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Forth Sunday in Advent, 12/24/2017

Sermon on Luke 1:26-38, by Judson F Merrell

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,

27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary.

28 And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you."

29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

30 The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.

31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.

32 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 ancestor David.

33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."

34 Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?"

35 The angel said to 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 holy; he will be called Son of God.

36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.

37 For nothing will be impossible with God."

38 Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.

(Luk 1:26-38 NRS)

 

Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

Hello Advent 4…. Good bye Advent 4. Hello Christmas.  That seems as though it is the theme for today.  Today is a special day in the liturgical calendar.  Today, much like the day before Easter, is a dual-season day.  This morning, we, along with many other churches, celebrate the 4th Sunday of Advent.  But tonight we gather and celebrate Christmas Eve.  It therefore is one of those special times in the liturgical year that we see the physical transformation from one church season to the next.  On Holy Saturday, many churches have the Great Vigil of Easter, which begins with Lent, and then halfway through changes over to Easter.  We follow a similar path today, but instead of an altar bare of Paraments, we switch from blue to white.  One of the joys of this day is that we are in Year B of the liturgical calendar.  That means that in our two services today we will have both our Gospel lessons from Luke’s account.  This morning, we have just heard Luke 1:26-38, which foretells the birth of Jesus.  Tonight we hear from Luke 2, which includes Jesus’ birth and the appearance of the angels to the shepherds.  But before we get to that, this morning we celebrate the angel Gabriel being sent by God to announce the birth of the Messiah.  This text has always been one of my favorites.  I love how God details his plan and I love how Mary is so open to God’s will.  That is because for me these 13 verses speak to the world.  They are truly powerful verses, both now and then.  As we look at Luke’s account, we see a point in history where there is no true Jewish kingdom.  There is a puppet government set up, but it falls under Roman authority.  And it is into this context that we see God set forth in action a plan that will change the world forever.  Gabriel’s words:  “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him 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 ancestor David.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  That is quite the announcement isn’t it?  I know Gabriel said not to fear, but the words he spoke are very frightening.  I can only imagine what was going through Mary’s mind.  Here is a young girl, engaged but not married, and this angel tells her that her baby, who is somehow going to come from God, is going to buck the entire cultural and political system around them.  As we say here in the south:  “Them’s fightin’ words.”  Those are fearful words.  Those are dangerous words.  Luke doesn’t present Mary as being scared though.  Instead we get an enormous sense of her faith.  Out of that faith comes a surprising response; a simple question.  However,  Mary’s question wasn’t about Jesus’ authority, his kingship, his divineness, or even his name….none of that.  Her question was: “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”  She didn’t act like Moses and try to wiggle her way out of this.  She didn’t run like Jonah.  She simply wanted to know how all this would work….how God was going to do this.  Here is this young, vulnerable girl who is yet to be married.  And she took it all in stride.  Her faith led her only to wonder how this was to be. That shows the huge trust she had in God.  Not once did she waiver in her faith at the announcement of God’s plan.  I would like to say that if the angel Gabriel came to us with God’s plan like he did Mary that we too would not balk at what we were told.  But I don’t know if I would have the strength that Mary had.  I like to think I would, but I just don’t know.  The sinner in me creates far more doubt than is reflected in Mary’s question “How can this be?”  To that end, Gabriel answered Mary that the Holy Spirit would come upon her, and therefore her child would be holy and would be called Son of God.  As if to squelch any further doubt that Mary may have, Gabriel tells her that Elizabeth is also pregnant despite her baroness.  Mary’s simple reply:  “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” No balking, no more questioning.  What an amazing amount of assuredness that comes from the mother of our Lord. In these 13 verses, God’s plan for saving the world is laid out.  We see this transition that flows from Mary.  From “How can this be?” to “Let it be.”  On this 4th Sunday of Advent, and also on this day before Christmas, we transition as well.  We move from an announcement to a birth, and from a plan to save the world to the beginning of a new kingship that has no ending.  In the midst of all this, we see just how God is at work.  In the midst of all this, we see a story that is for us.  Luke tells us exactly how God put into motion a plan to save the world.  And we are included in that plan through the waters of baptism.  It is in the font that God claims us as his children so that we can confess that his Son is Lord of all.  Tonight, as we journey back here to the church, we celebrate that plan.  We leave Advent behind, we leave the color blue behind.  But we keep our hope.  We hope for the world, we hope for God’s continued work in the world, and we hope for the return of the Messiah, God’s Son, who is Jesus the Christ.  Amen.



Rev. Judson F Merrell
Grace Lutheran Church Gilbert, SC 29054
E-Mail: judsonmerrell@bellsouth.net

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