Sunday, December 21, 2008

Advent 4 Sermon -- Luke 1:26-38 (LSB Advent 4A)

December 21, 2008 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church - Mechanicsburg, PA

The angel said to her: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus.”

With those words spoken by the angel Gabriel, the hopes of countless numbers of the Lord God’s people began to be met. For millennia, the people of God had heard divine messages brought by angels, prophets, seers, and patriarchs, all of them speaking what the Lord God had given them to say. They had longed for the Messiah, the Promised One who would deliver them. And in their longing, there was more than an ounce of doubt and frustration: (when) will this ever take place? But as the years passed more and more details about the Promised One were given: “a virgin shall conceive and bear a son; I will establish [David’s] offspring forever, and build [David’s] throne for all generations; the Lord will come with His might, and so on.”

The people of God listened and believed what was spoken. They latched onto every new detail given, with each bit of information assuaging their doubts and boosting their faith. And in the fullness of time, what the Lord God had spoken comes to pass: Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son,” the one who would prepare the Lord’s way. “And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.”

Here all the requisite conditions are found: what was needed for the Old Testament prophecies to come to fruition is located in that city of Galilee. And in divine wisdom and providence which had arranged for this to be so, “[the angel] came to her and said: ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’” Gabriel discloses that this humble Maiden of Nazareth will be the greatest instrument through which the Promised Savior will enter the world: “You will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.”

The word of the Lord spoken by the angel brings this about. The seemingly impossible, let alone implausible, takes place because the Lord God has spoken it. The Lord God says: “Make it so,” and all the cosmos obeys, even the human beings who dwell in it. Nothing will stand in the way of His fulfilling and accomplishing His will and purpose. Where by nature none of this should take place—“How can this be, since I know no man?”—the Lord God’s word generates life.

You see this in the answer the angel Gabriel gives in reply to Mary’s question of how this would take place: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the Child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” The angel’s words carry the Holy Spirit. As they strike the eardrums of Mary, she conceives her son, God’s Son. The Child’s guardian Joseph will give Him the legal claim to David’s throne in fulfillment of the Lord God’s promise. “The virgin conceives and bears a Son who is God with us” in fulfillment of the Lord God’s promise. The power of God is used to accomplish salvation, to do the impossible, even to make Mary the Mother of God, in fulfillment of His promise.

Where promises are made, the Lord God keeps them. His word makes it so, even in spite of humanity’s doubts or misgivings. The angel Gabriel discloses that fact in simple eloquence: “For nothing will be impossible with God.” As those words strike your ears, they bring to you the power of God which makes all things possible, even your salvation. That is the first and important thing to take from this Gospel Reading. What transpired in Nazareth was not done as an exhibition of divine ability without purpose. Rather, it was to bring your Redeemer into the world, the One whose name is Jesus, the Son of the Most High. For it is through Him that even more impossible things take place.

Consider what this Son of the Most High would accomplish. He speaks and nature obeys Him: water changes to wine, winds and waves are calmed. He speaks and people are restored: lepers are cleansed, paralytics rise and walk. He speaks and righteousness is given: sinners are forgiven, lowly humans learn divine truth. He speaks and life is generated again: a dead girl rises from her bed, a dead man leaves his tomb. “For nothing will be impossible with God,” when He opens His mouth and His Spirit-carrying word comes forth.

But the Holy Spirit and the power of the Most High are neither antiquated ideas nor figures of the past. Ancient Israel is not the only venue where the Lord God’s word accomplishes such great things. The same word that came to Mary’s ears, which designated her as “the servant of the Lord” and the Mother of God, sounds in your day and age. It is present here among you, bearing all the power of the Most High while carrying the Holy Spirit. And it brings to fulfillment what the Lord God promises.

Again, the events of Nazareth were not displays of the Lord God’s raw power solely meant to trouble the humble maiden. It was power exercised to accomplish what the Lord God had determined to take place for the salvation of the world. Likewise, what the word of God does in your lives is to fulfill what has been promised to you, what the Lord God in His wisdom has destined for you.

The Lord God speaks and you hear how sinful you are: your unrighteousness is put on display for you to see. But He speaks again and you hear of the great and mighty deeds of Jesus Christ: the Lord God who came in His might. He continues to speak and faith in what has been done by Christ is created in you. The Lord God speaks and nature obeys: simple water is turned into an eternal life-giving bath, bread and wine are changed to be Christ’s Body and Blood and a heavenly meal. He speaks and you who were dead in sins rise to newness of life. He speaks and you are made His servants and given a share of salvation. “For nothing will be impossible with God.” When “the Holy Spirit comes upon you and the power of the Most High overshadows you,” what the Lord God desires to occur for you actually happens.

For you who have been chosen to be the Lord’s servants, the events of the Annunciation give you a glimpse of what happened to you. True, none of you are destined to be the Mother of God: that is an honor reserved for the Blessed Virgin Mary as she was selected in God’s wisdom, even before the world began. But you also “have found favor with God” to alleviate fear about your ultimate destiny. “You have found favor with God,” as you share in the salvation that the Son of the Most High has earned for you by taking upon Himself the wrath of God. “You have found favor with God,” as you have faith in what this Jesus has done created in you. “You have found favor with God,” as you have the merits of Christ delivered to you. All of this has taken place as the Annunciation of good news, the Gospel, has come to you, as the Lord God’s word has struck your eardrums.

For where no life should exist by nature—in your sin-corrupted hearts, minds, souls, and bodies—the Lord God’s word has generated it. Where no honor should exist—in this world of depravity and degradation—the Lord God has created a royal priesthood and holy race, making you part of it. Where no obedience should be found—among rebellious people with unclean hands and unclean lips—the Lord God has instilled a love for His will and a desire and ability to conform to it. Why is this so? “For nothing will impossible with God,” the One who has shown you His great favor by bringing His word to your ears.

This is what St. Paul alluded to in the Epistle Reading for today: “[He] is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writing has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith.” Your salvation really is all about those divine words coming to you and accomplishing their purpose, the Lord God’s purpose, for you.

So you see it in the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Lord God’s purpose. And so you shall see it in your lives, as you respond in the same way as this greatest daughter of the Lord spoke in her humility: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to Your word.” May it be so for you, as what the Lord God desires for your lives takes place according to His word—the great statements of good news of eternal salvation for you, His servants.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

No comments: