Relating to the Virgin Mary

Luke 1:30–33: “And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. [31] And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. [32] 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, [33] and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’” (ESV)

As we approach the celebration of the birth of our Savior, the focus shifts to Mary, the mother of our Lord. How can we who live in today’s world relate to Mary, a young unwed mother?

If you are a woman who has had a baby you can relate.  to Mary. Not much has changed with pregnancy and childbirth since Biblical days.

If you have had an unplanned pregnancy you can relate.

If you have had an unplanned pregnancy and were not married to the father of the child you can relate. As Matthew tells us, Mary’s unplanned pregnancy almost led Joseph to divorce her since he knew the child was not his. But thankfully God intervened and, in a dream, told Joseph what was really going on. (Matthew 1:18-21)

If you have ever had questions about something that God wanted you to do that seemed impossible, you can relate to Mary.

But the most important way we can all relate to Mary is to have Jesus formed in us.

For Mary that happened literally. Jesus was formed in her. All the physical parts of Jesus’ body were formed in Mary’s womb. As the angel said, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son.”

But God wants Jesus to be formed in us also. Obviously not literally but spiritually. Another way to put it is that God wants us to become more like Jesus.

How does Jesus become formed in us?

First, it does not happen overnight. Yes, the moment we come to faith in Jesus we are 100 percent saved. Just like as soon a woman conceives she is 100 percent pregnant. But when we first come to faith Jesus is not yet fully formed in us. That is a process that takes time.

Just as it took time for Jesus to grow inside his mother Mary, it takes time for Jesus to be formed in us spiritually.

Psalm 139:16 states, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

When we are first conceived in the womb we are an unformed substance, a blob of cells. Then as we grow our bodies get more organized. The heart starts beating and our limbs grow and then when we are born all the parts of our bodies are in place. All that is left is for our bodies to grow and our brains to develop.

The same is true for believers. Even though we are 100 percent saved the moment we come to faith in Jesus, when we first start out in the faith we are unformed. Christ needs to be formed in us.

With a physical pregnancy there are things that help the child grow and things that hurt the development of the unborn child. So, too, there are things that help and things that hurt the formation of Jesus in us.

In the Small Catechism Luther talks about the things that hurt the formation of Jesus in us; the devil, the world and our sinful flesh. The devil with his lying and murdering day and night will let us have no peace.

One of the devil’s favorite lies is that Christ is not being formed in us fast enough. We may have been a Christian for a long time and we are still a work in progress and the devil comes to us and says, “You messed up. How can you even think that Christ is formed in you. By now, shouldn’t Christ be better formed in you?”

In the world there will be no lack of sin and trouble. The world is always wanting us to take the easy way.

And for our sinful flesh Luther refers us to Galatians 5:19–21: “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, [20] idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, [21] envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

So the devil, the world and our own sinful flesh will constantly try to prevent Christ from being formed in us. So what helps form Christ in us?

In the story of the creation of the world in Genesis 1 it says that initially the earth was without form and void. Then God began to speak and to organize the world into light and dark, dry land and seas, birds and fish, morning and evening, stars and planets, plants and animals. By the end of the sixth day of creation the world that had been without form and void was fully formed.

And how did that all happen? It all starts the same way that Mary’s pregnancy started; with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit caused Mary to conceive and the Holy Spirit initiates and directs the formation of Jesus in us.

And the tools that the Holy Spirit uses are the Word and Sacraments. In creation God spoke and the perfectly synchronized world we live in emerged. Just as the Word of God was key to organizing the void and formless world, God’s Word is needed to form Jesus in us.

Christ is also formed in us is through the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. Again in the Small Catechism Luther writes:

Question: Finally why do you wish to go to the Sacrament of the Altar?

Answer: That I may learn to believe that Christ, out of great love, died for my sin, and also learn from Him to love God and my neighbor.

This is a good summary of Jesus being formed in us: Knowing that Christ died for our sins out of great love and in response loving God and our neighbors.

Holy Baptism is also a powerful way to let Christ be formed in us: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)

As it says above, when the angel spoke to Mary he said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” In Holy Baptism God says to us, “You have found favor with God.”

So the Holy Spirit initiates and directs the forming of Christ in us and he does so by the power of God’s Word and Sacraments.

Until Christ is formed in us, we are pretty vulnerable. Paul found that out in his dealings with the congregations of Galatia. He had come to Galatia and started churches there and then was called away to do other mission work.

After he left, some false teachers came in after him and started leading the Galatians astray. They were teaching that Jesus was not enough. Followers of Jesus still needed to follow the Old Testament rules God gave through Moses.

When Paul found out about it he could not visit them right away so he wrote to them. His letter to the Galatians is one of the clearest descriptions of the Gospel in all of the Bible. At one point he writes, “My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! (Galatians 4:19)

Paul could not rest until Christ had been formed in them.

Another way this is illustrated in with food. Newborn babies need milk. So do new believers need. Then, as we get more mature in our faith, we can go on to solid food.

Another church that Paul had trouble with was the church in Corinth. Again, the problem was that Christ was not fully formed in the believers there. He writes to them and says, “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready.”  (I Corinthians 3:2)

The writer to the Hebrews had the same frustration:

“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food.” (Hebrews 5:12)

Just as babies cannot continue on milk, those who would grow in Christ must, at some point, move on to solid food.

Sufferings and trials are another way that Jesus is formed in us. Going back to the book of Hebrews we read:

For they [our parents] disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he [God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. [11] For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:10-11)

Discipline helps us share in his holiness, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

So when it comes to Jesus being formed in us, we can all relate to Mary. For Mary, Jesus was formed in her literally. For us, Jesus is formed in us as the Holy Spirit works in us through God’s Word and sacraments. Yes, there will be setbacks, things that happen that don’t help form Jesus in us, but God is faithful. He will keep working with us to transform us into the image of Christ.

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