Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Annunciation, March 25, 2007, Luke 1:26-38

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!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 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.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” 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.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38, ESV)

(from a Sermon by Dr. James Lamb)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Well, I guess our pastor has just plain lost touch with reality. Here it is a few weeks before Easter and we’re talking Christmas. Maybe all that coffee has finally fried his brain. What’s this Christmas reading doing in the middle of Lent? Maybe you asked yourself that, just think what you would have thought if we’d have sung the Christmas carol I’d originally picked out! Today is actually a Church holiday called The Annunciation. And if you were listening very carefully to the reading you’d have realized that it’s not about the birth of Jesus, it’s not a Christmas text at all. It’s about Jesus’ conception. It about when the angel Gabriel came to Mary and announced that she was going to be pregnant with God. So let’s see Christimas day is December 25th… so if you count backwards 9 months you get… today! March 25th! The day the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was chosen to be the Mother of God.

Now, since we’re not really used to talking about this day in this way (it doesn’t fall on Sunday all that often!) we should start with a review of exactly what’s going on here. Let’s look at Holy Scripture again and see what it says. Right there toward the beginning we see the angel announce to Mary two specific things. First, that she will conceive, that means, she will be pregnant. The second is that she will bear a son. Now the angel also makes very clear that this Son, this one conceived and born would be none other than God. “The Son of the Most High” So from the Gospel reading we see that this is a very special pregnancy, Mary is going to be the mother of God. Remember when it was all said and done, Mary rushed out of town to see her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptizer? Elizabeth said the same thing about Mary. If we just read a few lines farther we hear her say I am blessed because the “the Mother of my Lord” has come to me. Now that word that she uses “Lord” is the word used as a way to say God’s name in the Old Testament. Kyrie! It stands for YHWH, which is understood at the name I AM that God’s name given to the people at the burning bush. Now she’s calling this very tiny human being in Mary’s womb, Lord, God, YHWH, I AM.

I think it sounds a little bit strange to our ears. “Mary was pregnant with God.” But the church, in her writings in Scripture and creeds, has always confessed it to be true. Our Lutheran Confessions, that’s the Reformation documents that we confess because they correctly describe what the bible teaches, say,

“We believe that the Son of man according to His human nature is really exalted to the right hand of God because He was assumed into God when He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in His mother’s womb and His human nature was personally united with the Son of the Most High.” (Epitome p. 15, Art. 8, Tappert p. 488)

Various Christian scholars have said the same. Dr. Edward Koehler, who wrote a very popular LCMS commentary on the Small Catechism in 1946, says “The Word was made flesh, assumed, took on, a human nature. This happened at the conception of Christ.” (Small Catechism – Annotated c. 1946 Concordia Theological Seminary Press p. 141) Francis Pieper, a well-known theologian of the 1950’s writes, “For Scripture says, as already pointed out, not only of the grown man, not only of the adolescent boy, not only of the babe in its mother’s arms, but of the embryo in its mother’s womb that it is God the Lord.” (Christian Dogmatics Vl. II p. 84) The church understands that Mary was pregnant with God. It sounds strange to us but it’s been confessed by the church, it’s nothing new.

So here we are in Lent thinking about things we usually hear around Christmas time. How are we supposed to think about it today? Right here in the middle of our Lenten season. Aren’t we suppose to be just a little bit frowney… reflecting on our sins… giving up something we don’t want to give up… for Lent? Well, if you turn to the bulletin and read along with me the collect for the day that we prayed a little bit ago you can see how we understand the connection between the Annunciation and Lent.

We implore you, O Lord, to pour forth your grace on us that, as we have known the incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ by the message of the angel, so by His cross and Passion we may be brought to the glory of His resurrection; through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen!

One theologian helps us to see it by saying, “Christ passed through all stages of our existence that He might fully remedy our unclean conception and birth.” (Dr. Francis Pieper)

Mary was pregnant with God. It sounds funny to us but it had to be true. Jesus had to be an embryo, our salvation depends on it. In confirmation class we study two questions: “Why did Jesus have to be God?” and “Why did Jesus have to be man?” This is part of the second questions. Jesus had to be a human being so that he could take our place.

