You thought you were coming to a Lent service tonight. But surprise! We aren’t doing Lent this evening. Instead today, March 25 is the Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lord. The reason for the date is very simple: March 25 is nine months before December 25 and Christmas. The date of the Annunciation means that it almost always takes place during Lent.
This creates an unusual situation. We are in the season of Lent as we prepare for Holy Week and the death of Jesus Christ. Yet the Annunciation is about the beginning of his life as a human being. It is about the beginning of the Incarnation.
Lent has a very somber tone with its focus on repentance and the preparation to remember the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. But the Annunciation is a joyous celebration of the mystery of the incarnation. However, what holds these two together is the fact that the wonder of the incarnation that we celebrate tonight had Holy Week as its goal from the very beginning. The baby in the womb of the virgin Mary was conceived by the Holy Spirit in order to suffer and die.
Our text begins by telling us, “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.” The phrase “sixth month” tells us that this was sixth months since Gabriel had appeared to Zechariah and informed him that his aged wife Elizabeth was going to have a son. That itself was quite amazing. But even more remarkable was the fact that this child – who would be named John – was going to be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. He would go before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.
Now Gabriel appeared to Mary, a relative of Elizabeth and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” Gabriel announced that Mary had been shown favor by God. But Mary didn’t feel very favored. Instead she felt greatly troubled as she tried to figure out what sort of greeting this might be.
However Gabriel told Mary not to be afraid because she had found favor with God. He announced that she would conceive in her womb and bear a son, whom she would name Jesus. Then Gabriel said about this son, “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.”
What Gabriel said about this child was stunning. He was telling Mary that her son would be the fulfillment of God’s promise to King David. Yahweh had told David that his son Solomon would be the one to build a temple for God. He said, “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 I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”
Gabriel was telling Mary that her child would be the Messiah, the descendant of David promised by God. He would reign over Israel and his kingdom would have no end, which meant that he would be the fulfillment of all the promises God had made about a descendant from David’s line who would bring God’s end time salvation.
Yet Mary had a question. She was betrothed to Joseph who descended from king David, but she was not married. And so she asked, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Gabriel 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.”
Gabriel had already said that this child would be called “Son of the Most High.” Yet in the setting of God’s promise to David this only meant that the descendants of David would stand in a unique relation to God. God would bestow this status on them. They would be his “son” in an adopted sense.
However, this was something completely different. Mary’s child – Jesus – would have no human father. Instead the Holy Spirit would cause him to be conceived within the virgin Mary. And therefore the child to be born would be called holy--the Son of God. This was not a matter of being “adopted” by God. Instead this child would be the Son of God in his very being. He would be true God. Yet as the One conceived by the Spirit in Mary he would also be true man.
This is amazing, wonderful stuff. And yet nothing in our text tonight leads you to expect that there will be a season of Lent. Nothing in our text makes you think that this child will grow up to suffer and die on a Roman cross. After all, he is the Son of God, conceived by the work of the Holy Spirit. He is also the son of David, the One who will have the throne of his father David, and will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and will have a kingdom with no end.
And that is the surprising thing about the way that God chooses to bring us salvation. He sends his own Son into this world in the incarnation. He sends him to be numbered with transgressors – to take our place as the object of God’s wrath against sin. Suffering and death await the child conceived in Mary by the work of the Holy Spirit.
This is not how we would do things. And in this we learn an important truth. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. God’s ways are not our ways. God works in surprising ways that often look like failure. He works in ways that often look like the opposite of success. He works in the way of the cross.
This is true not just of his plan of salvation. It is also true of our own lives as God allows failure and suffering. Certainly there are joys and successes. But those times tend not to be when we think about God most. Instead, it is hardship that causes us to think about God’s will for our life. It is suffering that causes us to look to God. As fallen people, this is often what is needed to get us thinking and acting in God’s ways. And so indeed, God uses it for our spiritual good.
On Good Friday Jesus Christ was crucified for our sins. He was wounded for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. He died and was buried. Yet the words of Gabriel to Mary about Jesus were true because God did not allow his holy One to see corruption. Instead he raised him from the dead on the third day. And the risen Lord opened the minds of the disciples to understand what God had been doing. He said, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
Gabriel had told Mary that the Lord God would give to Jesus the throne of his father David, and that he would reign over the house of Jacob forever. Yet when Jesus’ saving work was completed, his exaltation proved to be far more than this. Forty days after his resurrection, Jesus ascended into heave and was seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Fifty days later the exalted Lord poured forth the Holy Spirit on his Church.
We have seen in Jesus that the cross was the means by which God was at work to save us, and that the cross was the way that led to glory for Christ. Because we have seen this in our Lord, we are able to trust God in the midst of the circumstances that are difficult and challenging for us. Because of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Lord, we know that such times are not the absence of God, but rather God at work in and for us. Because of Jesus Christ we know that the story of our lives can only end in one way – resurrection with our Lord, the Son of God.