Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Sermon for third mid-week Advent service - Lk 1:26-38

                                                                                                Mid-Advent 3
                                                                                                Lk 1:26-38

            As you push your shopping cart through the checkout area at the grocery store, it is impossible to miss the English Royal family.  Whenever there is something happening amongst them, there they are looking out at us from the magazine covers. 
            Most recently it was about the marriage of Prince Harry to the American actress Meghan Markle, and then the birth of their baby.  Now it seems strange that so much attention is allotted in the United States to a man who is sixth in line of succession to a throne that has no actual power.  But such is the fascination that the public apparently has with this royal family.
            The English royal family may get all the attention from American press, but it is not alone. In fact, there are twenty five other royal families around the world in places as diverse as Saudi Arabia, Swaziland, Liechtenstein, Tonga and Bhutan. Some of these royal families actually rule their nation, such as in Saudi Arabia.  I should add that strangely enough, in looking into this a little I was not able to find any evidence of the royal families that rule the quaint little European kingdoms that constantly appear in Hallmark movies.
            In tonight’s text, a royal family plays a key role.  In fact we see that while in the miracle of the incarnation Mary bears the incarnate Son of God within her – the seed of the woman who will crush the serpent’s head – it is not possible for this to happen in fulfillment of God’s promises without Joseph.  Jesus is true God and true man.  He is also the Christ, the descendant of King David who fulfills all of God’s promises to Israel in the Old Testament.
            Our text begins by saying: “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.” Six months after Elizabeth had become pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Mary, a virgin who lived in Nazareth.
            Nazareth was a village about twenty miles south west of Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee.  It was a place of no real importance. The same can be said about Mary.  She was of no real importance. She was undoubtedly a teenager, probably in her early teens.  She was not married, and so in keeping the Sixth Commandment, she was a virgin.
            We learn that she was betrothed to a man named Joseph who was of the house of David.  Joseph himself was of no real importance.  He was a carpenter.  But there was one thing about Joseph that was crucial for God’s plan of salvation: he was a descendant of King David.
            Gabriel said to Mary: “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”  Mary had been chosen by God to be the woman from whom the seed would be born who would defeat the devil. He had graciously shown his favor in giving her this role that would forever set her apart from every other woman.
            Angels did not appear to Mary any more often than they do to you, and so she was troubled.  But Gabriel said: “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 angel told Mary two things. First, she would conceive and bear a son named Jesus. And second, this son would reign as King David’s heir over an everlasting kingdom.  Gabriel announced to Mary that she would give birth to the Messiah promised by God.
            In Genesis three God had promised that a seed of the woman would defeat the devil.  Last week we saw how God did the unexpected by using aged and barren Sarah to provide a son to Abraham – the one through whom all nations would be blessed.
            Between the time of Sarah and Mary God had been at work fulfilling his promise.  Step by step he narrowed the focus of how this would happen.  He said it would be through Abraham’s son Isaac, and then through his son Jacob.  Jacob, whom God gave the name Israel, became the father of the nation Israel.  At the end of his life Jacob identified his son Judah as the one through whom God would work when he blessed him and said, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”
            Then, out of the tribe of Judah, God chose David to be king.  He sent Samuel to anoint him with olive oil and designate him as king.  When David was planning to build the temple, Yahweh sent Nathan to David with these words: “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.”
            And even though most of the kings descended from David were unfaithful, God promised a Messiah – an anointed one – who would rule forever and bring peace. He said through the prophet Isaiah, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.”
            Yahweh had described the king who descended from David as his “son.”  He had already called the nation of Israel his “son” – son in an adoptive sense.  Now as Israel reduced to one, the Davidic king was also his son. Through marriage to Joseph, a baby born to Mary would be part of the Davidic line. But this child would also be God’s Son in his very being – a Son who is one substance with the Father.
            Mary was betrothed, but was not married. And so she asked Gabriel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”  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.”
            Mary learned that this child – this seed of the woman – would be like no other.  There would be no human father.  Instead, the Holy Spirit would cause the child to be conceived in her womb.  The Son of God, the second person of the Trinity would receive a human nature from Mary, while remaining true God.  He would be true God and true man at the same time.
            When Mary had been told this she said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And then the angel departed from her.  Mary had just been told that her life had changed forever.  She would give birth to the Son of God. She would be raising the Messiah promised by God – the One who would bring God’s end time salvation. And her response was one of faithful acceptance.
            Are we as faithful in the acceptance of the vocations God has given to us? God has made you a husband or wife; a father or mother; a son or daughter; a member of this congregation; an employer or an employee.  Do we receive these callings with the same attitude as Mary: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Do we see ourselves as servants of the Lord in these roles? Do we seek to carry them out so that they are done according to God’s word?
            Often this is not easy, as Mary herself soon learned. When Jesus had been born and they went to Jerusalem, they met Simeon.  He spoke the beautiful words that we sing in the Nunc Dimmitis at the end of the Divine Service, “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace; Your word has been fulfilled.  My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people.”
            Yet Simeon then went on to say to Mary, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”  Some thirty three years later, Mary learned the full import of these words as she watched herson die on a Roman cross.
            There is nothing in our text tonight that would lead you to expect this. We learn that Jesus is the Son of God. We learn that he is the Messiah descended from King David and promised by God.  But the Son of God entered into our world and took on human flesh in order to bear our sins.  The Davidic Messiah is also the Suffering Servant prophesied by Isaiah who was wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. When the seed of the woman defeated the devil – it cost him dearly.
            Dead and buried, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. God the Father raised him up and vindicated him. His suffering and death had not been weakness and failure.  Instead it had been faithfulness to the Father’s will.  It had been the victory over sin and death that God had promised all along.  The long awaited seed of the woman accomplished what God had promised.
            The fulfillment of God’s entire saving plan began as the angel Gabriel went to a place of no real importance and announced news to a young girl of no real importance. Yet the news about the baby she would bear was the most important thing that has ever happened.  It is what we prepare to celebrate this Christmas.

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