During Lent, the canticle for Matins was the Benedictus. The Te Deum Laudamus, which we sang this Sunday, is considered too exalted for the penitential solemness of Lent. For a while, our Lenten humility restrained us from the fuller expression of praise to our God and Savior. But now that the Easter season proclaims that our Lord is risen from the grave, we unleash the more lofty canticle, the Te Deum.
This ancient text is almost as old as the Bible. Although it is not part of the divinely inspired Scriptures, there is certainly nothing wrong with it. The text of this canticle is a faithful expression of the faith, and therefore most worthy of being sung in the Church. Doctor Martin Luther called it one of the symbols, or creeds, of the Church.
Among other things, the Te Deum says this when speaking about Christ: “You humbled Yourself to be born of a virgin.” However, there is a footnote in our hymnal that says, “original text, ‘You did not spurn the virgin’s womb.’” You can check this out on page 224 in the hymnal if you wish. By the way, The Lutheran Hymnal also had “born of a virgin,” not “spurn the virgin’s womb.” One of the alternate versions of the Te Deum in the Lutheran Service Book has the words, “spurn the virgin’s womb.”
There is actually a fairly significant difference between being born of a virgin and not spurning her womb. The difference mainly consists in this: Christ did not become Man on Christmas. On Christmas, He had already been flesh for roughly nine months.
The message of Gabriel confirms this. He says, “the Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” Gabriel does not say, “the Holy One, after He is born, will be called the Son of God.” No, He was called, and rightly so, the Son of God while He was still in the womb of the Blessed Virgin.
This is not a minor point. Christ became flesh for us. He did not enter preexisting flesh that had been getting ready for nine months. It was not just a bunch of cells that existed in the womb of Mary. He, the Son of the Highest, was there. As Saint John wrote, the Word became flesh. In other words, He did not spurn the Virgin’s womb.
Did the Incarnation happen exactly on this day, the Annunciation? Was this the day that the Holy Spirit came upon Mary and overshadowed her? This day is the best candidate. Luther thought that through the angel’s message, that is, through the Word of God, the Spirit caused the conception of Christ in the womb of Mary. That makes sense and is almost certainly true, although I am not sure I can prove that. At the very least, Christ was already in her womb a few days later when she visited Elizabeth.
Here is the most important thing to remember: Christ became Man in the womb of the Virgin. That is the focal point of history. The Lord God of hosts took human flesh, and everything that went with it: our lives and birth, and even our gestation.
When Jesus kicked in the womb, that was not unlike the way we kicked in our mothers. (I am assuming that He kicked, although I know He at least could not kick maliciously.) When His Body grew and developed, it was as we experienced, although we do not remember. Technology now is able to show us the wonderful and graceful ballet of the human body taking shape in the womb, each part coming together in a pattern etched into our genes by the Lord of life. We in our privileged century are able to spy upon this fantastic display of God’s creative hand. But even more fantastic, the Lord of all became part of this dance, and subjected Himself to the process that He designed.
God the Creator became a creature in Mary. He submitted to the life and development of one of His creations. He who is unchangeable God became changeable Man. Yet His divine nature could not be altered. He never ceased being God at any time.
So at that time, if you could see Him when He was a tiny blob of flesh, you could say, “Look! There is the Great One, the Son of the Highest!”
The Holy One was flesh. God was one of us. The eternal Kingdom He came to rule over was the kingdom of David, the house of Jacob. This is not a kingdom of this earth, as Christ said to Pilate. It was the Kingdom of grace that He would establish with His death. This was the Kingdom of eternal life, founded upon His resurrection. This is the Kingdom into which He has brought you.
You also were conceived in your mother’s womb, yet not the same way. You were conceived in sin, as David said. At the same stage of life that Christ was already the Holy One, you were already a sinner. Here we see the great need for Christ to become Man. Our sinfulness is so pervasive that even before we have done a single deed or said a single word, we were already sinners. Our nature was corrupted by what we call original sin. The sins we commit now are symptoms of the disease that we already had at our conception. We commit sins because we are sinners. It also stains our good deeds, so that even our righteous deeds are like filthy, disgusting rags.
How could we overcome such a horrible and crippling disease? We could not. There is no cure but one. The Word had to become flesh. He had to receive the Name above every name, “Jesus”. For in that Name His identity is revealed: He is the Lord who has saved us from our sins. The Kingdom He has created is built upon the Cross and Empty Tomb. And that could only happen if He first became Man. He had to be a fit representative for the whole human race, a second Adam. Instead of creating sin in the human race, as the first Adam did, Christ our new Adam became redemption and salvation. As our Brother, born of the same flesh, He stood up for us as one of us.
It started here, with Gabriel’s message to Mary. Here was the beginning of God becoming flesh to save you.
In His Name, the Holy One, the Son of the Highest, the Son of David. Amen.
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