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Rejoice in the Good News

Luke 1:26-38; Philippians 4:4-7

Pastor Jason Zirbel

4th Sunday in Advent
Grace Lutheran Church  
Greenwood, AR

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Sun, Dec 20, 2020 

The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.

Greetings!  This is the first word out of the angel Gabriel when he appears to young Mary.  In fact, what he says to her is, “Ka-rain, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” Ka-rain: This word is often translated as “greetings,” but it’s so much more than a simple way to break the ice and introduce yourself.  This word actually means “rejoice!” In fact, this same word is also a cognate for “grace” (ka-ritos), which is definitely a reason to rejoice, right?  St. Paul makes extensive use of this word throughout his letters.  “Grace, mercy, and peace….” This same word is used in the events surrounding Christ’s death and resurrection.  It should also come as no surprise that the very first word recorded by Christ Himself on Easter Sunday to the women at the tomb is this same pronouncement/greeting—Ka-rain!  As I said, this word—ka-rain—is so much more than a simple “howdy.” This is a short-hand way of announcing God’s unmerited grace and peace, which is certainly reason to rejoice.

Now, I want you think about this for a moment.  The angel Gabriel shows up out of nowhere and appears to Mary.  This alone is enough to cause tremendous fear and terror.  This isn’t like the Hallmark moment we often imagine.  There’s a reason that each and every time an angel from God appears to man that angel has to say, “Don’t be afraid!” To be in the presence of a holy angel is terrifying!  On top of all this, Gabriel essentially says to the young Mary, who was not married yet, hence the emphasis on the fact that she was a virgin (believe it or not but there was a time when faithful folks didn’t have sex outside of marriage), “Rejoice!  It’s gonna be a boy!” Hearing that Mary was troubled by this greeting certainly makes more sense now, doesn’t it?  “Rejoice?  A) You’re terrifying, and I’m pretty sure you’re here to smite me.  B) Pregnancy out of wedlock?  I’m engaged!  What will my fiancée, my family, and everyone else say?  Do you know what the punishment is for adultery?!  Rejoice?  Besides, how can this be since I am a virgin?”

It is not that difficult to imagine what was going through this young girl’s mind.  Without a doubt, the concept of rejoicing was the farthest thing from her mind at that point.  Just think of the terror she must’ve been feeling as those thoughts raced through her mind on how she’s going to break the news to her fiancée and the rest of the family: “I am pregnant, but really, it’s a miracle!” Yeah, right.  Who would believe her?  The shame that would inevitably come down upon her, Joseph, and their families.  Who would believe them?  That’s not how nature works, and everyone knows it.

Yet, here’s the thing: Mary faithfully listens and obeys.  She believes the absolutely unbelievable (and scary) message being proclaimed to her.  She trusts her Lord.  She doesn’t worry about what the others may think.  She doesn’t worry about the possible consequences or fallout.  Little no-name, peasant girl Mary is favored by God, not because of her bloodline or her incredible deeds or anything like that.  NO!  God chose her and showed His favor to her simply because of His good grace.  With God nothing is impossible.  God can show His favor to the lowest of the low… and He does.  God can cause a virgin to conceive and give birth to the Savior of the World.  Think about that.  God can cause a young little virgin to be the Mother of God.  That may sound crazy to you, but remember: With God nothing is impossible.  Mary believes this.  As crazy and scary as it sounds, she trusts her Lord.  She confesses her faith, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your Word.”

How many of us can honestly confess this in our daily lives?  “Let it be to me according to Your Word.” We may like to think that this is our confession, but our reality often tells a very different story.  You and I both know that our daily confessions often sound more like, “Lord, let me help you out according to my word and way and will,” rather than the faithful “let it be to me according to Your Word and Way and Will, for I am Your servant, O Lord.”

I bring this up for good reason.  You see, most theologians will tell you that this is the exact moment when the angel’s prophecy was fulfilled and the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary and conceived in her womb the Christ Child.  Look back over your text.  Up to this point, the angel’s words regarding Mary’s pregnancy have been in the future tense.  Mary will conceive.  She will bear a son.  She’s not pregnant yet!  If you listened to what I had said earlier you would have caught this: “Rejoice, it’s gonna be a boy.” She wasn’t pregnant yet, but she would be, and that’s certainly reason to rejoice. 

This is why theologians such as Martin Luther will say that at the very moment Mary hears the Word of God and obediently confesses, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your Word,” is the very same moment that the Holy Spirit brings forth life in her.  She didn’t argue.  She didn’t doubt.  She didn’t hinder or quench the work of the Holy Spirit.  She simply and humbly heard and obeyed.  In fact, that obedience to the Word included her rejoicing; words we now remember as “The Magnificat.”

Here’s the thing: This same life-giving reality is at work in you to this day!  The Holy Spirit hasn’t ever stopped giving the free and unmerited gift of life.  The Holy Spirit hasn’t ever stopped bestowing the life that is found only in Christ Jesus upon you.  Consider how God still works in your life.  Consider how you have been brought to life-saving faith and how you remain in this life-saving faith: Through the hearing of the Word of God.  Look no further than the altar, the pulpit, the baptismal font.  Through the means of God’s holy Word and Sacraments, the Holy Spirit continues to overshadow you and work the impossible in your life—slavery to freedom, sin to salvation, death to life.  And that’s just it: With man these reversals are impossible; as impossible as a virgin conceiving and giving birth.  We can’t do it; not even a little bit.  With God, however, not only are these blessed gifts of forgiveness and mercy and favor not impossible, but they are reality; not just for us, but for the entire world.  “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.”

My fellow redeemed: This is Good News of the highest order!  Even in the midst of all the reasons we have to be afraid, look right here; right where your Lord promises to be with you; right where He brings heaven to earth to be with you.  Here is reason to rejoice!  Here is where faith flees to.  The devil, the world, and even your own sinful flesh will give you a million reasons as to why you should doubt; why you should stay away and quarantine and flee from this holy presence.  Examples: Sickness, fear of sickness, the place is full of hypocrites.  And yet… here is Christ.  All these things may keep us from Christ, but they don’t keep Christ from us.  This—the Word and Sacrament real presence of Christ the Lord—is life-saving, life-giving news that certainly calls for ka-raining—rejoicing.  Our Lord has “yeshua’d” us, right?  He has saved us in Christ, through Christ, and because of Christ.  He has done all the work.  It is finished.  And He continues to come into our midst in order to bestow upon us these blood-bought victories of His grace, mercy, and peace.  This is certainly reason to rejoice, in season, out of season…eternally. 

And that’s how we end it for today—with all the focus on our Lord and all that He does for us in our presence, purely by His good grace.  Folks: I don’t know what the future holds for us.  Whatever it is, I do know that our Immanuel Lord has promised to never leave you or forsake you.  He has promised to be with us always.  So… may this eternal Good News be in your hearts, on your lips, and witnessed in all the fruits you bear all the remaining days that your Lord calls you to serve Him and make Him known.  By His grace and through the working of the Holy Spirit, may your confession—in word and deed—always be matching that of Mary’s, the mother of our Lord: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to Your Word.” Or as our Lord Himself has taught us to pray: “Thy will be done.” And may you rejoice when it is! 

AMEN



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