Luke 1: 26 – 38 (Advent 4 - 2013)
“How Will This Be?”
We have heard the story before. We know it well. We rejoice that it is true. The words of Luke’s gospel seem never to get old. We are always gaining a new appreciation for the event of our Savior’s birth. It is a birth that demands humility and faith. The truth of the story presents what is impossible for human beings – impossible for them to do, impossible for them to understand, and impossible for them to imagine as a way to bring salvation to a sinful world. Look through the eyes of Mary, the virgin mother of God’s Son. She too, had to ask “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
Physically we understand what that means. Mary and Joseph had not consummated their marriage, nor had Mary been unfaithful to Joseph with any other man. The human possibility of her pregnancy did not exist. Neither her human understanding, nor ours, could begin to explain the fact that she had conceived a child. It was truly miracle. God had worked outside of his created laws of nature to bring about the promise he made to his people, as he spoke to Satan in the Garden: “I will put enmity between your offspring and hers. He will crush your head and you will strike his heal.” That offspring had now arrived in Mary’s womb.
What do we know about Mary’s perspective? We know that she was frightened at the appearance of the Gabriel. We know she humbly asked, “How will this be?” perhaps more out of curiosity than doubt. We know that she accepted the angel’s explanation as God’s will and purpose. We know that she obeyed God’s command to name him Jesus. We know her song of praise at the house of Elizabeth. Her song gives all praise and glory to God for Salvation in Christ. Her song humbly remembered her place as God’s lowly servant. “The Mighty One has done great things for me.”
We know that her focus was not on herself. She spent three months with her relative, Elizabeth, who was carrying John the Baptist. She traveled to Bethlehem for the taxing. She wrapped her baby in clothes and placed him in a manger. She “treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
The Bible doesn’t make her out to be perfect or divine. God had highly favored her. In his grace he chose her out of millions of Israelite women. He chose the time and date. He chose the circumstances. He chose the manger in Bethlehem. She was just a virgin, humbly watching what God had miraculously accomplished. Humbly, she raised him. She watched him grow. She fed him. She took him to the temple. She honored his ministry. She honored his divinity. She watched him die. This was her baby. Simeon told her “A sword will pierce you own soul too.” (Luke 2:35).
What can we learn? A couple things come to mind. First, don’t make more out of Mary than the Bible does. She is not God. She is not perfect, any more than we are. She was sinful. We see her imperfection just as clearly as we see the imperfections of all the characters of the Bible; just as clearly as we see our own. We see her lack of understanding at the temple when he was twelve. We see her imperfection at the wedding of Cana when he rebuked her lack of judgment. We know her to be a sinner, born in need of the Savior she carried I her womb.
Secondly, we see God’s grace in her life. She was highly favored. But that only true because God is a God of grace. It is not true because Mary was someone special. He chose Abraham the same way. He chose King David the same way. He chose Rahab and Ruth, foreigners, to be a part of the line of the Savior the same way: Grace!
The entire message of the Christmas story is a message of God’s undeserved love. That love is shown to Mary, and to us. Immanuel means God has come to be with us. Mary’s focus is not on herself, but on the Child that God gave to her. She is just a virgin. He is the Son of God, the Holy One. Jesus means that he will save his people from their sins.
Like Mary, this Advent season points us away from ourselves and toward the child of the manger. We confess our own sinful humanity, like Mary, the humble servant. We recognize the times that we have been ignorant of his divinity, doubtful of his promises, lack understanding in his Word, or just plain wrong and sinful.
Paul’s introduction of his letter to the Romans is an introduction to the two natures of Christ. Paul told the Romans that he was an apostle sent from Jesus Christ. That Jesus, according to his humanity was a descendant of King David. But the one who came from David’s line was also David’s Lord. “Through the Spirit of holiness he was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.” Easter morning proves the miracle of Christmas Day. Jesus was a human being. He ate, he slept, he cried, he bled he died. Jesus was the Son of God. He was completely innocent and pure in every way, he walked on water, he commanded the weather, and he walked away from the tomb very much alive. How can this be?
We carry the weight of many things. In our humanity we are caused to ask that question. Emotional stress in the family or at work; deadlines and financial worries; a growing list of our personal shortcomings; physical fears and pains and limitations; anxiety looms heavy, even among God’s people and especially a few days for Christmas. All of that anxiety is born of a greater problem: guilt. Guilt weighs heavy on us. There are times it weighs so heavy, that like David our bones ache over sin.
God’s grace says that he has taken away our sin. God’s message is forgives. How can we not ask the question: “How can that be?”
The Angel’s answer to Mary: “Nothing is impossible with God.” Logically we could never explain the majority of the things God tells us in his Word. The person of Christ is the central truth of all God does for us. The human impossibility is not impossible for God. The God who said he would send his Son into the world made it happen. How? Nothing is impossible with God. Mary, and Gabriel, points us this Advent season to the miracle Child that demonstrated just that. God who has accomplished the impossible has the power to remove guilt from your heavy hearts. He has the power to forgive, demonstrated in his Son Jesus who according to his humanity suffered death on a cross and according to his divinity was resurrected from the grave.
Nothing is impossible for your God. The one who forgives sins and heals diseases also receives your prayers with open ears. He is glad to use the troubling circumstances of your life to accomplish his great purposes. In grace he highly favored a young girl and caused her to bear his Son. He is with us also who bear his Son’s name in our hearts of faith. With Mary we say, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said,” and place our trust in Christ, now and forever.
O come, O Key of David, come
And open wide our heavenly home!
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel! (CW 23:4) Amen