As a Protestant believer, I am always a little uncomfortable with how to talk about Mary, the mother of our Lord, who stands at the center of the Christmas story. One of the dividing issues between Catholic/Orthodox Christians and Protestants is how we treat Mary.
I must confess that I love the Ave Maria by Franz Schubert. I consider it one of the most perfectly constructed songs that I know. Yet, I feel a little guilty about listening to it because the words are the "Hail Mary..." prayer that Catholics use when reciting the Rosary--in Latin.
The tendency to venerate Mary began very early in the church with the veneration of martyrs who were said to be "already in God's presence and glorious in His sight" (Early Christian Doctrines, J. N. D. Kelly, p. 490). Mary eventually was compared to Eve, "the mother of all living" (Gen. 3: 20), and was viewed as the proper owner of that title. The problem of how she could bear the sinless Son of God led to the belief that she herself was sinless. Eventually this led to the belief that she was born without sin (immaculate conception). In addition, there was a belief that she remained perpetually a virgin. Jesus' brothers and sisters were said to either be Joseph's children by another marriage or cousins.
An important controversy in the 5th century led to the rejection of Nestorius who claimed that Mary could be called Christotokos (Christ-bearer), but not Theotokos (God-bearer). This was rejected on Christological grounds: Jesus was fully human and divine and to separate the two is to argue for two persons. But inherent in the controversy was the growing tendency towards the worship of Mary as the Mother of God.
Protestantism was marked with the doctrine of sola scriptura by Martin Luther, who wanted to get back to the basic Christianity of the apostles and strip away the unbiblical beliefs and practices that had gathered like barnacles on the hull of the ship. But in doing so, we may have lost the wonder of the miracle of Jesus' birth and the incredible example of Mary, a holy and faithful believer who taught us all what it means to be obedient to God in the face of all opposition.
The angel brings incredible news with the greeting: "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you" (Luke 1: 28).
After struggling with the incredible news, Mary, in perhaps one of the greatest examples of humble submission to the will of God says, "I am the Lord's servant...May it be to me as you have said" (vs. 38).
I believe it is wrong of us to disregard Mary. And we can learn much from her without having to exalt her to demigod status. After all, even Mary herself, in her great hymn of praise (known as The Magnificat) said: "For he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed" (vs. 48).
And indeed we are all blessed by Mary's humble obedience to God over 2000 years ago.