An Offer She Wouldn’t Refuse

Mary Magnify

CHAPTER TWO

It takes two perfect people to have the perfect relationship. Some spouses will compliment the other one saying that the other person’s perfection makes it happen.  That sounds sweet, but it is not entirely accurate when humanity is involved.  But not so if one is divine.   But if one is divine and changes the setting for the human involved then the whole dynamic is different. Grace tends to do that. 

A prime example for one who could see the kingdom of God for all it is as part of long-term called out community of God was someone who was “full of grace”.  This is why the first person in this “micro-church” I will address is Mary of Nazareth.  For a teenage girl, she had a lot to say because she was “full of grace” and was a daughter of Zion. Such is the case in the Bible when one comes to Mary. 

Here we see the most perfect collaboration between the infinite God, through an angel, and a finite, specially touched human.  She was specifically a young woman in an age where women were not highly esteemed.  But in relationship to God, she is empowered in a faith journey that is not for cowards of either gender. She had faith and knew what it was to step up in courage. 

There is another part to the historical backdrop in the Bible before getting to Mary: unfaithfulness.  God’s people in the Old Testament were described as unfaithful with those who  struggled righteously and unrighteously living one day at a time.  God starts things anew with someone in Mary that had a context of being faithful to God and called to be on the offense just like what light does with darkness.

 “And he [Gabriel] came to her and said, ‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!’ But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be.  And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, 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 to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.”(Luke 1:27-33).

Hail— The “Hail” is not a casual “hi”.  If one looks at the correspondence of the first century between highly esteemed officials, this word is used only to someone of notable, royal distinction.  Mary had that going on as one set aside by the King of the Universe for a special station in life.

Yet from an Old Testament perspective there is a Zion, or Davidic dynasty, connection.  The following verse from Pope Benedict XVI is pointed out also with that same Greek word, “Rejoice, daughter of Zion; shout, Israel…the king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst” (Zephaniah 14-17).  Pope Benedict also states, “The essential reason for the daughter of Zion to rejoice is stated in the text itself; ‘the Lord is in your midst’.  Literally it says: ‘he is in your womb’ (Pope Benedixt XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives). 

What is being heralded in just that word alone is like a shorthand for God’s kingdom to come—- and is coming now in the Christmas Story.

Full of Grace—  The original Greek is Kecharitomene, the perfect passive participle, shows a “completeness with a permanent result. Kecharitomene denotes continuance of a completed action” (H. W. Smyth, Greek Grammar [Harvard Univ Press, 1968], p. 108-109, sec 1852:b; also Blass and DeBrunner, p. 175).  Or one can say she was too full of grace to have room for anything else.  Therefore, to me, she stands as the perfect prototype, as the Theotokos (God-bearer as defined in the Council of Ephesus 431), and how the Bride of Christ is supposed to be.  The words I have commented on here and others to come in the infancy era of indicate concretely she was without sin.  The Early Church Fathers were unanimous on this point and also Reformation leaders like Luther.

“But the other conception, namely the infusion of the soul, it is piously and suitably believed, was without any sin, so that while the soul was being infused, she would at the same time be cleansed from original sin and adorned with the gifts of God to receive the holy soul thus infused. And thus, in the very moment in which she began to live, she was without all sin…(Martin Luther, Weimar edition of Martin Luther’s Works, English translation edited by J. Pelikan [Concordia: St. Louis], Volume 4, 694).

So here we have royalty for a grand scale and grace with even grander ramifications all set for an expanding influence as demonstrated further.

The Lord is with you…she was greatly troubled—-  This is not a goose bump phrase. This phrase in the Old Testament was for servants of God like Moses, Joshua and David who would go into the land promised to them by covenant.  They were used by God for natural warfare for that level of revelation in the Old Covenant.  Mary was to be used, launched in the contexts of covenants, to expand God’s influence through a spiritual warfare but at that moment she did not know that.  She just knew that this greeting indicated a level and form of influence beyond what she would think was her humble state in life could handle.  So there was some awe there. Her scope of knowledge could only guess a troubling battle of flesh and steel like a Middle-Eastern Joan of Arc.

