+ + +
This sermon is based on the outline of the Advent Midweek Sermon series from Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 20, Part 1, Series C
+ + +
The appearance of an angel is always a major event in a person's life. Given that some people fell like dead men at the appearance of an angel, Mary actually handled the appearance of Gabriel with more than the usual amount of composure. Still, after Gabriel greeted Mary, he had to say, "Do not be afraid, Mary …" There just is no way that a holy angel can come into your life and not cause some anxiety.
Then there was the nature of the message. Although it was very rare, miracle pregnancies were not unheard of in Israel's history: Sarah, Hannah, and lately, even Mary's relative Elizabeth had conceived despite her age. Those were all remarkable things, but not one of these women was in Mary's position. Mary knew the truth: she could not be pregnant. There was simply no possibility. And she knew it.
Some might presume to think that such a young girl might just be naive about reproduction, but Mary's answer disproves this with an almost clinical coldness. "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" Virgins don't have babies. That's a fact. And Mary knew it well.
Perhaps, looking back through the millennia, we may forget an important fact: while many people came to believe the truth about the virgin birth, only one person had absolute, physical, experiential knowledge. Mary knew as biological fact that she could not be pregnant. But somehow—maybe because she was in the midst of a supernatural experience by talking to an angel—somehow she did not respond with rejection. Instead, she responded with curiosity: "How will this be?"
Gabriel gave the explanation: "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…. For nothing will be impossible with God." There it was. It is impossible for humans, but nothing is impossible for God. The same life-giving Spirit who hovered over the waters in creation now overshadows Mary and creates once more. A child is created apart from normal means. This is how it would be.
As remarkable as that miracle is, the truly amazing thing is not the conception but the identity and work of the child. At that moment, as the cells of the savior began to divide and grow, Mary became the mother of God. The child growing inside of her is the Messiah - the Savior. Mary's God and Creator is growing within her. God has become flesh. As amazing as the miracle is, it is not about Mary. It is all about Jesus.
By the same Spirit who caused her to conceive, Mary is able to respond in faith. "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." Mary could say this because God Gives Faith to Believe the Truth That Nothing Is Impossible for Him.
Mary would continue to need that faith. A great miracle was happening in her, but there were still practical issues. What does she tell Joseph? "Honey, I think you'd better sit down." Although there would certainly be a few who would believe her, (her relative Elizabeth comes to mind) most of the community will assume the worst. The scorn of ignorant but judgmental people would never fully disappear. And Mary had to see what would happen to her Son as he bore the sin of the world all the way to a cross. But she faced it all in faith, because Mary's Son was also Mary's Savior. She believed, and it was to her just as the angel said.
Mary had many special challenges because of her special role as Jesus' mother. On the other hand, Mary had many of the same problems we do. In spite of the fact that we can call Mary the Mother of God, she was still a sinner. She needed her son to be her savior just as much as we do. She lived in a world that did not know peace. Even taxes caused special difficulties for her.
Mary was a sinner like us. She lived in the same sin filled world that we live in. Bullies came to power and became dictators just as they do today. Crime was a problem then just as it is now. All the things that the curse of sin brings into the world were at work in Mary's day just as they are today.
We may have better technology today, but the basic human problem is the same, sin. Sin attacked Mary just as it attacks us and every other human being who ever has or ever will live in this cosmos. Without the salvation provided by the God who took on humanity in Mary's womb, we would be lost forever.
God has the solution for our troubles. He offers a miracle to us like he performed for Mary. How can all this be, we ask? God's messenger responds: "Rejoice, favored one. The Lord is with you. The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you." Just as the Spirit came to Mary and miraculously created life within her without her participation or help, so the Spirit comes to us. God's Spirit miraculously creates new life in us without our participation or help. He gives the gift of faith. He gives to us the grace to believe. He sanctifies and keeps us in the faith.
We might be tempted to consider this a small thing compared to the virgin birth, but is it really? It is a miracle of God—one that we share with Mary, who was also given that gift of faith by the Holy Spirit.
You see, we have the same gift as Mary. God gives us faith to believe the truth that nothing is impossible for him. Knowing that truth, we are not troubled by a virgin conception and birth. Rather, we see the plan of God in action: the new man has come who will redeem all humanity. He has come to redeem us. Mary's Son and Savior is our Savior. Nothing is impossible for God.
Knowing that truth, we do not stumble over our need for forgiveness and salvation, nor do we doubt that God can and will do what he says. We do not listen to Satan's temptation to doubt or deny the truth. We know that nothing is impossible for him: not even our salvation.
In that faith, we know that nothing is impossible for God. Not even the new life that he has promised to us. For as we follow him in faith, we may find ourselves living a life that we had not anticipated. We may begin to see the fruits of faith in action as what seemed impossible becomes reality. God can do it.
With that faith and by God's guidance, we find the grace and faith to endure. Mary willingly accepted the task that God gave her to bear the Savior. I wonder if she knew at the beginning what that would cost. She would bear many insults and much suffering because of her calling. But God filled her with grace and faith. She endured it all, trusting in her Son and Savior. And she was blessed.
So we, too, may find challenges and adversity in this life. Some may come as a direct result of our calling as God's children. But in faith, we, too, will endure. We trust the Savior's promises and believe that he will care for us. Wherever life takes us, whatever we may face, we find the grace to say, "May it be for us as God has said," and it will be. Because God gives us faith to believe the truth: that nothing is impossible for him. Amen
Please quote from my sermons freely. I expect people to copy my sermons or I wouldn't put them on a site like this. I only ask that you quote accurately if you attribute anything to me.
Should you decide to contact me, I would be very interested in knowing where you are. Please include the name of your city, state or province, and country when contacting me.
Send James T. Batchelor an email.