbulence of life and misfortunes of fate, into a world that is full of both marvels but also peril and insult, and assault on, not only your proclamation, but you? One might leave the answer of whether it is possible to live that way until the feast of Stephen, but few of us celebrate it as it is December 26th and seldom observed as such.
The Mother of our Lord ventured out on the journey, apparently protected by nothing more than the presence of the Lord, promised by the Angel: The Lord is with you. The Sons and Daughters — here you go Clay Aiken — of her in the faith, the sons and daughter of the Mother of Faith, ought to consider carefully what is promised and act in good courage always as they wait for the coming of the Holy One of God.
Be not afraid, you have found favor with God.