Do not be afraid, Mary… you have found favor with God. — Mary was full of grace but Gabriel elaborated that God’s favor for her and her mission was in grace to overflow by the direct hand of God with the undeniable fact that the source and summit of the grace and favor for her was external to her in God.

you will conceive—  as the angel unfold’s God’s plan for her life there is a connection to the Incarnation. God would be with her, it would be form of warfare but it would be the Word made flesh. 

you shall call his name Jesus—- Jesus means “God saves”.   The Incarnation means salvation in some way yet to be revealed.  The Word, dropping in behind enemy lines, is to save humanity.    

He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High;—-  Here is the framework in that it will be in the pattern of David as the throne is from David.  This savior bring a visible kingdom and it would be consistent with the pattern of the Davidic dynasty.    

and of his kingdom there will be no end——  The declaration of God Incarnate and being savior of the world happens within a framework of a kingdom that has no end and thus continues.

On the devotional side, how can a modern person relate to these lofty subjects?  Well, we know through the rest of the story that Mary cooperated with a kingdom that is personal, holistic, authoritative and beyond our earthly limitations if seen by faith.  God initiates to us for full participation.  She was to carry God in her womb.  If we respond in the same humility to the gospel of the kingdom, we carry Jesus in a different but substantial way. Possibly it is we who really can stop us from this encounter. 

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A Most Kingly Goverment

Son of DavidTo understand the gospel in a macro perspective best there is an important launching point in the word  “Christ”.  The Greek word for it is christos.  This was a Greek word used in the pagan world for one anointed with favor shown in oil to rule or command.  This Greek word makes its way into the New Testament from early Christians who used that in the Greek translation of the Old Testament.  But when they called Jesus the Christ, they meant also like how Jews turned Christians had the Hebrew term meshiach (Messiah). This was also seen through the lens of kingdom; but not just any kingdom but the kingdom, but of David. 

This was shown in the Gospel of Mathew which says, “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham (Mathew 1:1).  In fact, there is much scholarship that suggests that the Gospel of Mathew was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic or Syriac (the latter two being close derivatives of Hebrew) and then translated into Greek.

A good view of the kingdom of God in Christ is that the “Old is revealed in the New and the New is concealed in the Old” (St. Augustine).  The gospel of Jesus Christ is articulated in covenantal language not embedded by shadows of covenantal promises like the law of Moses.  Instead it is a matter of covenantal love with Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law of Moses. With this accomplished Jesus has a magnified expression of David’s line of succession and true worship.  The following is a gospel proclamation of Jesus as the Anointed One. Notice that David is pointed to due to God’s covenantal faithfulness and an agenda that unfolds over the centuries. 

Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:11-14). 

A king is not really a king without a kingdom.  But does the David reference extend to Christianity?  And if so, what would it look like? 

The writer of Hebrews touches on this with the reference of Mount Zion which is where King David was anointed king after all question of rivals was put aside.  Writing to Christians it is described as transcendent stating, “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly (Hebrews 12:22). 

            The kingdom of God in Christ glorifies Christ, transcends earth, is universal for application and holistic to the person.  Paul, a fulfilled Jew in Jesus as the Messiah, connected the gospel of Jesus to David.

the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 1:2-4). 

          In a way, one could say exactly where the “Mt. Zion” is for Christianity: the tomb of the Resurrection.  The preaching of this is the whole gospel of the kingdom, for the whole person for the whole world.  As of the term “appointed” this makes sense in light of the Isaiah prophecy that the “government shall be upon his shoulders” (Isaiah 9:6)). 

Jesus as the son of David rules a kingdom now with the logical consequences of being who he is in a Davidic pattern of kingdom.  On the fourth day of Jesus’ ministry Apostle Nathanael called him the King of Israel. Like King David, Jesus chose someone to have the keys over the household of faith as the chief steward. The chief steward also served the kings descended from David who were like a vice president or a chief of staff. The first for Christianity was born Simon son of John but was renamed Peter on the fifth day of his ministry.  Peter could bind and loose like a household manager and chief teacher and there has been someone in that same chair for 2,000 years.  The kingdom of Jesus has a Queen Mother named Mary instead of Bathseeba mother of Solomon.  People came to the Queen Mother in each generation of David’s descendants for their intercession.  Likewise, Mary interceded for his first miracle (John 2:1-11) on the seventh day of Jesus’s ministry. The Bible says that all generations will call her blessed.  All of this is also what comes with the fulness o the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Yes, King David is one more part of the tapestry in salvation history that inspired me to become Catholic. 

Magnifying Above and Beyond

Mary MagnifyTruth has consequences.  We do not always have things figured out on how to live a truth that is introduced to us if it is moral or spiritual.  In fact, “dry truth” may be easier because there is always a quantifiable road on how to apply it.  Math has physics.  Biology has medicine.  But in a scene of the miraculous or that speaking of God in our hearts, rare is the time that we “got it together”.  When we understand God’s agenda it is because we are filled with grace and the Holy Spirit in context of relationship with him.

So we see with this young woman two thousand years ago named Mary of Nazareth.  She gives her cooperation to God’s will not having much at all figured out but obeys one step at a time.  When she arrives at the house of her relative Elizabeth what we see is an openness to life, applied obedience, filling of the Holy Spirit and an absolute hope of bringing order to the chaos that evil creates.  Herein is the launching pad for Mary and what Matt Maher calls “the first Christian song”.

“And Mary said:

‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;

my spirit rejoices in God my savior.

For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;

behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.

The Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

His mercy is from age to age

to those who fear him.

He has shown might with his arm,

dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.

He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones

but lifted up the lowly.

The hungry he has filled with good things;

the rich he has sent away empty.

He has helped Israel his servant,

remembering his mercy,

according to his promise to our fathers,

to Abraham and to his descendants forever’ “ (Luke 1:46-55).

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord— Some Bible versions say that her soul magnifies the Lord.  One of my surprises as I made my journey to the Catholic Church from Protestantism was how good Mariology magnifies ones Christology (doctrine about the nature and work of Christ).  I know that I am only drawn closer to Jesus when I pray a rosary. Involving her is both involving the Queen Mother and one who reminds me that God was made flesh and dwelt with us (John 1:14) with her being the Theotokos (God-bearer of the Council of Ephesus 431). 

in God my savior—  “Aha! That shows she is a sinner.”  Not really.  If you pull me out of a pit then you are my savior.  If you yank me back when I am about to walk into a pit then you are just as much my savior. All of Mary’s family tree that leads to her was on a collision course for her to be born as a sinner— except God had other plans in how he filled her with grace. Several of the Protestant Reformers do not dispute this like Luther and Calvin. 

behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed—– And that is true.  One could go to ancient writings and even a fresco that was made early in church history that illuminates her role in an honoring way. The important term from the early church has been hyperdulia.  It is an exalted honor that was always distinct from latria which is worship to actual Deity.  A small sect broke that line in the 4th century but they did not last and either fizzled or were shut down. The honor towards Mary has been so embedded into Christianity that even when Henry VIII of England was persecuting Catholicism and shutting down parishes he made sure that guards were posted at a parish that had a Marian name to make sure it was not vandalized.  Such was the recognition of Mary and her “yes” to God.   

His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him…He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy — Mary is seeing that God is a Father who keeps his promises and it is based on covenantal faithfulness and not due to the intrinsic holiness of any person.

He has shown might with his arm… the lines here are about God manifesting His presence in such a way through the ages, and ongoing, so that social justice takes place out of divine origin.  People will reap what they sow whether it was good or bad but it is God who is the catalyst in informing the consciences rightly in people. But it should be noted that God or the Church informing consciences is not the same as replacing them. 

The hungry he has filled with good things—this is the part where God distributes grace in the kingdom to those that have room for it.  For the rich who are stuck unto themselves there is not room for such good things. For the proud they are to high and comfortable to “demean” themselves. 

according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever—-this is powerful because we know Abraham is our father too but through faith (Luke 16:24, Romans 4).  In that line of faith in the Old Testament we see God’s promises, obedience and then blessing.  The promise of God is always bigger than ourselves and longer than ones lifetime. 

