March 25, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“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.’”
The Time of Christmas and the Time of Easter are inextricably linked. They do not speak of two different events or persons, but different aspects of the same great event accomplished by the same Person. The Collect of the Day recognizes this: “O Lord, as we have known the incarnation of Your Son, Jesus Christ, by the message of the angel to the Virgin Mary, so by the message of His cross and passion bring us to the glory of His resurrection.” So it is not inappropriate to celebrate the Annunciation of Our Lord on this March 25, though it is but seven days before Holy Week begins.
Nearly all of you gathered here today are familiar with what was read in the Gospel Reading from Luke’s account. Even the youngest members of our parish are told about the angel who delivers a message to a young woman in Galilee. It is told in pageants, in carol services, and in formal study of the Scriptures. Gabriel comes to Nazareth, bringing word from God Himself: “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.”
The message that angels bring carries power because of who authors it. The Lord who can perform a sign “as deep as Sheol or as high as heaven” sends the message. In this case, the message is sent to one who has received the Lord’s favor, a choice of His for a purpose: “And [the angel] came to her and said, ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’” The Lord is present with Mary for a purpose, though she does not yet know what it is: “But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.”
The purpose is disclosed by Gabriel to Mary: “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.’” Mary is to bear a Son, the long-awaited Descendant of David who will exercise eternal rule over the Lord’s people. That is her purpose. That is why she has received the Lord’s favor.
Here, the incarnation of the Eternal Father’s Eternal Son is made known for the first time. That is what takes place. It is the result of what the angel says will happen: “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.” But the incarnation of the Eternal Son also has a purpose. It occurs in order for something to be accomplished. This is not simply God becoming human for no reason—though even that is no simple thing! No, there is a reason for it.
The reason for Christ’s incarnation is for Him to fulfill the Father’s will to bring salvation. In fact, that is why Mary is commanded to give her Son a particular name: “you shall call His name Jesus.” That name speaks to what He will achieve: “the Lord saves.” It is what Joseph is told in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth, words familiar to you: “He will save His people from their sins.” Mary’s Son will be the One through whom the Lord brings salvation. There will be a method by which it is accomplished. That is the reason why He is born.
This reason is discussed in the Epistle Reading for this day. It begins with a statement: “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Salvation cannot be given by such means. It is why the Church sings: “Not all the blood of beasts / on Jewish altars slain / could give the guilty conscience peace / or wash away the stain.” That is the truth made known to the Scripture Writer who states: “Consequently, when Christ came into the world, He said: ‘Sacrifices and offerings You have not desired, but a body have You prepared for Me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings You have taken no pleasure. Then I said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God, as it is written of Me in the scroll of the book.”’” The Christ comes to do the Lord’s will. That is why He takes a body, assumes human flesh and nature, is incarnate.
So what is that will? The Lord’s will is that sins be atoned for and that His Son would bring that atonement. The Christ is present to take away sins. He is present to sanctify what was unclean, unholy. He is in the world to bring salvation to it. His motto is this: “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God, as it is written of Me in the scroll of the book.” And so Jesus does. He is given as an atoning sacrifice, bearing the sins of the world, healing sinners by His stripes, handed over to death. It is the Father’s will: “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
That is the purpose of the Eternal Son’s incarnation. It is why the Church sings: “But Christ, the heavenly Lamb, / takes all our sins away; / a sacrifice of nobler name / and richer blood than they.” Or in words written just a decade or so ago: “This great High Priest in human flesh / was icon of God’s righteousness. / His hallowed touch brought sanctity; / His hand removed impurity. / The holy Lamb undaunted came / to God’s own altar lit with flame; / while weeping angels hid their eyes, / this Priest became a sacrifice.”
“By [the Father’s] will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” It is a profound statement, a statement of pure Gospel for those who suffered the indelible taint of sin. You have been made holy. You have been cleansed. You have had sins taken away. “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” That is true. But what the angel Gabriel declared about divine power is also true: “Nothing will be impossible with God.” And when it is Immanuel—“God with us”—who is working, who is offering Himself in sacrifice for our sake, then it is possible for sins to be taken away.
There the purpose, power, and product of Christ’s incarnation are disclosed to you. From this you see that Christmas and Easter and the events surrounding them are inextricably connected. The Annunciation takes place, bringing the incarnation of the Eternal Son of God. He takes flesh and is born of Mary. His body becomes the sacrifice offered for the atonement of the world’s sin. And in His resurrection, life everlasting is won again for humanity. It all takes place for your sake. It is done for you. It is done because “you have found favor with God”. It is done because “the Lord is with you” not against you. All that is accomplished by this Christ is done out of the Father’s divine grace and mercy.
On this March 25, you have again known the incarnation of the Father’s Son by the message of the angel to the Virgin Mary. You also have again known the message of His cross and passion that you have heard on this day. This will bring you to the glory of His resurrection. So you will sing: “But death would not the victor be / of Him who hung upon the tree. / He leads us to the Holy Place / within the veil, before God’s face.” That is what the Son of Mary and of the Most High does for you, as by death and resurrection He makes you part of His kingdom that has no end.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.