“The angel greeted Mary and said, ‘Hail, Mary, full of grace.’ That is the Latin rendering, which unhappily has been taken over literally into German. Tell me, is this good German? Would any German say you are full of grace? I have translated it, ‘Thou gracious one,’ but if I were to really write German, I would say, ‘God bless you, dear Mary—liebe Maria,’ for any German knows that this word liebe comes right from the heart.”
~Martin Luther, Martin Luther’s Christmas Book, Annunciation
When Mary learns that she’ll bear the Son of God, Luther says that she ought to be called liebe, which is a very tender German word that we translate as “love” in English. As Luther says, this is a word of deepest affection, coming right from the heart. You might even argue that this is a word that carries an even richer meaning than our word “love.”
It’s odd, though, that Mary would be described as “blessed” or “beloved” or “liebe” considering the terrible upheaval that occurs in her life as a result of this blessing. The blessing of bearing the Son of God leads to Mary’s neighbor’s gossiping behind her back and to her fiancé nearly breaking off their engagement. Late in her pregnancy, it leads to her trudging across the countryside to Bethlehem with Joseph so that they could be counted in the census, whereupon their arrival the couple is relegated to sleeping in the cow stall, and it’s here that she gives birth to her Lord. This blessing leads to her family being driven as refugees out of their country and into Egypt to avoid slaughter at the hands of King Herod. And it leads to “a sword piercing [her] own heart”—to the horror of witnessing her own son being put to death. “God bless you, dear Mary—liebe Maria.” Indeed.
As we enter this season of lights and joy and smiling kids and presents and too much eating and all the rest, we, like Mary, carry our pains and our sorrows with us. In this way, the season of Christmas is a picture of what it means to be the people of God in Christ Jesus. We face financial hardships. We bury and mourn our dead. We wrestle with conflicts in our families. Trouble and pain find many and varied ways into our lives. And yet we do not face these things without the light of hope.
Mary is blessed—liebe Maria—not because her life is promised to be full of the things we normally call blessings (though, she surely experiences her share of these, too). Mary is blessed because beneath her heart grows the hope of all the earth. In Jesus Christ—begotten of the Father and born of Mary—and specifically in his death, we find the greatest blessing of life: a promise that God is with us in the deepest sorrows of life, carrying us, saving us, and bringing us into his Kingdom.
Lights, songs, gifts, family, and a good Christmas roast may not quite compare with the Kingdom of God, but our celebration allows us a real, if imperfect, foretaste of the feast to come. Born of Mary, Christ enters our world of sin and pain, and is crucified and raised, all so he can hand you the promise of the Kingdom. And living in that promise, we can face the hardships knowing that they will give way to peace—to a day when all that we hear and know and experience will cry out liebe.
God bless you, dear Mary. God bless you, dear Christian. Amen.
Pastor Clifton Hanson