Just this month, Daniel and I together with Steven and Lilian joined a tour to visit many cities in Spain. Spain is today predominantly Catholic and as expected we visited many cathedrals. One of my greatest impressions of this trip was the veneration of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the Catholic Church. In most of the churches we visited, the icon of Mary featured very prominently either outside the buildings or inside and even in some cases, right in front above the crucifix of Christ.
Interestingly just before the trip, I was contemplating the Song of Mary (Luke 1:46-55) – known as the Magnificat. I was struck by the similarity of Mary’s song to the prayer of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10). In both instances, the two women exalted God for His mercy and favour upon the lowly and humble.
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for He has looked on the humble estate of His servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.” (Luke 1:46-49)
Mary, probably a very young teenager then, was overwhelmed with humility that God would choose someone as obscure as she, even though she could not have understood fully how her obedient submission (Luke 1:38) would impact the whole of human history. Her song of praise and thanksgiving reveals the state of her heart and her intimate knowledge of the God she worshipped.
In spite of her unease to the call of God to bear in her virgin body the holy Son of God, and in spite of not knowing that her beloved Joseph would believe her story of a miraculous conception, Mary was willing to pay a high price in order to submit to the call. All the rest of the events in her life, her place in Scripture and her place in God’s plan can be traced back to this one momentous decision to be the servant, the bondslave, of the Lord. It’s at this point that Mary’s example speaks so powerfully to me. Obedience to God always costs. Mary put her reputation on the line in order to obey God.
This is something I admire in Mary and perhaps helped me to appreciate why she is so venerated. However, I see the thin line between veneration and worship, and some can unwittingly end up worshipping Mary and making an idol out of her. But as John Piper in his meditation on the Magnificat shared, “the Catholic Church’s high veneration of Mary can actually keep us from sharing the admiration for Mary”.
This Christmas, as we return our focus always to our Lord Jesus Christ, I want to also praise God for the faith and obedience of this young woman, Mary, who did not lose the opportunity given her to be blessed by God and to be used by Him to bless many through her obedience.
And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your Word.” (Luke 1:38)
As we celebrate our Lord Jesus’ birth this season, may we be like Mary in our walk of faith and obedience to the Lord!
By Har Lee John, Pastoral Staff (YCKC Bulletin 20&21 December 2014)