Psalm 51 helps us see our problem.

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. (Psalm 51:5, ESV)

And Isaiah adds:

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64:6, ESV)

Polluted garments… that’s pretty harsh… and that’s the good stuff we do. We need a savior who is just like us in every way, except sin… (Heb 4:15) so that he can take our place completely. That means, just like every other human being, it begins in the womb. As the theologian said, Jesus passed through all the stages of our life for us. He took our place from the womb to the tomb. He took our place from our sinful beginning to our sin-earned death. He replaces our polluted lives with his perfect sinless life. He was born just like us. He lived and talked and walked just like us. He scraped his knees as a little boy and cried on his mother’s shoulder like us. He studies God’s Word and worked with his earthly father like us. He ate and slept, sang and laughed… all just like us, that because he is one of us, born in a womb, a human being… and yet the Holy and Perfect God. Like us in every way… except without sin. Mary was pregnant with God… because that’s the way it had to be.

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. (Psalm 139:13, ESV)

You were knit together. Jesus human body was knit together. “Mary was pregnant with God, shows how much God loves human beings, how much he values human life. Dr. James Lamb likes to say that “You could have a sticker on the back of your neck saying, “Hand mane by God.” God was intimately involved in making the human body of Our Savior in Mary’s womb. He was intimately involved in your creation in your mother’s womb too. You are valuable to God because he made you. You don’t have value because of how well you can see or hear. You don’t have value because of how you look. You don’t have value because your life is free from pain. You have value because God loved the world in this way… He was conceived in a womb by the Holy Spirit…

…born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified dead and was buried, the third day he rose again from the dead.

His love for you made sure that your human body wouldn’t remain dead and buried in the grave either. You’ll rise to new live just as he did. That’s God’s love for you and all human beings. The small catechism says it:

I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord. Who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.

Now since we understand how God values our life and the life of all people from the very beginning of their lives, that is the very moment of conception, it’s appropriate to remind ourselves that the world around us doesn’t. Our part in it is that very often we’ve let it go on without standing up and speaking out clearly for the protection of life. And you know what I’m talking about. Abortion is not just a political issue that doesn’t belong in the church. It’s easier to avoid the whole issue and buy into the “choice” lie… “I’m personally opposed to abortion, but I must defend the right of a woman to chose.” That choice is only the “option” to kill that which our Savior bled and died to save. And not only that but we rarely talk about what that “choice” actually does to the mother.

Our love extends to where our Savior’s love goes. In some Sunday school letters to God one child wrote:

“Dear God, I bet it is very hard for You to love all of everybody in the whole world. There are only four people in our family and I can never do it.”

Loving human life, like God, is more than just being against abortion. It’s loving people in all stages and conditions. It means having compassion on those who have made mistakes. It means finding ways to help people avoid those mistakes. It means supporting young people to make good decisions, God-pleasing decisions, like saving themselves for the person they marry.

One thing we often forget is that abortion kills a child and hurts its mother. Women who are suffering guilt and pain as a result of a mistake like this don’t need our condemnation, they need our love. Jesus blood covers all sin even this one. Satan will tell them their sin is too big. Jesus says no. His holy and precious blood will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. People who have made wrong choices don’t need to hear the condemnation of the church; they need to hear about the Savior, not just once, but over and over and over again. Hey, that’s no different from you and me is it. Because we fail, because we sin every day, because we struggle with our wrong choices we need to hear about Jesus again and again and again.

In a few short days we’ll be ending our Lenten journey… the deep darkness and wonder of Good Friday, is coming, as is the unrestrained joy of Easter. All of it started, not really in a stable, but in Mary’s womb. Mary was pregnant with God. Jesus true God and true man was conceived in a womb. And right there, where we all began, He steps into the world to take our place, to save us from all our sins. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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