December 18, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“And behold, 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. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of his father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
“Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come and help us by Your might, that the sins which weigh us down may be quickly lifted by Your grace and mercy….” Power and might. That is what the Church prays for Jesus to use. Power and might to lift the sins that weigh us down. It is a prayer that has been offered throughout human history, from the moment of Adam’s sin to now. The burden of sin is known, known too well. It is the burden that you suffer under: the burden that you add to everyday and have others pile on, as well. The prayer is for deliverance from this burden, deliverance that is only possible by divine action done for you.
Divine action being done for the burden of sin to be lifted is what the Church begins to hear about on this Fourth Sunday in Advent. As the calendar has turned to this last Sunday prior to Christmas, the focus of the readings has changed. The focus is not on the glorious return of Jesus. Neither is it on the preaching of repentance, so that you may be made ready for Christ to appear. No, the focus is on the appearance of the Son of God in time, the arrival of Jesus to be the Deliverer from sin, the Fulfiller of the promise of salvation. God is acting: that is what the readings for this day tell us. And His action is with power and might to lift up the sins that weigh you down.
In the Old Testament Reading, you heard a promise made by the Lord to David, the King of Israel. Before the Lord made that promise to David, the king had desired to do something for the Lord: “Now when the king lived in his house and the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, the king said to Nathan the prophet, ‘See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.’ And Nathan said to the king, ‘Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.’” David wanted to build a dwelling place for the Ark of the Covenant, a house for where the localized presence of the Lord could reside. This desire came after the Lord had given David victory over his enemies, an act of divine power that took place for this King of Israel. The Lord’s power and might had brought deliverance to the people of Israel: the Hittites, Philistines, and Amalekites were no longer great threats. Israel lived in the safety that the Lord provided for them.
But the Lord’s provision was to be more than that temporal peace. Though David had wanted to build a dwelling place for the Ark of the Covenant, the Lord’s will was to perform an even greater action for David and all who would follow in his line, those who were bound to the Lord by an eternal covenant. So a promise was made to the monarch. Power and might would be used to bring a great benefit, something even more than David and Israel experienced: “I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for My people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over My people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house…. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before Me. Your throne shall be established forever.”
Eternal security and safety, an everlasting household and throne: those were the promised ends that the Lord disclosed to David. They would come as He acted for the king and the people. What was promised could only come about as the Lord accomplished it. Just as He had exalted David from the sheep herds to the throne of Israel, so the Lord would exalt all His people, bringing deliverance and salvation down from heaven.
The fulfillment of the Lord’s promise was not immediate. It did not come with the coronation of Solomon after David’s death. David’s grandsons Jeroboam and Rehoboam would bring anything but peace and security to the nation. Further generations of Israelite and Judahite monarchs would experience war and exile. The royal house of David appeared to be ready to die off. But it was precisely then that the Lord exercised His power and might, stirring them up to bring His promises to fulfillment.
This morning, you heard the words that announced the beginning of the promise’s fulfillment: “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. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’” The annunciation to Mary revealed that she was the object of divine favor. The Lord was with her, just as He had been with David a millennium before. Something great would be done through her: “And 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. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
Gabriel’s words to Mary hearken back to the promise that had been made to David. The Lord had promised acts of power and might to be done for David’s heirs and people. Eternal peace was to be given. An everlasting house was to be established. Divine favor was to be shown to a particular group of people. The angel’s appearance in Nazareth revealed that the time for those promises to be fulfilled had arrived.
But note how Mary responded to that announcement: “And Mary said, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’” The question points out the obvious: How can a child be born when the chosen mother had not taken part in the acts that lead to conception and birth? But the question leads to the revelation that what was to take place, beginning in Nazareth, was not a matter of human origin. Instead, the Lord was going to act, using His power and might to benefit His people: “And the angel answered her, ‘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. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’”
“Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come and help us by Your might, that the sins which weigh us down may be quickly lifted by Your grace and mercy….” That is what the Lord did in Nazareth. Divine power and might were used, so that a virgin could conceive and bear a Son. Divine power and might were exercised, so that an eternal kingdom could be established through God becoming human. Divine power and might were stirred up, so that the Son of God could bring salvation, delivering people from their sins, just as His name Jesus disclosed. Divine power and might caused a maiden in a small Galilean town to be called “God’s favored one” by all generations.
Centuries had passed since the promise had been made to David. But in the fullness of time, the Lord determined that the promise was to be fulfilled in His own chosen way. He selects Mary to be the vessel through which His power and might would take flesh. David had wanted to build a dwelling place for the Ark of the Covenant. But the Lord’s desire was to make a maiden the dwelling place for the Ark of the Covenant where His glory would dwell, as He took flesh and became man. Born of her, the promised Descendant of David would come and fulfill all that had been sworn and pledged from on high. And Mary’s response to this was the same as David’s response when first hearing the promise made to him: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to Your word.”
In Jesus, divine power and might have been employed to benefit you. The promise was made that the Lord would give a great name, appoint a place for His people, bring everlasting peace, and establish an eternal house. That is what Jesus has achieved. By His dying and rising from death, He has gained authority over all things in heaven and earth. His ascension has opened Paradise for you and appointed it as the place where His people will dwell. He has routed all the enemies that haunt you: His obedience has overcome sin, His resurrection has overcome death, His perfection has overcome Satan and his deceptions. Jesus has established a divine household that stands for eternity, as He makes you to be children of God, heirs of everlasting life. All that had been promised to David is fulfilled in his Descendant, Jesus.
That is what the Scriptures reveal to you this day. As they are proclaimed to your hearing, “the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, brings about the obedience of faith” in you. The preaching of Jesus Christ’s words and works cause you to make the same statement that Mary did in Nazareth: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to Your word.” Your desire is to have what Jesus has accomplished—every promise that His actions have fulfilled and established for you. So when you hear that baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection brings you life, you want what His word declares. When you hear that what hung on Calvary’s cross to atone for your sins is present on the altar now, you want what His word declares. When you hear that there are people who speak Jesus’ statements of pardon, you want what His word declares. You know that this is how divine power and might is put into action for your salvation.
What took place in Nazareth was the exercise of divine power and might for the benefit of all who trusted that the promise made to David would come to fulfillment. That is how the Lord has acted for you who first did not know what that promise was but now have had that mystery revealed to you. The appearance of the Son of God in time has brought that promise to fulfillment. Now you wait for the promise to be applied in full to you. You have been made part of the household that lasts forever. You have a King who sits on a throne to rule for eternity. A place where His subjects will dwell in security from all your foes has been designated for you. That is what Jesus has accomplished for you.
So you look forward to receiving all that has been promised. You anticipate receiving what Jesus has earned for you. Sins weigh you down and burden your souls, but they are sins that Jesus has atoned. Enemies threaten and harass, but they are adversaries that Jesus has defeated. The people of this world find you strange, but Jesus has established an ending date for your exile. All that He has accomplished to fulfill the promises made to David will be made yours when He returns. It is what awaits you when Jesus will stir up His divine power and might once again to deliver you. Looking toward that day, you pray that Fourth Collect of Advent: “Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come and help us by Your might, that the sins which weigh us down may be quickly lifted by Your grace and mercy….” And as you are the Lord’s servants, His favored ones who believe His promise, your prayer will be answered according to His word.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.