Wednesday after Advent II - Luke 1:26-38 - December 9, 2015

Order of Matins - pg. 32
Hymn #540 With the Lord Begin Thy Task
Hymn #68 The Advent of Our King
Hymn #62 O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Sermon on St. Luke 1:26-38

1)         Last week we heard how the angel Gabriel appeared to the aged Zacharias in order to tell him of the birth of his son, John, and that John would be the forerunner of the Messiah. This joyous news was met with an unbelieving heart in Zacharias. This week we hear the verses that follow last week’s reading. Once again we hear the angel Gabriel visiting someone with life-changing news of great joy for all mankind. Gabriel says to Mary, behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end. This is far different than the news given to Zacharias. He was told that John would be great in the sight of the Lord. (Luke 1:15) The child born to Mary will be great in and of Himself. Zacharias’ son is to be named John, which means gracious, because John is a sign of God’s graciousness toward His people. But Mary’s child is to be named Jesus, which means ‘The Lord Saves’ because that is what this child will do. Gabriel tells Joseph that in a dream in Matthew 1:21, you shall call His name Jesus for He will save his people from their sins. Mary’s child will sit on the throne of His ancestor David, even though that throne has been vacant, empty, and demolished since 586 B.C. Mary’s son will reign over not just David’s house, but the house of Jacob, which is all of God’s people. Mary’s son will bring a kingdom that shall never pass away, being better than David’s in every way. John was born to make ready a people prepared for the Lord (Luke 1:17), but Mary’s son will be the Lord Himself, for He will be the son of Mary according to the flesh, but Mary’s son will have no earthly father, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting (Micah 5:2).

2)         Mary’s child will be conceived by the Holy Ghost as we confess each Sunday in the Nicene Creed. John would be the natural child of Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth, even in their age. But Mary’s child will bear her flesh but not the flesh of a husband, for Mary has no husband. She’s betrothed to Joseph, but that’s not married. Betrothal in the ancient near east was not the same as engagement in our culture. Engagements are verbal contracts which can be broken at any time with no legal consequences. Betrothals are a different animal. They are legally binding agreements. This is why St. Matthew notes in his gospel that Joseph finds out that His bride-to-be is with child, he contemplates divorcing her quietly. Quietly so the community doesn’t stone her to death. Divorce because betrothal was a legal contract. So Mary and Joseph are more than engaged and a little less than married. In other words, Mary can’t be pregnant because she and Joseph aren’t hitched yet and everybody knows that babies come from marriage. This is why Mary takes this great news from Gabriel the way she does. She asks, How can this be, since I do not know a man? Mary is not answering in unbelief as Zacharias did, thinking that the angel’s words were impossible. Mary genuinely wants to understand this good news that grows in her womb. She understands that her child is the Messiah based on Gabriel’s description of the child. She also knows better than to put human reason above God’s word to try to make human sense of it. She acknowledges that she is in a precarious and impossible situation.

3)         Gabriel answers Mary’s question by explaining the chief mystery the Christian faith, the article of faith from which every other article of faith derives. The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore also that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. And while Gabriel’s words may bring up more questions than they answer, his words are relatively simple. The power of the Most High will overshadow Mary. The Greek word which Gabriel uses is the same word that St. Luke uses to describe what the cloud does to the disciples and Jesus at His Transfiguration, a cloud came and overshadowed them (Luke 9:34). It is also the same Word used to describe the cloud of God’s presence filling the Tabernacle at its dedication in Exodus 40:35; Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting, because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. The cloud in both cases was the presence of God. Therefore God the Most High would overshadow dear Mary, God Himself being the child’s Father, so that, as Gabriel had just said, He will be called the Son of the Highest. If Jesus was born of Joseph, as the first detractors of the Gospel would claim, then Jesus would be of the flesh of Mary and Joseph, and would be sinful, for all men are conceived and born in sin, as David teaches in the fifty-first psalm and as Job teaches in his fourteenth chapter. Mary was born in sin as well. She was not sinless as others would teach. But her sinfulness was overshadowed by the presence of the Lord, so that the child in her womb would be like us in every way except without sin. This is the first part of the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God, that He would be conceived without the agency of man.

4)         The second part of this mystery of the Incarnation is that the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, would enter into the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and assume human flesh for all eternity. That’s what Incarnation means, in the flesh. St. John writes in the first chapter of His Gospel that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). The Word, the second person of the Trinity, become flesh just like you and just like me. Hebrews 2:14 says that, Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same. Jesus took on your human flesh, a human body with a human soul and human emotions . . . full humanity, because Hebrews 2:17 says that in all things He had to be made like His brethren. That’s you. Jesus took full humanity to say humanity fully. Why? Gregory of Nazianzen, one of the chief post-Nicene fathers of the Church, wrote it perfectly. “Whatever is not assumed is not saved.” There is no part of your human nature that Jesus did not assume because God so loved you that He wanted to save every part of you. The only way in which Jesus isn’t like you is that He is without sin, being conceived of the Holy Ghost because He is God and only a perfect sacrifice would do on the altar of Calvary’s cross. The author of Hebrews writes, Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted (Hebrews 2:17-18). And in the fourth chapter, For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. He has even been tempted as you are tempted every day, and has overcome temptations so that He may work in you through the Holy Ghost to begin to defeat temptation in this life.

5)         This is how much the Trinue God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost loved the world. And you are part of the world. This is how much the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost loved you, that the Son of God would assume your flesh with all its frailties and suffer death upon the cross to atone for all of your sins of thought, word, and deed. All of this is wrapped up in Gabriel’s words, for this child is the Immanuel child promised in Isaiah 7. Immanuel, of course, means ‘God with us.’ But in Christ Jesus, fully God and fully man, God is with us in a way that He has never been with us before. In Jesus, 100% man and simultaneously 100% God, God dwells with sinners in a way far better than the Old Testament tabernacle. In this the Holy Ghost wants to teach us faith which believes the good news of the Incarnation of the Son of God, for human reason cannot comprehend it. He also wants to teach us faith in that God is with us in the Incarnation for one purpose, and that is wrapped up in the name the angel gives to the child, Jesus. All this happens so that God can save His people from their sins, from death and hell and all God’s wrath, and from the power of the Devil. The Incarnation is far from an intellectual proposition to be expounded upon in the ivory towers of academia. It is the heart of the Christian of the Faith. God becomes man to redeem you from your sins and give you faith in that atonement at Calvary’s holy mountain.

6)         We see this faith which the Holy Ghost wants to give each of us in the example of Mary and what she does with this news. Zacharias refused to believe the Word of the Lord about a baby being born to well-seasoned parents. But Mary, receiving the even more mysterious and ineffable mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God, in her womb of all places, simply believes the word to be true. She replies to Gabriel, and to the Word of the Lord which Gabriel carried, in faith. She believes it to be true no matter what human reason tells her. How many times in the history of the world has a virgin conceived? How often does something like that happen? Never. Yet she pushes all that aside and says, Behold, the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word. Faith receives God’s word and promises as true and trustworthy and lets every other word be false. Faith is confidence that when God makes a promise to us in His Word, no matter how impossible it may seem to us, with God nothing is impossible. Faith receives God’s promises in the Gospel and simply says, “Amen,” which means “Yea, Yea, it shall be so.” The Holy Ghost created this faith in Mary’s heart just as He creates it in yours, and sustains it in your heart. May it be so among you as well, that hearing the Gospel of the forgiveness of your sins by the God-Man Jesus Christ, you too may say with Mary, Let it be to me according to your word. Amen.

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