The Fourth Sunday In Advent
Divine Service: Part 1
Divine Service: Part 2
Sermon Title: Salvation to All Through the Miraculous Faith of One (Luke 1:26-38)
Today, Luke helps us to see once again just how prominent of a role angels play in the birth narrative of Jesus. Luke narrates that an angel appeared to Mary to inform her that she would by God’s grace become the mother of the Son of God. So significant is this announcement that Luke even mentions the name of this angel. He is known as Gabriel. The name means “man of God.” Gabriel had long served as God’s messenger to proclaim to people the coming of God’s Son, the Messiah. Centuries before Gabriel had appeared twice to Daniel giving him a vision of the time of the Messiah (Dan. 8:15ff, 9:21ff) and, just a few months prior to his visit to Mary, he had appeared to the Priest Zacharias, foretelling that he and his wife Elisabeth would have a child whom they were to name John and who would prepare the way for the Messiah to come.
In addition to Gabriel, angels take on a very central role in Luke’s narrative of Jesus’ birth. Angels announce to the shepherds that the Savior, Messiah, the Lord, was born in Bethlehem. They then fill the Judean skies with their song of praise: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”
It is not surprising, then, I suppose, that we should see the abundance of attention given to angels in the observance of Christmas today. Angels are everywhere. We see them as tree ornaments, in front yard Christmas displays, and, of course, often the most sought after characters in Christmas pageants. But what is surprising is that today the messenger function of angels has been totally obscured by stories of miracles done by angels. Their miracles have even overshadowed God’s miracle done through the word of God given to the angels to proclaim. Chiefly, the miracle of the very incarnation of the Son of God Himself!
“So, what’s new!” you might say. People’s conception of Christmas today is all magical, full of stories about the unexplainable and extraordinary; magic sleighs and flying reindeer ... snowmen that come alive ... Christmas gifts that suddenly appear almost as if out of nowhere ... and of course, angel sightings everywhere.
But what makes Christmas the true Season of Miracles? That first Christmas witnessed four true and wonderful miracles: the miracle of an angel sighting; the miracle of a virgin conception and birth; the miracle of the Incarnation of the Son of God; and last, and perhaps the greatest, the miracle of faith!
This miracle of faith initially captures our imagination because of where it occurs and within whom it takes place. As Luke records the angel Gabriel appeared in in a small village of no account called Nazareth. The name Nazareth itself was coined from a Hebrew word Nazar, which means short or small branch. It was a town of little concern to anyone, except its residents. In fact, in many circles the name Nazareth was synonymous with insignificant. This was made evident when many years later as Nathaniel responded to an excited Philip, who wanted him to meet Jesus of Nazareth. Nathaniel asked, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" (Jn 1:46)
Yet, it was to this insignificant berg in Galilee that the mighty archangel of God, Gabriel, made an appearance. Remarkably, and here is where this miracle really gets interesting, Gabriel did not appear to one of the fancy, wealthy, well known, women of Jerusalem. Instead, he appeared to a poor, peasant, girl of about 14 or 15 years old. Her name was Miriam, or Mary. Like her community, she was a virtual nobody.
But there was nothing ordinary or insignificant about the message that Gabriel delivered to Mary. He told her that she had been highly favored of God, literally graced by God. That grace she was receiving included that God had chosen her, and her alone, to be the mother of the Savior of the world. Miraculously she would become pregnant when as yet still a virgin! There would be no human father. This child would be conceived in a miraculous way. And most wonderfully, this child conceived in her would be the Son of God!
Now, you know and so do I that a virgin birth is a biological impossibility. It takes the joining of the seed of a man and a seed of a woman to conceive a child. Under normal circumstances Mary couldn't conceive without intimately knowing a man.
Mary’s curiosity was certainly peaked. She sought from the angel just how such a fantastic thing could come about. “How will this come to be since I have not known a man?” she said. Gabriel responded that the Holy Spirit Himself would come upon her in an extraordinary way and she would conceive. It would be beyond science or human reasoning to explain and totally beyond the Laws of Nature. It would be something that had never happened in the history of the world before, nor would it ever happen again. This conception would be without a doubt a genuine, divine, miracle!
But the miraculous nature of this conception doesn't stop there. Even greater than the fact that a virgin would conceive and give birth was that this male child conceived in her would be the Son of God Himself! He would be fully human from Mary’s flesh, solely of her DNA, yet He would be fully divine, of the deity of His Father. This gurgling, cooing, crying, diaper wearing baby, would be the Almighty Creator God Himself! This baby in the womb of a human mother and later nurtured at her breasts, would be Almighty God, the Everlasting Father! (Is. 9:6). As St. Paul would later write to the Colossians, “In Him the fullness of the deity dwelt.”
Now, this miracle of the incarnation is truly worth celebrating on December 25th every year and, in fact, worthy of our celebration every day! After all, what day goes by that thousands of babies are not born? There is not even anything unique about a child named Jesus being born. Jesus was a fairly common name in first century Palestine. But, that this Child born of Mary in a cattle stall is the Son of God in human flesh, now, that’s the miracle to celebrate. And indeed we will with joyful songs in our hearts again in the coming days!
