The Feast of St. Mary this week (15 August) is a welcome opportunity to consider, not only the place and significance of the Blessed Virgin in God’s plan of salvation, but especially the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ, “true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true Man, born of the Virgin Mary.” For “Mary conceived and bore not only a plain, ordinary, mere man but the veritable Son of God,” and “for this reason she is rightly called, and truly is, the Mother of God” (Formula of Concord, Epitome VIII.12). With this affirmation our Lutheran Confessions follow the lead of the fifth-century Church Councils of Ephesus (A.D. 431) and Chalcedon (A.D. 451), which upheld the Divinity of our Lord and the Unity of His Person over against Nestorius.
We remember St. Mary with thanksgiving to God for her role in conceiving, bearing, and giving birth to the very Son of God in our human flesh and blood. His entire human nature derives from her body by the gracious working of the Word and Holy Spirit, as He is “born from the substance of His Mother in this age” (Athanasian Creed). We likewise rightly honor her as a sister in Christ and a mother in the faith, for by His grace she humbly submitted to His Word and promise, and “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (St. Luke 1:45). And she is surely blessed – as are we! – by the Fruit of her womb.
As the instrument and vessel by whom our Lord, the Son of God, became flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood, St. Mary is a type of living “Sacrament,” as it were; for it is likewise by the Word and Spirit of God that ordinary bread and wine become the same Body and Blood of the same Lord Jesus Christ. As we sing with Dr. Luther in one of his hymns on the Lord’s Supper, “May Thy Body, Lord, born of Mary, that our sins and sorrows did carry, and Thy Blood for us plead in all trials, fear, and need” (LSB 617, st. 1). Similarly, St. Mary serves as a kind of living “icon” of the Church, as we see to some extent already in Revelation 12. As she conceived and gave birth to the Son of God by the Word and Holy Spirit (St. Luke 1:35-37), so does the Church conceive and give birth to sons of God in Christ by the preaching and catechesis of His Word and by the new birth of water and the Spirit (St. John 1:12-13; 3:3-5; Galatians 3:26-27). And as we eat His Body and drink His Blood in the Holy Communion, so do we bear Him in our bodies of flesh and blood, even as we are united with Him and with each other as one Body in Him.
In all of this it needs to be stressed that the doctrine of the Person and Work of our Lord Jesus Christ is never incidental or irrelevant to the “practical” faith and life of the Church. When our fathers in the faith – in both the fifth and the sixteenth centuries – contended for the divinity of Christ Jesus and the unity of the two natures in His one Person, they were not engaged in a battle over mere semantics or picayune details; they were defending the heart and soul of Christianity.
To this day, and even to the close of the age, everything we do and say – everything we are about – derives its meaning and purpose from Christology, from the Word of God in Christ Jesus, from His Body and Blood, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, crucified, put to death, and buried for our transgressions, and raised from the dead for our justification. When we remember and give thanks for St. Mary for the sake of her Son, we recognize and underscore that the whole Christian Church in heaven and on earth is centered in Him, dependent upon Him, and finds its true glory, honor, and raison d’être in hearing, receiving, and confessing His Word and His Flesh. O Lord, be gracious to us; give Your strength to Your servants and save the sons of Your maidservant! Let it be to us according to Your Word!