For all who believe in Jesus and open up to him as Lord there is a continuation of salvation history  up to and through ones conversion.  This is the kingdom that will have no end and Mary stands as one who stands at the point of salvation history where one path points to a law without grace and another to Jesus as the “way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

If you are on the outside of Christianity looking in, I say choose Jesus.  If you are in the inside, keep choosing Jesus.  To magnify his name with your words and deeds is our calling. And that magnifying will be beyond your life and above your agenda.  Yet you will be the better for it. 

The Simple Party of Five

judith-in-art-salviNot all gatherings are divine.  Some are get-togethers of people who have only goals that are shallow and of this earth.  Some people gather seeking The Deity as they understand and are truly open to what will happen.  Some gatherings are mixed in intent. Maybe wanting God but on very tight terms. But true openness to gather in God’s presence is always an encounter with God in intimacy and grace.

A factor we can see in a true gathering in God is in the meeting of species like when the angel Gabriel came to human Mary passing on a divine proposal. Case in point of two humans with a resolutely divine purpose is Mary coming to her relative Elizabeth.  Mary carries Jesus and Elizabeth carries John who would prepare the way for Jesus. In this gathering is a calling and a called out gathering in the Greek is ecclesia.  Ecclessia is where we get church or iglesia in Spanish.  To an observer with the carnal eye it is a meeting of two women who may have lumps in their bellies.  To a divine observer there was more than two by far, as we will see, with women of great significance to salvation history.

“During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah,  where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.  When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit,  cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Luke 1:39-45).

traveled to the hill country….. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord[n] should come to me?—–  These lines show this great fellowship to be a case of the “Old is revealed in The New” (Augustine of Hippo).  These details have been pointed out by Scott Hahn in Hail, Holy Queen and Tim Staples in Behold Your Mother as closely related to when the Ark of The Covenant went to the hill country of Obed-Edom and then to King David who said parallel wording to that of Elizabeth. What we see here is a special recognition of the presence of God in a place that is out of the way but yet appointed.

and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit,  cried out in a loud voice—— In this line is a layer of worship in spirit and truth (John 4) that speaks of a new Ark of The Covenant and its proper devotion.  The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and translated into Greek.  The New Testament was generally written in Greek including Luke. In the Old Testament the term “cried out” is used many times but there was one word for it that was used only when the Ark of the Covenant, an object that was sanctified by the presence of God, was used.  This word was used seven times in the Old Testament and used only once in the New—-right here.  True this conversation was originally in Aramaic but Luke has a way with words in translation for a theological purpose.  As to our devotional purpose we can see the presence of Jesus as both divine and inherently a worship event whether quiet or not.

filled with the Holy Spirit,…. the infant in my womb leaped for joy—- This shows us that this church on this front yard in Judea is bigger than two.  We know from other scriptures that the Holy Spirit is a person.  That makes three.  We know the Holy Spirit fills people and not things so John makes four.  And if John is a person in the womb then so is Jesus so that makes a party of five.  We can apply right there that in a valid church gathering there should be an openness to life in all its forms and the filling of the Holy Spirit.  We see this repeated by Luke in his sequel, Acts, in how the early established church had that experience.

Blessed are you who believed—– This is the last but not least mark of true church we can get and if we blink we will miss it.  Mary is not to be understood as a model of faith because she was a bullseye target for the Holy Spirit to conceive Jesus and be an incidental vessel.  She is known in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition to be one who cooperated her faith and works with God’s will.  This shows the mark of a true church to be obedient to God’s will in pursuit of holiness. The theme we get so much in the bible is that believe is a pregnant word that assumes a corresponding action to what God asks.

If ones experience of God’s kingdom begins and ends with personal happiness then it is not God’s kingdom but a kingdom of self. In this passage we see that the Holy Spirit indwells, all are counted with a culture of life and we come with resolved manner of obedience.  I frequently ask “What’s stopping us?”  Today I ask, are you caught up with the gatherings and mentalities of the world that would prevent you from those that are divine?