But this morning our attention is trained not on the miracle taking place in Mary’s womb but the one occurring in Mary’s heart. Luke quotes Mary responding to the fantastic announcement that she would be the mother of the Son of God by saying rather simply: "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me according to your word."
What humble faith in such a fantastic announcement! Can it be anything but a miracle? Martin Luther once commented on the miracle of Mary's faith by saying: "... The Virgin birth is a mere trifle for God; that God should become man is a greater miracle; but most amazing of all is that this maid should credit the announcement that she, rather than some other virgin had been chosen to be the mother of God...Had she not believed, she could not have conceived. She held fast to the word of the angel because she had become a new creature. Even so must we be transformed and renewed in heart from day to day" (Bainton, p. 15)
In light of all the deception ... secularization ...concocted tales of other miracles that have become so much a part of what our world calls Christmas today, it is a miracle indeed that any one of us should believe in the true miracles that occurred in Nazareth and Bethlehem so long ago. Such faith is not by chance. It is not something that you and I have conjured up in our hearts ourselves. After all, left to our own fallen nature and our own devices, we would have nothing to do with God or the Christ of Christmas. We would laugh at the notion of the virgin birth or the miracle of the incarnation. Faith in these miracles is an impossibility with mere mortals. Even angels cannot accomplish such a great work in us.
The angel Gabriel literally replied to Mary, “Not any word from God is impossible.” God is in the miracle business. His power, His grace, and His person are not limited by time and space. He is not subject to the Laws of Nature; He created them!
Neither does God need any help or supplies or materials to accomplish what He wants to do. Simply by His Word He brings into existence that which was not. His Word always accomplishes that for which He sends it.
The impossible became possible at Creation of the world when God said, "Let there be..." The miracle of a virgin conceiving and the Son of God becoming Man occurred simply through the word of God delivered to Mary by Gabriel. As Luther is credited with saying, "Mary became pregnant through her ear."
Likewise, the miracle of Mary's faith was brought about by that same Word of promise from God. Holy Scripture confirms, "Faith comes by hearing and hearing the Word of Christ" (Rom. 10:17). That Word of God which the angel spoke to Mary created her anew... worked in her heart the very faith to grab on and hold tightly to God's promise to her. Faith is a miracle of divine intervention! It is the miraculous creation of God.
God was also accomplishing something quite extraordinary through this faith He had created in Mary. What had been lost at the beginning through a woman’s failure to obediently believe God’s Word was now through the obedient faith of a woman being restored. Salvation of the human race was being granted through her faith.
The second century Bishop and martyr, Irenaeus of Lyons, noted very astutely, “But Eve was disobedient; for she did not obey when as yet she was a virgin. And even as she, having indeed a husband, Adam, but being nevertheless as yet a virgin… having become disobedient, was made the cause of death, both to herself and to the entire human race; so also did Mary, having a man betrothed (to her), and being nevertheless a virgin, by yielding obedience, become the cause of salvation, both to herself and the whole human race …And thus also it was that the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.” (Treasury of Daily Prayer, p. 1012).
Miracles continue to occur every Christmas, not by angelic beings or even saintly characters in red suits. The real Christmas miracle of faith is repeated every time the message of the Good News of Jesus Christ is shared and proclaimed at Christmas or any other time. For through that Word, God is miraculously working to give birth to the Son of God in the hearts of men, women, and children who hear the Old, Old, story of the Babe of Bethlehem, the Savior of Sinners.
You who believe and rejoice in the Christ of Christmas, singing with the angelic voices, "Glory to God in the Highest!," are ever as much miracles of Christmas, as are the appearance of angels, the virgin birth, the incarnation, and the faith of Mary. For you see, that you, a sinner, can have peace in your relationship with God is a miracle of His divine grace. You have been born anew by “water and the spirit” (John 3:5); that is, by God’s Word in the water of baptism and the Word of the Gospel proclaimed to you the Holy Spirit caused you, like Mary, to believe the fantastic truth that the Son of God became man in the person of Jesus to rescue you from sin, death and the devil through His death and resurrection.
That you, who are so battered and bruised by all sorts of worldly troubles, pains, and heartaches, can still have hearts bubbling over with abundant joy in Christ is God’s miracle in you. That you, who live in a time that is so anti-church... anti-bible ... and anti-Christ can, still confess Jesus as your Savior and God is a miracle and eternal blessing! Jesus Himself has said, “Blessed are those not seeing and yet are believing!” (Jn. 20:29)
God has brought to you salvation through the faith of a lowly virgin and made that salvation yours through that same faith He has given you. You, too, are declared righteous through faith in Jesus as your Savior and God (Rom. 2:22). You are now sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:26). Thanks be to God for the fantastic Good News as delivered to you through His messengers; whether of a miraculous heavenly nature like Gabriel or that of a lowly, ordinary, earthly, nature like a pastor, teacher or your parents. O highly favored one, Salvation has come to you by God’s free grace and favor! Amen.