Wednesday, December 14, 2022

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


Mid-Advent 3

                                                                                       Lk 1:26-38



          In the course of doing some research, I learned recently that unwed teen pregnancy was virtually unknown in the Greco-Roman world.  The reason was that girls married as soon as they were able to have children – usually at twelve or thirteen years old.  There simply wasn’t time and opportunity between when they were able to become pregnant and being marriage to have a child outside of marriage.  What was true of the Greco-Roman world, was also true of the first century Jewish world for the very same reason.

          We think of infant mortality as being a something of the ancient past.  But it was still a significant factor not that long ago.  Around 1870 two of my great great aunts went to visit their parents in St. Louis.  Both women had a child who was a little over a year old. While visiting there, both of these children died from what was then called “Second Summer Disease.”  Toddlers who were no longer nursing were given milk. This unpasteurized milk was delivered outside the door in the summer heat.  The milk gave children an intestinal infection that ultimately killed them.

Because ancient people lived in a world where infant and child mortality was extremely high, the Greco-Roman and Jewish cultures had girls marry and begin having children as soon as possible.  In order to maintain the population in the face of these losses, females needed to have as many children as they could.

In our text tonight, Mary learns the shocking news that she is going to be pregnant when not married. We recognize that this would make her appear to be guilty of breaking the Sixth Commandment. But we also need to understand how unusual her situation would be – how much it would make her stand out in that culture as a violator of God’s law.

          Our text begins by telling us that Mary was a girl who lived in Nazareth, a city in Galilee.  She was a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, who was a descendant of King David. As I just described, Mary would have most likely been twelve or thirteen years old. She was betrothed to David. This was more than our engagement – it was in fact a legal status. However, she and Joseph were not yet married.

          We learn that the angel Gabriel was sent to Mary in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. He said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” The angel announced that Mary had been shown favor by God, and that Lord was with her. This was a greeting that announced blessing.  But Mary was no more used to seeing angels than you or I, and she was greatly troubled at the saying, as she tried to discern what sort of greeting this was.

Gabriel responded 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.”

          These are words that are based on what God had said to King David through the prophet Nathan.  In Second Samuel chapter seven, God had promised, “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.”  This was the foundational promise that the Messiah would descend from David.  It is this promise that the prophets later explain further such as when Isaiah said in chapter eleven that one from the line of David would have the Spirit upon him as he judged righteously, killed the wicked with the breath of his lips, and ushered in the time of peace when the wolf would dwell with the lamb.

          Gabriel was telling Mary the that her son would be the Messiah – the One who would bring God’s end time reign. This was overwhelming news! Yet Mary raised a rather obvious question as she asked: “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”  Unlike Zechariah’s question last week, this was not a doubting question of unbelief.  Instead, it was the faithful attempt to receive an explanation for something that seemed like it could not happen. Virgins, after all, don’t have children.

Gabriel replied to Mary, “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.”  Earlier Gabriel had stated that Jesus would be Son of the Most High.  The kings that descended from David were described as God’s “son” in an adopted sense. But now it became clear that Gabriel meant something far more.  The Holy Spirit was going to cause Mary – a virgin – to conceive.  This child would be unlike any other child because he would be holy - he would be the Son of God.  He would be true God and true man at the same time.

This had never happened before.  But in order to demonstrate that God really was going to do it, Gabriel went on to say, “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.”  God had made the supposedly dead womb of Elizabeth pregnant with a child.  The Spirit of God could certainly cause a virgin to become pregnant with the Son of God, because nothing will be impossible with God.

Mary had heard that God was going to do what seemed impossible.  But her response was one of faith and trust. She said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” She not only trusted that God would do it, but she also submitted herself to God’s will and plan. 

There are times when God’s will and plan for our life do not go according to our script. There are unexpected setbacks. There are delays that we do not want. There is real uncertainty about the future, and how exactly things are going to turn out.  As we face these things, it becomes easy for the old Adam in us to raise questions about whether God really is in charge.  We are tempted to doubt God’s love and care.

Gabriel told Mary, “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.” That is what happened as she became pregnant and gave birth to the incarnate Son of God.  Gabriel told Mary about 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.” That is what God did, for on Pentecost Peter proclaimed about the Jesus and the events happening that day: “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.”

Yet before this happened, Jesus suffered and died on the cross. As Isaiah had foretold, God did put his Spirit upon Jesus at his baptism and identify him – the One descended from David – as the Messiah.  But in having the Spirit placed upon him, Jesus was also designated as the Servant of the Lord – the Suffering Servant. At the Last Supper Jesus quoted Isaiah chapter fifty three and applied it to himself as he said, “For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.”

Jesus Christ suffered and died as the sacrifice for our sin. He was numbered with the transgressors as he took our place.  He received the judgment against sin that should have been ours. But if things had ended there, he could not have been the One described by Gabriel whose kingdom – whose reign – has no end.  On the third day God raised Jesus from the dead.  As the risen Lord told the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”

On Good Friday, it did not look like God was in charge.  The One designated as the Messiah was crucified. He died in shame, weakness, and humiliation.  It did not look like God was doing anything. But on Easter we learned that the cross was in fact God’s powerful action to save us. Jesus was both the Suffering Servant and the Messiah.  God has acted through the cross to give us forgiveness.  And by dying, Jesus the risen Lord has defeated death.

This changes the way we look at everything.  It gives us confidence that we can trust in God no matter what things may look like.  The cross and resurrection of Jesus become the lens through which we see all of life.  God achieved our salvation in a way that did not look like he was doing anything.  Yet because of the resurrection we now have everything. When faced with those times that can cause us to doubt God, we need remember the resurrection of Jesus.  It says that God is still in charge and that his loving care for us will not fail. It will not, because nothing is impossible for God, and he has shown us this in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus.













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