12/16/2021 1:39:12 PM
The Savior Comes: To the Waiting
Pastor Eric Schroeder - Midweek Advent 3 - Wednesday, December 15, 2021
Among all the participants in the Christmas story, other than Jesus himself, no one is more involved than Mary. Everyone else in the Gospel accounts comes in later or leaves the scene earlier than Mary; many come and go along the way. Mary, however, would be close by the whole time. Today’s Gospel reading from Luke chapter 1 introduces us to this young woman, who will forever be known as the mother of our Lord.
Luke begins this way: 26 In the sixth month [that would be the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy with John the Baptist…], God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
We might wonder if Mary’s childhood was like ours, if she had ideas about what she wanted to be when she grew up. We don’t know what her options might have been, but by this time the path forward was becoming at least a little clearer. Luke tells us that she was pledged to be married to a man named Joseph; and with some study of their customs, we can find out what that means: she was already legally bound to Joseph as his wife, but the ceremony and celebration hadn’t happened yet. Luke very pointedly tells us that she is a virgin—of course that is an important part of the equation as well. At any rate, we have no idea what she was doing at this moment; perhaps she was thinking of the wedding plans or the upcoming ceremony or maybe she was saying her prayers. Either way, the angelic messenger Gabriel shows up and reveals God’s plans for Mary.
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
Talk about a change of plans. It’s likely that as Mary pictured her life and her marriage going forward, she envisioned having children at some point. But a king…like David? One who would reign forever? That seemed unlikely, and at this point biologically impossible to conceive and give birth to any child at all.
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.”
When God decides to act, we can throw the word “impossible” out the window. After all, the one who invented nature can choose to go above and beyond the limitations of nature any time he chooses. As God would prove in the birth of John the Baptist, the age of a couple doesn’t stand in his way. And now he brings his Son into the world through even more miraculous means. The virgin birth, prophesied by Isaiah 700 years earlier and now about to be fulfilled, is such a part of the salvation story that every time we confess our faith with the Apostles and Nicene Creeds, we mention how the birth of our Savior came about. In the Apostles’ Creed: “Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.” And in the Nicene Creed we use a bigger word that is worth discussing, as we say that we believe that Jesus was “incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary.”
What does “incarnate” mean? It comes from a Latin word that means “to take on flesh.” So, the incarnation refers to when the God of all creation entered creation as a human being, in order to be our perfect substitute. When did that take place? We might be tempted to say Christmas, but it was actually 9 months before, at this divine, miraculous conception that Gabriel announced to Mary. We can picture that unbelievable moment when the eternal Son of God, almighty and omnipresent, humbled himself to be contained in one single cell, which then split, and split again, and began forming a tiny body within Mary’s virgin womb. Just think: the God who opens his hand and satisfies the desire of every living thing would now depend on what Mary ate and drank for his nourishment and growth until he would be able to eat for himself.
If we’re beginning to have a reverent sense of awe about the incarnation of Jesus Christ, just imagine what Mary must have felt when she heard from Gabriel that God chose her to bring the long-awaited Messiah into the world. I don’t think “overwhelmed” even begins to cover it. Then again…doesn’t the Gospel cause a similar reaction in us when it really sinks into our hearts? Just as Mary was nearly speechless to hear God’s plan for her, so there may be times when words can’t express what God’s forgiveness means to us. Just like Mary could never have chosen to be the mother of Jesus, we never could have chosen to be children of God. But God chose us, and he sent the same miracle-working Holy Spirit to us to bring Jesus into our sin-broken hearts and give us new life, with all the comfort, and peace, and joy and purpose that is now ours in Christ.
What is your purpose? Well, we all know it’s different from Mary’s, but we can use some similar words as Mary heard. Every one of you who gets to hear God’s word today can know that you have found favor with God. Throughout your life, you can know without a doubt that the Lord is with you. None of us deserves to be here any more than Mary earned the privilege of her purpose. But you are receiving God’s grace right now, because even though God knows the rebellion that lives in your heart, and if he wanted to keep track of every one of your sins, he’d have an awfully long list by now, he has chosen forgiveness instead. He doesn’t count your sins against you, because every one of them was laid on Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, who took on flesh so that he could bleed and die for you. Every sin is gone, as far as the East is from the West. God has hurled our iniquities into the depths of the sea and called you righteous for Jesus’ sake.
So again, what is your purpose? Maybe our lives have gone exactly the way we pictured things…but likely not. It’s far more probable that God has put us on different paths, with different relationships, and different tasks every day than we would choose for ourselves. Is that ok? It ought to be more than ok because these are divine tasks. These are the good works that God prepared in advance for us to do because we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, as those who are saved by grace, through faith, not by works, so that none of us can boast, unless we boast in the cross of Jesus Christ.
And that, my friends, is our greatest purpose. Just as Mary was chosen to bring Jesus into the world, so we have been chosen to bring Jesus to the people around us. Especially as Christmas approaches, is there a friend or coworker that we can invite to hear the good news? Is there a straying relative that might come back for Christmas? Is there a hurting person that could use the joy of knowing Jesus? Is there a lonely person that could use a Christian friend who genuinely cares? Is there a needy family that would benefit if we shared our blessings with them?
I think you know that the answers to all of those are one and the same: yes, these people are all around us, and it’s our purpose to reach out to them with Jesus. Why take the time? Why spend the effort? One way to answer that would be to use the words that Mary spoke in response to God’s grace to her. It is only God’s grace that allows us to say the same thing: 38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” …”May it be to me as [God has] said.”
This advent, and always, may God’s grace so fill us that we spend our lives looking for ways to serve him, not so that he will choose us, but because in Christ his Son, he already has. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.