Most blessed are you among women—  If we get out into a higher mindset, we can be a light in the world that casts out darkness.  This term is also used in the Old Testament for women that nail or cut off the head of the enemy literally (Jael, Judith).  If you are in sync on the details above, how does one not take the fight to the enemy with spiritual weapons?  We do that by continually relying on God’s grace and applying such grace in simplicity. 

Years later Paul saw it this way saying, “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal” (2 Corinthians 10:4).Paul goes further in the implication for how Christians engage in warfare in basic principles.

“For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I want you to be wise as to what is good, and simple as to what is evil; then the God of peace will quickly crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you” (Romans 16:19-20).

The Tension With Wonder

think-big-start-small-byob-post1If our lives are touched by the grace of God, and we are to go forward in applying it, how is it applied in the context of a relationship with him as things get more complex?  Here I think there is a lesson to be learned from a young Jewish girl two thousand years ago.

As I noted previously, Mary was approached by Gabriel and told that she would conceive the long awaited Messiah of Israel who would bring freedom and it would be in a way that is very expansive.  Mary was indeed full of grace which included a life filled with some sense of purpose.  When God challenges us, those things that are truly of him that we do in grace and do not go away but are like gold refined in the fire.  When we are refined in a divine conversation of God, it is only for our good and that of the world around us as shown below.

“But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her (Luke 1:34-38).

How can this be…?—  It is important to see that this is not a matter of doubt on God’s agenda being carried out for two reasons.

First, since God is impartial, she would have been silenced like Zechariah if she was cynical against the word of God. Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was struck mute for doubting John’s miraculous conception.  The difference is that Zechariah inserted that the natural decay of death was stronger than the author of life.  For him in that moment, natural law was an end in itself.

But for Mary there was the principle of consecration totally to God and such disposition lends the soul for the unexpected and even the miraculous.  There is a strong case to be made that Mary was promised to God as a temple virgin and aged out of serving directly in the temple when she gained her menstrual cycle. 

Far fetched?  Not so much if one sees celibacy as part of a spiritual life and law. For her, consecration unto God was an end in itself and she understood God was permanently there meeting her in that which superseded any other relationships.  I would suggest along with the Sacred Tradition of the early church that she vowed her virginity even through marriage. 

There is reasoning for Mary’s perpetual virginity to not be far-fetched. Imagine there is a wedding shower and there are comments that one day the bride to be will have a baby shower.  Then the bride says, “How can this be?  There is no sign of a stork nest being built outside my window and that is required for having a baby”.  There would be an uncomfortable silence as people wondered who is going to explain the biology of the marital embrace.

The commentary of the Ignatius Study Bible explores this further.

“The Greek text literally says, ‘I do not know man’, which refer to Mary’s virginal status rather than her marital status.  Her concern is not that she is unmarried but that she is a virgin at present and that she intends to remain one in the future.”

There are doctrinal and devotional applications to this interpretation of that verse.  Doctrinally, in the subset  of what is called Mariology, we see a great case for her perpetual virginity which was believed by Luther, Calvin and Wycliff.  There is also scriptural foundation for a husband to know of a wife’s pre-existing vow and endorse it by silence (Numbers 30:11-13).

But for the personal devotion life of the believer there is something important for individual, spiritual formation.  Mary answered back defending the beautiful premise that saving herself for God alone was important to her.  If your calling is to be a spouse, celibate, or single but looking then bring God into that. Cherish his will for your life with an attitude of thanksgiving one day at a time.

The holy Spirit will come upon you—- This line goes toward the profound establishment of God’s kingdom with wording that is reminiscent of the dedication of Solomon’s Temple.  God came in a cloud on that temple and an anointing was put on the king who was referred to as the meshiach or “Anointed One” where we get Messiah.  Mary would be the first person in the New Testament who would be a true worshiper because she would carry the Son of God truly and not as an honorific title for the Davidic dynasty.

Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived.—-  I have long cherished an African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.”  The encouragement Mary receives is that she is not alone and God has a plan for her to be worked out in community.  God calls all of us beyond ourselves first to Him but often in the faces of others.

Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.——  Being at peace in her consecration to God, her mission more specifically in God and her place in community Mary is in a very mature place to give an informed yes and live it out.  Our names, circumstances and callings in life may be different but the principles are there.  We can benefit from all those principles so that we can be flexible when God knocks on our doors and calls us to make a new way for Him.  The absence of welcoming is the only things stopping us from those even quieter conversations with God when he comes.

For further research on point of Mary being a perpetual virgin, I recommend looking at the Protoevangelium of James written in the second century and highly attested by many early church fathers including Ambrose of Milan. This includes a major implication that Joseph took her as his wife but did not know her sexually.

Here is the link.

http://ministries.tliquest.net/theology/apocryphas/nt/protevan.htm

Also believed by a major leader in the Reformation. 

“A new lie about me is being circulated.  I am supposed to have preached and written that Mary, the mother of God, was not a virgin either before or after the birth of Christ” (Luther’s Works, 22:214-215). 

Plenty of Gracia Plena

AnnunciationIt takes two perfect people to have the perfect relationship. Some spouses will compliment the other one saying that the other person’s perfection makes it happen.  That sounds sweet, but it is not entirely accurate when humanity is involved.  But not so if one is divine.   But if one is divine and changes the setting for the human involved then the whole dynamic is different. Grace tends to do that.

A prime example for one who could see the kingdom of God for all it is as part of long-term called out community of God was someone who was “full of grace”.  This is why the first “micro-church” I will address is Mary of Nazareth.  For a teenage girl, she had a lot to say because she was “full of grace” and was a daughter of Zion. Such is the case in the Bible when one comes to Mary. 

Here we see the most perfect collaboration between the infinite God, through an angel, and a finite, specially touched human.  She was specifically a young woman in an age where women were not highly esteemed.  But in relationship to God, she is empowered in a faith journey that is not for cowards of either gender. She has faith and knew what it was to step up in courage. 

There is another part to the historical backdrop in the Bible before getting to Mary: unfaithfulness.  God’s people in the Old Testament were described as unfaithful with those who  struggled righteously and unrighteously living one day at a time.  God starts things anew with someone in Mary that had a context of being faithful to God and called to be on the offense just like what light does with darkness.

  “And he [Gabriel] came to her and said, ‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!’ But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be.  And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, 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 to him the throne of his father David,and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.”(Luke 1:27-33).

Hail— The “Hail” is not a casual “hi”.  If one looks at the correspondence of the first century between highly esteemed officials, this word is used only to someone of notable, royal distinction.  Mary had that going on as one set aside by the King of the Universe for a special station in life.

Yet from an Old Testament perspective there is a Zion, or Davidic dynasty, connection.  The following verse from Pope Benedict XVI is pointed out also with that same Greek word, “Rejoice, daughter of Zion; shout, Israel…the king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst” (Zephaniah 14-17).  Pope Benedict also states, “The essential reason for the daughter of Zion to rejoice is stated in the text itself; ‘the Lord is in your midst’.  Literally it says: ‘he is in your womb’ (Pope Benedixt XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives).  What is being heralded in just that word alone is like a shorthand for God’s kingdom to come—- and is coming now in the Christmas Story.

Full of Grace—  The original Greek is Kecharitomene, the perfect passive participle, shows a “completeness with a permanent result. Kecharitomene denotes continuance of a completed action” (H. W. Smyth, Greek Grammar [Harvard Univ Press, 1968], p. 108-109, sec 1852:b; also Blass and DeBrunner, p. 175).  Or one can say she was too full of grace to have room for anything else.  Therefore, to me, she stands as the perfect prototype, as the Theotokos (God-bearer as defined in the Council of Ephesus 431), and how the Bride of Christ is supposed to be.  The words I have commented on here and others to come in the infancy era of Jesus indicated she was without sin.  The Early Church Fathers were unanimous on this point and also Luther for those of you who are Protestants.

