Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! (Luke 1:42)
Mary was unique in human history. It is absolutely true. She was “blessed among women” (Luke 1:42), and among men as well. She received the singular holy gift of being the mother of our Lord (Luke 1:43). God dwelled inside of her body in human form. Then he lived in her home and was under her care until adulthood.
Focusing on the Wrong Blessing
The mystery woven into Mary’s calling as Jesus’s mother has tempted some to attribute near divine status to her and worship her. It was a temptation from the very beginning, even when Jesus was still walking the earth. We get a glimpse of this when a woman in a crowd shouted out to Jesus, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed” (Luke 11:27)!
We don’t know exactly what was in this woman’s mind when she said this. But the human heart, which makes idols out of almost anything, can easily progress from considering a womb blessed by Jesus’s presence (which it was) to believing that the womb must have somehow been worthy of such a blessed presence (which it was not).
What Jesus Calls Blessed
Jesus knew the woman’s line of reasoning was dangerous. So he responded to her, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:27–28)!
Do you see the guarding grace in Jesus’s response? In a single sentence he was protecting Mary’s true blessedness and protecting us from idolatry — if we listen to him. The blessing is not in bearing the Son, it’s in believing the Son. The blessing is not in caring for the Word of God made flesh (John 1:14) but in keeping the Word’s word.
Mary’s Greatest Blessing
Gabriel told Mary that she had “found favor with God” (Luke 1:30). Certainly bearing and raising the Christ Child was an incredible favor. But it was not the greatest favor God bestowed on Mary — not by a long shot. Though he gave Mary a completely unique calling, the most important way God favored her is the same way he favors you and me and all his children.
The biblical canon nowhere teaches that Mary was sinless. She was not immaculately conceived. Like us, she “was brought forth in iniquity” (Psalm 51:5). Unless God did something to remove her sin, his wrath would have remained on her like any other fallen human.
This means that God’s favor on Mary was unmerited. The grace he showed to her was of staggering proportions, and I’m not even referring to her calling as the mother of The Child. The greatest blessing Mary received was that her Child saved her from her damning sins (Matthew 1:21) so that he could bring her to God (1 Peter 3:18) — the same blessing that is given to everyone who believes in him (John 3:16).
That’s why Jesus directs our attention away from Mary, whom he loved, to his Word in Luke 11:28. He wants our attention on the gospel he came to proclaim: the free gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23) to all who believe in him (1 John 5:13). Mary’s vocational calling as the mother of Jesus was a great blessing, but it was nowhere near the blessing of having her sins paid for by the fruit of her womb.
God was “Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14) to Mary in a way no one else has experienced and in that way she was “blessed among women.” But the most important way God dwelled with Mary was the same as he dwells with all his children: through faith (Ephesians 3:17).
So as we ponder Mary’s experience this Christmas, let us join her relative, Elizabeth, and say of her: “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Luke 1:45). Because God’s greatest blessing is given to those who believe him.