A member stopped by. They have good ears. There was a quick phrase that I said on the fly in a sermon. I didn’t even remember that I had said it. I referred to Mary as “the Mother of God.” The member considered the words that were spoken and disagreed. It begs the question. Does God have a mom?
The person had an excellent point. It was a point that I had never considered before. “When we think of God as Lutherans,” the member said, “we think of the Holy Trinity.” “Mary is not the mother of the Father or of the Holy Spirit,” they continued, “but only of Jesus.” “How can we then say that she is the mother of God?” “Wouldn’t it be more correct to say, ‘Mary is the Mother of Jesus who is God’?”
I had never thought about it from that perspective before, but the question gave me the opportunity to dig a little deeper.
The first thing I discovered is that part of the confusion rests in our modern definition of mother. A mother has come to wrongly be understood as the central source of life. We have terms like “the motherload,” the “motherboard,” or we call repetition “the mother of all learning.” In the Biblical way of thinking, however, father means “source,” and mother means “one who receives life.” Mother, in the Bible, is always seen in relation to her head, which is the husband, the source itself. To call Mary the mother of God in the ancient way of thinking does not mean that she is above God, or the source of Jesus’ divinity, or the one who gave the Triune God life, but merely the one who received this life from God, and who gave her own self as a servant. When we call Mary the Mother of God, we do so meaning nothing more than to confess the miracle that Jesus is God, that Jesus received His divinity from the Father and His humanity from Mary, and that Mary was indeed carrying in her womb a divine person.
An example is in order. There was a king. He married a wife who was a pauper. They had a child who later became the king. Even though she was a pauper of ignoble decent, wouldn’t she still be called “The Mother of the King” or could she only be called, “The Mother of the Person who One Day Became King”? To call her the “Mother of the King,” doesn’t mean that the source of kingship came from her, or that she was greater than the previous king, but only that she was a participant in this important task, and that her son truly was the king. All this would be said not according to herself or her own glory, but according to a glory that was bestowed on her by the king who united himself to her. As that mother would be called the “Mother of the King,” so Mary is rightly called, “The Mother of God.”
“Is this just your opinion, pastor?” you might wonder. Check out this answer on the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod website: “Lutherans have never objected to denoting Mary as the ‘Mother of God,’ since she was the mother of Jesus and Jesus was and is indeed God.” www.lcms.org/pages/internal.asp?NavID=2195
“Is this what the church has always taught?” you ask. Check out what the Lutheran confessions say: “Therefore we believe, teach, and confess that Mary conceived and bore not only a plain, ordinary, mere man but the veritable Son of God; for this reason she is rightly called, and truly is, the mother of God.” (Formula of Concord, VIII, Ep VIII, 12).
“Isn’t that Roman Catholic?” you think. Consider what Martin Luther wrote about the title. “We too know very well that God did not derive his divinity from Mary; but it does not follow that it is therefore wrong to say that God was born of Mary, that God is Mary’s Son, and that Mary is God’s mother.” “It should be said that Mary is the true natural mother of God and bearer of God, and whatever else can be said of children’s mothers … Mary suckled God, rocked God to sleep, prepared broth and soup for God, etc. For God and man are one person, one Christ, one Son, one Jesus, not two Christs, not two Sons, not two Jesuses; just as your son is not two sons, two Johns, two cobblers.”
“But is it biblical?” you ask. Surprisingly it’s the very greeting that Elizabeth addressed Mary with! “Why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43) Elizabeth, in the inspired words of Scripture, called Mary the “Mother of the Lord,” the “Mother of God.”
Such things were spoken by Elizabeth to give honor to God, for Mary, as the Scriptures say, is most blessed of all women. (Luke 1:42, 48) Mary is most blessed of all women for who of all women can say, “I gave birth to God”? And yet this glory was not a glory that was deserved or that she merited, but a glory that she received and was bestowed on her by God. Mary herself could hardly believe it and said, “How can this be?” (Luke 1:34)
Who is God’s mom? We might be inclined to say, “God doesn’t have a mom!” On second thought we have learned to know that Mary is the Mother of God. In confessing it we would be confessing not Mary’s greatness, but God’s mercy in choosing Mary by grace, through faith, and not by works.
I have a riddle for you. Lutheran Service Book hymn #670 is, “Ye Watches and Ye Holy Ones.” Here's an online copy of the hymn. Check out Stanza 2. While we have sung the hymn for many years we have often overlooked the second stanza. Can you hazard a guess of who the stanza is talking about? I’ll give a hug or a handshake for anyone who gets it right. Redeem yours the next time you talk to the pastor.