“But the other conception, namely the infusion of the soul, it is piously and suitably believed, was without any sin, so that while the soul was being infused, she would at the same time be cleansed from original sin and adorned with the gifts of God to receive the holy soul thus infused. And thus, in the very moment in which she began to live, she was without all sin…(Martin Luther, Weimar edition of Martin Luther’s Works,

English translation edited by J. Pelikan [Concordia: St. Louis], Volume 4, 694).

So here we have royalty for a grand scale and grace with even grander ramifications all set for an expanding influence as demonstrated further.

The Lord is with you…she was greatly troubled—-  This is not a goose bump phrase. This phrase in the Old Testament was for servants of God like Moses, Joshua and David who would go into the land promised to them by covenant.  They were used by God for natural warfare for that level of revelation in the Old Covenant.  Mary was to be used, launched in the contexts of covenants, to expand God’s influence through a spiritual warfare but at that moment she did not know that.  She just knew that this greeting indicated a level and form of influence beyond what she would think was her humble state in life could handle.  So there was some fear there. Her scope of knowledge would assume a troubling battle of flesh and steel like a middle-eastern Joan of Arc.

Do not be afraid, Mary… you have found favor with God. — Mary was full of grace but Gabriel elaborated that God’s favor for her and her mission was in grace to overflow by the direct hand of God with one undeniable fact—  the source and summit of the grace and favor for her was external to her in God.

you will conceive—  as the angel unfold’s God’s plan for her life there is a connection to the Incarnation.

you shall call his name Jesus—- Jesus means “God saves”.   The Incarnation means salvation in some way yet to be revealed.

He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High;—-  Here is the framework in that it will be in the pattern of David as the throne is from David.  This savior would be one with a visible kingdom. 

and of his kingdom there will be no end——  The declaration of God Incarnate and being savior of the world happens within a framework of a kingdom that has no end and thus continues.

On the devotional side, how can a modern person relate to these lofty subjects?  Well, we know through the rest of the story that Mary cooperated with a kingdom that is personal, holistic, authoritative and beyond our early lives.  These are ways that God initiates to us for full participation.  But in some ways our calling is not as good as Mary’s, in that moment, but better.  She was to carry God in her womb.  If we respond in the same humility to the gospel of the kingdom, we carry Jesus in our hearts. Could that be better?  Could that be possible?  What’s stopping you?

Hear How I Think, Then What I Believe

misunderstandingRECURRING KEY TERMS

Five years ago this fall my world got rocked.  I flipped through the channels one night and stumbled on a show called Genesis to Jesus.  It was an interview show focused on a theologian and his book about God’s covenant approach to humanity that is shown up as a family.  I was intrigued and kept watching that show.  I then bought one of his books.  Then another.  The attempt at approaching these subjects were not new to me but were in my experience where I thought I had “figured out” things by my comfortable Protestant experience.  What was new here is that I could see God’s divine plan for saving the world through the heart of the Catholic Church.   I revealed to my wife where my discernment was drawing me and after a month of prayer and study of both the Bible and history I was received into the Catholic Church.  In the words of former Pentecostal pastor turned Catholic deacon “I had to.  How do you look truth in the face and say, ‘No, can’t do it’?”  My wife joined me after her own discernment process in 2014. 

But it was not always smooth.  There was tension in my household.  Tension with my friends.And tension in my mind.  I would watch Youtube debates between Catholics and Protestants and found myself disturbed with some wording of Catholics not rightly put in context and anecdotal stories from ex-Catholics who “know by experience”.  Below I list some of the fine points that were helpful for me to consider in the intellectual part of my journey. 

Homecoming versus conversion- – I prefer to say that I am not a Catholic convert.  That is like saying I am an immigrant from Oregon to Arizona.  I would be demeaning Oregon and I would really be not be speaking to the nature of those two subjects accurately.  If someone was Catholic and became Protestant they left one Christian fellowship to another and did not “get saved out of the Catholic Church”.  I consider my journey as one of coming home to the spiritual soil of what was founded and kept from error by the Lord Jesus Christ.  I want to stress those last two points as something I have seen through my study of scripture, prayer and research of the early church writings. 

