Advent - the creative act of the Spirit in Mary and the Son – the beginning of the future

This post was contributed by worship leader Mike Hale.

According to Matthew and Luke, and as testified in the creeds of the Church, it is in relation to Mary, the mother of Jesus, that the Holy Spirit begins to be revealed in his New Testament fullness.

Tom Smail writes in The Giving Gift: The Holy Spirit in Person,
Of course when the Creed brings the Holy Spirit and Mary together, the subject of the sentence is not either of them, but ‘Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary’. If the Spirit works revealingly in Mary, it is not for her sake or yet for his own, but so that Jesus Christ can be formed in her and born from her. Mary’s response is not to the Holy Spirit as such but to the promise about Jesus that is made to her (Luke 2:26-38). The Christological concentration is central from the start…. (Page 22).
To paraphrase Smail, we can think of Mary as the model charismatic—and the primary gift the Spirit gave to her was the gift of the Son, and not primarily tongues or prophecy (though she was given the gift of prophecy in her Song of Praise found in Luke 1:46-55). As the Holy Spirit seeks to unite all with Christ, Mary (in her unique situation) was the first given to receive and respond to Christ in the New Testament. Smail notes the following [summarized from pp. 24-29]:

1. The implicit Trinitarian structure of the gospel stories of the birth of Jesus. The source of this birth of a Son to Mary through the Spirit is the mysterious and miraculous action of a sovereign loving God who is himself the Father.

2. There is from the beginning with Mary an inter-dependence between the work of the Holy Spirit and the coming of the Son. There is a mutual subordination of the Son and the Spirit to each other, in which each acts in dependence on the other. The Son depends on the Spirit for his coming into the world, and in his earthly life and beyond, and the Spirit acts for the Son’s sake.

3. The relationship between the work of the Spirit and Mary’s response. Mary does not take the initiative, but was free to act. The Spirit invites her and gives her the grace of surrendering to him, so that God’s freedom shines in her. God is the source of all faith, and Mary’s free and active participation was sustained by the Spirit, who worked in her “both the will and the action” (Phil 2:13). The ability to respond freely to the promise of Christ’s coming is the work of the Spirit in us.

4. The story of Mary presents the Spirit as the Lord and giver of life, including re-creation—a new creation. ‘The Holy Spirit shall come upon you’ (Luke 1:35) refers to divine re-creation, the model for which is in Genesis 1, as the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters at the first creation. The same creative Spirit hovers over Mary at the beginning of the new creation! Those born to be God’s children are ‘not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will but born of God’ (John 1:13).

5. The Spirit is the creator of fellowship around the Son.
a. The togetherness of Mary and Joseph as guardians of the Son who is the bond of their marriage, even though not its product.
b. Elizabeth and Mary (Luke 1:39-45) find new kinship in mothering two children born by two different divine interventions, and each playing parts in redemption’s drama.
c. Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:25-38) find fellowship with Mary in their inspired discernment that the promises of God will have their long awaited fulfillment in her Son.
d. Mary has her own unique place near the center of that fellowship around the Son, because she is what no one else could ever be, the theotokos, the mother of God.
6. The action of the Spirit in Mary produces both prophecy and praise. The Spirit in her is the Spirit of worship, prayer and contemplation, enabling her to discern and interpret what God is accomplishing in and around her. She sings the Magnificat, and thinks on miraculous and mysterious things God has done for her, and treasures it in her heart (Luke 2:19,51). To receive this Spirit is to respond in praise to God. This Spirit is the Spirit of prayer.

7. What the Spirit does in Mary is the beginning of the future. It can only be understood in the context of what it leads to in the ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and in Pentecost, and what lies beyond. In the Spirit, Jesus, who is the world’s future, is born into the world’s present. The end of time appears in the middle of time. The last things begin happening. The Spirit brings into time, first into the time of Mary—then into the time of all—Christ, who has conquered death and is the new, the end Adam, the ultimate man (1 Cor. 15:45), who by the Spirit shares his humanity with us and begins transforming us into what God made us to be.

“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen” (Rom. 11:36).

Blessings to all in preparing to worship in Spirit and Truth and celebrate the past, present and future coming of the Son of God and Son of Man.