Thursday, December 6, 2012

Mary, Ark of the Covenant- Advent Vespers Homily
12/5/12-Year C
2 Samuel 6:1-15 Luke 1:35-45, 56 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

Before there was a movie from the 1990’s to reference to the Church has always known that, There IS Something About Mary.  She has always held a unique role within the Church’s life of prayer and devotion to God and she has been from some of the very earliest writings that we have from the early church.  In the year 250 AD we get the first Hymn written concerning Mary called Beneath Thy Protection.  It sings, “Beneath thy mercy, we take refuge, O Virgin Theotokos (lit. God-bearer): disdain not our supplications in our distress, but deliver us from perils, O only pure and blessed one.”  Our hymn tonight, Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones, too borrows from the Church’s veneration of Mary in its second stanza.  “O higher than the cherubim, More glorious than the seraphim...Thou bearer of the eternal word, Most gracious, magnify the lord.”  It is a paraphrase of the Orthodox Theotokion or hymn to Mary which is sang and every Divine Liturgy in the East.  And of course our Dr. Luther too held high esteem for Mary hear again his words from 1531, “She is the highest woman and the noblest gem in Christianity after Christ...She is nobility, wisdom, and holiness personified.  We can never honor her enough.”  

And the Church throughout the ages as agreed with the good Dr, though in our time she seems to have taken a very very minimal place within Lutheranism.  Left in the 19th and 20th century battles between those darn Roman Catholics and all their Mary nonsense and look how purely Christian we Lutheran’s are because we don’t talk about her at all!  I know some of you may have witnessed some of that in your life time.  In fact there is a little comedic book based on such Catholic-Lutheran (scandinavian Lutheran of the MinnesOta type) engagements entitled, “They glorified Mary...We Glorified Rice.”  And I think American Lutheranism’s insistence at distancing ourselves from our Roman Catholic cousins has left us these decades later deficient of any understanding of who Mary is and how unique she is in salvation history.  Part of it is we have forgotten our history and the other part is we’ve forgotten our Bible.  And given the title that you all have seen from the bulletin tonight, you know where we’re headed Mary is the Ark of Covenant or rather the Ark of the New Covenant.  

As I’ve often said one cannot comprehend the New Testament without a knowledge of the Old and vice versa.  They both inform and illumine one another and bringing a full picture of the divine work of God chiefly in His Son, Jesus Christ.  Thus every page of scriptures echos, points to, or reveals the glory of Christ, both Old and New Testaments.  Holy Scripture is at the end of the day, as is our faith, all about Jesus.  And in the Old Testament we see all types and foreshadowings of the coming Son.  There is Joshua, He will save his people, Jesus namesake, who led Israel into the Promised Land.  There is the Bronze serpent lifted on a pole that will save all who look upon it in Numbers, foreshadowing the Cross.  There is the seed of Eve who will crush the serpent’s head in Genesis, a promise of Jesus’ defeat over the Evil One.  

These types or typologies fill the scriptures and indeed we heard another one tonight in our two readings.  The first was from 2 Samuel and the return of the Ark to Jerusalem.  We know the power of the Ark from Indian Jones, when it killed all of the evil Nazis, right?  Now fiction may be fiction, but its not far from the true reality of the true Ark.  We heard of Uzzah who in an attempt to keep the Ark from falling to the ground placed his hand upon it to steady it and was smote because of it.  Even one trying to do a seemingly good thing perished because he dared to touch the holy throne of God.  As you may remember the Ark was not just a box, it was throne upon which God resided among Israel.  It was from the mercy seat on the spread out wings of the cherub that God came down and spoke with Moses in the Tabernacle.  The Ark was the most holy dwelling place of God with man.  In fact the same work used to talk God overshadowing the Ark with his presence is the same word that St. Luke uses to speak of Mary, “the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy.”  Israel carried the Ark with them into every battle, bringing them victory.  It was carried around the walls of Jericho making the walls come a tumblin’ down.  And in the building of the Temple it was placed into the Holy of Holies that only the Chief Priest was allowed to enter and only once a year to make sacrifice for all the sins of Israel.  It was feared and held in awe by all of Israel.      

So how does this get us to Mary?  Well though the lessons are not printed for us tonight, go back home later and compare our two passages tonight.  The entry of the Ark into Jerusalem and Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth.  They are strikingly similar in their outline.  Mary and David both “arise and go on their journeys.”  Both Mary and the Ark are greeted by a eerily similar questions.  David asks, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?”  Elizabeth asks, “Why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  Both Mary and the Ark are greeted with great joy.  David gets the band together and Elizabeth and her unborn son John leap for Joy at her presence.   Both Mary and the Ark are a blessing to those whom they visit.  “The Ark of the Lord Blessed Obed-edom and all his household.”  Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit.  The Ark remains with Obed-edom for three months, the same length of time Mary remains with Elizabeth.  

St. Luke’s knowledge of the Old Testament abounds as it helps form and shape his Gospel.  He uses the pattern from 2 Samuel to help frame his narration of the Visitation.  He is getting us to make these connections that he is drawing, if we’re willing to search for them.  By his time the Ark of the Old Covenant had long been lost to history and battle after the Babylonian Conquest of 586 BC, but now God has raised up a new Ark.  A new throne by which God will dwell again upon the earth, no longer a golden adorned box for His mystical presence in a cloud, but rather a flesh and blood womb from the Blessed Virgin.  Where the Old Ark contained Tablets of the Law/Ten Commandments, Aaron’s Priestly Rod, and a bowl full of Manna; the New Ark contains: the One who fulfill’s the Law; The Great High Priest after the Order of Melchizedek; and the Bread of Everlasting Life.  By this new Ark God’s presence would abide forever, through this Ark He would prove Himself to be Immanuel!   

In this Mary is singularly unique, that she was chosen to bear the presence and be overshadowed by the most High in all His power and glory.  In all humility and devotion to God she becomes what Israel had once lost.  She becomes the dwelling place of God with Man until His birth.  The early church made this connection as did St. Luke and therefore exalted her in reverence and dignity, just as ancient Israel did of the Ark of Old.  If they treated a box with such reverence, how ought we treat the Mother of our deliverance?  She now, through her faith, becomes the bearer and deliverer of our salvation.  For this she can never be honored enough.  For this Luther calls her the most noble gem in all Christianity.  Her yes to God, is also her yes to her fellow brothers and sisters, us.  In our life of faith, then we too Lutherans, can give thanks and praise to God for Mary.  And do so completely faithfully and in all good Lutheran rightness to echo the words of the Archangel and her cousin Elizabeth, “Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee.  Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”    


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