Monday, December 22, 2008
Sermon - Advent 4 - Luke 1:26-38
December 21, 2008
“Mary's Impossible Faith”
We've had a very busy Advent season. We've heard from John the Baptist. We've remembered the Shepherds and Angels. We've covered all the usual prophecies and themes, we're almost ready for Christmas. But there's another Advent personality we haven't yet considered – Mary. Our lectionary puts her before us today. We read our Gospel text from Luke 1, an event called the “Annunciation”, in which the angel Gabriel tells Mary she will bear the Christ-child.
Let's consider today the words of the angel, the reaction of Mary, and what it all means for Advent, Christmas, and faith. We'll see Mary's faith, and in it, we will see our faith – faith in Mary's Savior and ours – Jesus Christ. We'll see how in Jesus, God accomplishes the impossible, and gives us every reason to respond like Mary, “Let it be to me as you have said”.
No we don't venerate the Virgin Mary like our Roman Catholic friends. Scripture gives us no indication that she was any more or less a saint or sinner than you and I are. She needed a savior like all of us. She is righteous only by grace through faith, like you and I are. Nor is she some sort of extra go-between mediating God's blessings to us. There is one mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ.
Still, Mary serves, like all the saints, as an example of faith. Through her life, God brought many blessings to all people. Her role as mother of the Lord Jesus is certainly special, and we honor Mary's memory if only for that. But there is more. Mary, especially in this text, is a shining example of faith in God's word of promise – even over against what seemed impossible.
Contrast Mary with Zechariah. Just a few verses before our reading, Zechariah lost his speech as punishment for his lack of faith, when the same angel told him he would become a parent. But he and his wife were old, and she was barren, and he doubted God's ability to do what he said. Zechariah, a priest, served God daily but didn't trust him when given this extraordinary opportunity.
Mary, for her part, made Zecharaiah look bad. She was not a religious professional, but a young woman- probably about 13 – but she believed the promise the moment it was spoken. She wasn't troubled that an angel appeared, but she was greatly troubled at his greeting. That greeting was, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" Why is this greeting more troubling than the appearance of an angel? Perhaps because Mary knew she didn't deserve God's favor, that she was no one special, and for God to be with her of all people.... well, why her after all?
Why any of us? For in Christ we are all highly favored by God. In Christ, the Lord is with us. One of Jesus' names, “Emmanuel” means just that. God with us.
Mary didn't even seem that bothered that she would bear the Messiah, or that this child would do great things and reign on David's throne. Her only question was how it would happen, not whether it could. Mary believed God when many would have said, “impossible”.
Isn't it interesting that Mary doesn't seem to blink that an angel would appear to her? If Gabriel showed up on your doorstep, I think you might be a little shocked. It might be hard to hear anything he said, much less believe it. But Mary listened to the word of God – and paid attention. She believed it, and wanted to know more. How will this be?
Some questions are sinful questions, and some are the questions of faith. Zechariah's question when he heard the news of his son was one of doubt. “How can I be sure, since my wife and I are old?”. Mary's question, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” may sound the same, but it was a question of faith. Questions of doubt challenge God, and assume he can't do what he says. Sinful questions which assume we know better than him. But the questions of faith, like Mary's, yearn to simply hear more and learn more and grow in the word of God we receive. And the angel gives Mary her answer.
The answer was sufficient. The power of the Most High would overshadow her, and by his Spirit, she would be with child. With God, all things are possible. “I am the Lord's servant” she replied, “Let it be to me as you have said”. That's Mary's response of faith. That's her saying, “Amen”.
“Let it be to me as you have said” is the response of any faithful Christian to God's word of grace. Your sins are forgiven, “Let it be to me as you have said”. This is Christ's body and blood given for you, “Let it be to me as you have said”. I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, “Let it be to me as you have said”. In Christ, you are highly favored, and God is with you. Let it be to me as you have said.
All along, this was God's plan. Did you notice the connection to our Old Testament reading from Second Samuel? There God promises David to build him a house. In fact, he promises him an offspring who would build the House of God into an eternal dwelling. To Mary, the angel promises her Son will rule on the throne of his father David. Jesus is that davidic king who rules eternally. He builds the house of God, the church, and the gates of hell will not even prevail against it, against us.
This impossible-sounding plan had been coming for some time. When a virgin from Nazareth responded in faith, the plan moved forward. When you respond to the Gospel in faith, it moves further forward. And impossible as it seems, God's word continues to bear fruit, and build his church, living stone by living stone, to stand the test of eternity.
Of all the miracles God did, is there anything more impossible than the virgin birth? You could make a case for the parting of the red sea, or the feeding of the 5000, or any of the great and mighty wonders. But perhaps the most impossible thing is accomplishing our salvation through his Son. Through a baby who was born, a man who suffered and died, and who rose from the dead, just as he said.
With God all things are possible.... according to his plan and promise. With God, all things are possible... for our salvation. With God, all things are possible by his grace, through faith in Christ. Therefore, let it be to all of us as he has said. And may we celebrate the birth of our Savior with joy.