Both/and instead of either/or- – One of the chief attacks against the Catholic Church and also Protestant communities with traditional theology of morals with human affairs is that things have to be seen as one thing or another.  Frequently this is a false dichotomy.  Either you support gay marriage or you want the gas chamber for gays.  Either you want people free to know Jesus purely or you want to talk about sacraments.  Either you go to Jesus to forgive your sins or you go to a priest.  I would suggest that the answer to these emotional dares above is both/and or neither.  False dichotomies end the conversation before it gets a chance to breath.  There is a great need for the Holy Spirit to illuminate where two seeming paradoxes can coexist. 

“with” instead of “through” in a derogatory sense- This goes a bit with the both/and but I bring this up because the Catholic Church is misunderstood to have saints who usurp the centrality of Jesus Christ in Christianity.  I often consider being a very comfortable airplane passenger knowing that the captain is in charge and that there is a co-pilot.  The co-pilot participates but is not in command and that is alright.  “There is one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus”.  I can still say amen to that knowing that all Christians are called to raise up petitions to heaven for each other, the world and specifically even civil authorities.  Christians can do that informed by the scriptures and as co-laborers with Christ and co-heirs in Christ. As for celestial beings in heaven being involved in that, there is scriptural precedence where it says in Revelation “When he took it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each of the elders held a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones” (Revelation 5:8).    

“ancient and enduring” instead of old– – – A common argument in modernism that newer ideas are better.  Along with that, since new ideas may have a fresh car smell then the old ideas can be emotionally dismissed and may err in suspending their critical thinking skills. 

But some ideas that are old and maintained for hundreds or thousands of years are still believed because they work.  The Catholic Church has not only endured past the 2,000 while empires have lived and even opposed them but while ideologies would come and go.  This includes ideologies that were supposed to eclipse the Catholic Church into the dustbin of history. 

faith versus reason. There are too many ludicrous assertions to count that I alone have heard on this one.  One example I have heard a year ago was that the more religious one is the lower their IQ is and vice-versa.  That’s a worthy debate one could have hypothetically with Pope John Paul II in one of his 14 languages.  He casts a wide net that sees the beauty of faith and reason in an integrated point of view. 

Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves (John Paul II, Fides Et Ratio, 1998). 

Later in his encyclical he calls out several scientific disciples including the social and the physical that are integral to the development of mankind.  He expresses hope for informed consciences and not any supposed shackles of religion dictating like a micro-manager.  Has all religion been so nice?  Not even time but the high majority of the Catholic tradition is actually good at picking their battles on what is a big deal.  As to my Protestant brothers I can assert that the Catholic Church greatly fosters critical thinking. 

What does the Catholic Church actually teach rather than what you have heard? – – Someone close to me that was angry that I went from Protestant to Catholic quoted a narrative that he heard second hand that proved that Catholics worship Mary.  When someone hears something outlandish of what is infallibly or even authoritatively taught by the Catholic Church they are better served by going to the Catechism of The Catholic Church.  Frankly, deciding what the Catholic Church by some layperson comment account or even ones childhood memories falls short of inquiry fitting Christian conduct. 

Community balance instead of either individualistic or collectivist- – When I was a new Catholic I met with the second highest deacon in my diocese regarding formation of future deacons.  I mentioned that it seems like I now need to go from an individualized experience of Christianity to an collectivist one that resembles something not of western culture.  He kindly corrected me and informed me that it is really a matter of community which is neither extreme. 

Language of theology and language of love.- – My early discernment into the Catholic Church nearly was stopped in its tracks when I saw a debate on Youtube on Marian devotion.  The quotes used by the Protestant certainly seemed worded like Mary is an object of worship.  Over time I came to realize that in Catholic expression of truth there are metaphors that I can call the language love.  An example I use sometimes is that if I was doctor in astrophysics and said that the sun rises and falls on my children it would be interpreted as my devotion as a father and not my estimate on solar events. 

As I begin to write this it is a few month from what my Protestant brothers and sister will celebrate as the “Reformation”.  Debates may spike even more for awhile but I pray that cooler heads will prevail and the Catholic Church can be taken in context rightly for how it thinks and talks rather that stereotypes.