Today’s devotional is offered by Richard Pulsifer
“Mary Did You Know?” is wonderful song sung by popular singers but also our men’s chorale a few years back. It is one of my favorites. Its clever lyrics ask Mary the questions about Jesus ministry. For example, “Did You Know that your baby boy would give sight to a blind man? It goes on to question her about many of the accomplishments in Jesus ministry. We know Mary through the gospels and to this day Mary plays a major role in the Roman Catholic Confessional. There are other sources about Mary granted with less reliability and acceptance than the gospel, but nevertheless at one time there was acceptance by the early Eastern Church. So today I would like to review the gospel story of this advent season and Mary, followed by other less reliable materials particularly drawing attention to works of art in the medieval time frame. To me, a visual kind of person, I love to see paintings of Christian history. For example, in a recent art exhibit in Durham there was a breathtaking painting from El Greco school of the crucifixion with lifelike people lifting Christ from the Cross. (If I had better computer skills I would share these paintings on line with you but I do not. I will reproduce them and store them in our church library for your review.)
Mary of the Gospel — Lets first look at Mary as she appears in the gospel using the Synoptics of the Four Gospels and the New Scofield Study Bible — New American Standard. The entire portions of some verses are not referred to but have selected and, in a few cases, somewhat modified a few verses.
The Annunciation, Luke 1:26-38
The angel Gabriel speaks to Mary “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you. Do not be afraid for you have found favor with God. 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; and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. —The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” —- Photo 1 Botticelli The Annunciation 1493 Typical of paintings of the time there is little depth in the painting and holy figures always have a symbolic halo.
Mary’s visit to Elizabeth Luke 1:39-56
In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country to a city of Judah(Judea) and she entered the house of Zacharia and greeted Elizabeth (her relative). (Remember from previous scripture Zacharia was unable to speak until after the birth and naming of John the Baptist) And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in here womb, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! Mary then spoke the Magnificat — verses 47-55. And Mary remained with her three months (presumably until the birth of John the Baptist). The Sanctuary Choir will be singing a song based on the Magnificat soon.
The Birth of Jesus Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 2:1-7
Matthew: An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream — “Joseph son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus for he will save his people from their sins.”
Luke: And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Mary this time with Joseph also went up from Nazareth in Galilee to the city of David called Bethlehem in Judea. And while there she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no place for them in the inn.
Comment — Mary is thought to be in her early teenage years and to have found favor she would have lived a life close to God. The trip to a city in the hill country of Judah (Judea) was possibly near Jerusalem. Zachariah had priestly duties in the Jerusalem temple. The first trip was when Mary was pregnant only one month and return when she was four months was a taxing one but not nearly as hard as the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem — a journey of nearly 100 miles and probably in the range of 10 to 14 days. She was also eight months into her pregnancy. The distance is similar to Oxford to Richmond. Mary and probably the women of that time were very hardy!
I am a protestant, but nevertheless have an interest in church history, some of which is not so well accepted. There are many paintings of Mary that I would like to show you and comment on as we proceed. These paintings appear in the Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity (IOIHC), Edited by John McManners. The Child Jesus (TCJ) by Adey Horton. In IOIHC Photo 2 page 139 The Virgin of the Don, Theophilus the Greek 1392 – The Eastern Church attaches crucial significance to Mary’s role as Theotokos (Godbearer). Without her human consent the incarnation could not have taken place. Photo 3 IOIHC, page 10 Adoration of the Shepherds by Ingres in the 19th century, the Virgin Mary focuses on the Eucharist while shepherds on either side hold two lit candles for light. Apocryphal sources reference the mother and father of Mary as Anne and Jehoachim a godly herdsman. The two were barren until the angel of the Lord appeared to Jehoachim telling him of the coming birth of Mary (TCJ) Photo 4 p. 18 Stained Glass Window, Annunciation to Jehoachim, France 16th Century, Photo 5 Jehoachim awakened from his dream by the angel, TCJ) p. 41 Fresco in the Capellio Scrovgni, Paqdua, by Giotto around 1305
Conclusion I have tried to limit this advent message to the scriptures the Annunciation, Mary’s visit to Elizabeth the Birth of Jesus. I also to complemented the scriptures with art from various periods. I have limited the photographs and explanations about Mary’s parents to just a few. There were many other photos and much other apocryphal textual information. I believe in the “gospel truth” — we can depend on the gospels because in many cases they complement each other. As far as apocryphal literature I think it is interesting, but I would not have to wager on their accuracy. Baptist aren’t supposed to wager anyway. The entire birth narrative probably took place in around 7 BC according to some scholars. This would fit with the timing of Herod the Great’s Death in March, 4 BC and the massacre of the innocents up to two years old (5 BC?). Referenced paintings will be available in our church library on Sunday, Dec 15th.