Read Sermon


Mary, Mother of the Lord, Figure of the Church

An address by Fr John Slater

22 December 2002 11:00 | Fr John Slater

The Prayer Book devotes the last two Sundays in Advent to the role of John the Baptist, but for me this last Sunday must focus on the Blessed Virgin Mary. The incarnation of the Word of God, which we will celebrate in just three days time, depended on both the will of God and the willing consent of a young woman. For God himself, this taking of our human flesh was the fulfilment of a purpose resolved upon from the very beginning of creation itself - something we now know took place 15 billion years ago. But for Mary, the annunciation by the angel must have come as a complete surprise, something for which she could not possibly be prepared. She had to face pregnancy before she was married, the difficult journey to Bethlehem, giving birth in a stable, and fleeing to a foreign land to escape the wrath of King Herod. Then she had to bring up a child who must always have seemed somehow different; as he said himself, He must be about his Father’s business. She had to face the unbelievably tragic and agonising death of her son, itself fulfilling the prophecy that a sword should pierce her heart.

The Gospels tell us remarkably little about this young woman from Nazareth, and yet without her consent to the divine invitation there could have been no incarnation at Bethlehem and no act of redemption at Calvary. But her consent was freely given, Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it unto me according to thy word. You may know the phrase Fiat mihi, which is the Latin version of Mary’s reply, reflecting the words with which creation itself began, Fiat lux - let there be light. This suggests that the birth of Jesus is a new act of creation, redeeming the shortcomings of the old. And it begins with the salutation to Mary.

After that little bit of Latin, perhaps you will allow me a single Greek word. The most important title ever given to Mary was given by the Third General Council of the Church at Ephesus in 431. This said that Mary is the Theotokos, which means the God-bearer, though in English we tend to use the title Mother of God. Mary bore the divine Son in her womb and gave him to the world as her son, Jesus. She gave him to the world and she gave him up for the work he came to do. The Church is right to honour Mary as the mother of the Lord, especially in an age when we are increasingly aware of how important and influential a mother is in anyone’s life and upbringing.

Some of you will know of the famous French ecumenical monastery at Taizé in Burgundy. One of the brothers, Max Thurian, wrote an influential book called Mary, Mother of the Lord, Figure of the Church. Christmas makes clear Mary’s role as Mother of the Lord but we need to remember this other dimension too. Mary is the first Christian believer who, as St Luke says when the shepherds come to the stable, kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.

St Augustine said of Mary that she was more blessed by believing on Christ in her heart than by bearing him in her womb. All Christians, like Mary, find hope for eternal life by believing in Jesus Christ in our hearts. But we can also, like Mary, be God-bearers - men and women in whom others encounter something of the reality of the God who dwells in our hearts by faith. It is in this sense that Mary is the symbol of the Church - the community of believers which, like Mary herself, has the awesome responsibility of representing Christ in the world today.

There is a sense in which each celebration of the Holy Eucharist is a new act of incarnation. God, who is spirit, is encountered in the material forms of bread and wine. As we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we ourselves become the vehicles through whom he is present in the world today. We are truly God-bearers just as Mary was when she bore Jesus in her womb. Like her, we must present him to the world and let his will be done in us.
Cookies used on this website
New EU legislation requires that all web sites clearly specify the presence of cookies and their purpose. Cookies are used to enhance the user experience. StGeorges uses Google Analytics to track activity on its site, helping to keep the site relevant and easier to use, via the use of these cookies . For an enhanced site experience, consumers will need to consent to the use of StGeorges cookies. A preference cookie, that will become available to you when you choose the ‘I agree’ button, will be a long-life cookie that will not automatically clear when you close the browser window. If you manually delete this cookie you will need to re-confirm your preferences every time you next visit this website, unless you choose accept the long life option.