Grace and peace in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Today we pause in the midst of this season of fasting and repentance, and this year a season of pestilence, to remember the angel’s announcement to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive and bear a son, Jesus. This is to remind ourselves that God always keeps his promises.
The Holy Scriptures do not give us precise dates for either the conception or the birth of our Lord. However, we do not celebrate Christmas on December 25 because the church replaced a pagan holiday with the celebration of the Nativity. Rather, according to one calculation, based on when the Passover feast may have taken place in the first century AD, our Lord was crucified on March 26. To those who developed the church calendar, it made sense to suppose that He was conceived on the same day that He died. March 25 is nine months before December 25, thus the traditional date of Christmas.
For His death on the cross was the reason for His birth. Both were fulfillments of Old Testament prophecy. The crucifixion was prophesied in Isaiah 53 and the virgin birth in today’s Old Testament lesson, Isaiah 7:10-14.
In the context of the passage, the southern kingdom of Judah was threatened by an alliance between Israel and Syria to the north. So Ahaz, the king of Judah, was contemplating an alliance with the Assyrians. The Lord told Ahaz, through His prophet, Isaiah not to trust the Assyrians, but in His protection. The threat from the north would not last. The Lord said that Ahaz might ask for any sign that this was indeed the Lord’s will. But Ahaz rejected the Lord’s offer of a sign and followed his own counsel.
So the Lord said that He would give but one sign to the house of David, that a virgin would conceive and bear a son. God had promised David that from His line would come the Messiah, a Savior and King who rule forever. This promise and that prophecy of the virgin birth would outlast the downfall of all the ancient kings, including those of Judah and Israel.
At the time of the archangel Gabriel’s appearance to Mary, no descendant of David ruled in Israel, but rather Herod the Great, a puppet of of the Roman Empire. But Mary was of the line of David and in her, said the angel, God’s promises would be fulfilled.
“And he came to her and said, Greetings, O favored one, he Lord is with you! But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said 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.”
At first, Mary was surprised and asked, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” But the angel anwered her, “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. 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.”
Unlike Ahaz, Mary responded in faith. “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
The Lord’s promise to Mary was fulfilled. She conceived and bore a son, and called His name, Jesus. The promise to the house of David was fulfilled as David’s heir ascended to the right hand of God to rule forever. But not before suffering and dying on the cross for our sins. We anticipate His passion during Holy Week, because in it we have God’s promise of resurrection and eternal life. Jesus was born of a virgin, not just as a sign to the house of David, but as our second Adam. As true man he obeyed the Lord as the first Adam did not, freeing us from the condemnation of sin and eternal death. As true God and true man, He ascended to the right hand of God the Father. From there He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. In that promise, we have new life in the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit who created Jesus in Mary’s womb.
Living now by that promise, we may have peace that surpasses all understanding. Amen.
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