Sermon based on Luke 1:26-38 for the Fourth Sunday in Advent
Dear favoured ones: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
“How will this be?” Mary asks the angel Gabriel. Mary is not asking a stupid question. She asks how will it be that she, a virgin, would conceive and bear a son. How will it be that a finite human womb can carry the infinite God? How will it be that God will become man? How will it be that a sinner can give birth to the sinless Son of God? See, there’s nothing silly about Mary’s question at all. It makes quite a bit of sense that she would ask this question.
The angel Gabriel doesn’t rebuke Mary for her question. He gives her an answer. He gives her an explanation of how it will be. He gives her the promise of what will be. He gives her a sign of what will be. And then finally he gives her the assurance of what will be.
First Gabriel gives an explanation: the Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the Most High will overshadow you. This is how it can be. This is how it will be. The same Spirit that hovered over the waters and brought forth creation through the Word is the Spirit who will come upon Mary. The same power of the Most High that brought the Israelites through the Red Sea; that conquered their enemies; that brought them into the Promised Land – this same power will overshadow Mary. The same Spirit that would later descend on Jesus at His Baptism; who was poured out on Pentecost so that the apostles spoke in all the languages of those visiting Jerusalem – this same Spirit would come upon Mary. This is how it will be.
Next, Gabriel gives the promise: the child to be born will be holy; He will be called the Son of God. This is the promise of who this Son is. He is the Son of God. This promise is the fulfilment of the Old Testament promise, especially from Isaiah 7:14, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel”. This promise from some 700 years earlier finds fulfilment in the womb of the virgin Mary.
Immanuel means “God with us”. Jesus Christ is God in the flesh; God who came to dwell among us; God who came to give His life as a ransom for many. In Jesus, God is with us. God’s not just some transcendent being far removed from us, but He took on our flesh in Mary’s womb. He fulfilled that Law on our behalf here on the earth. On the cross He died our death. This Jesus, true God and true man is Immanuel, “God with us”.
This is the very promise of the Gospel given to Mary. The promise that the long awaited Saviour has come. The long awaited Saviour is here. Not just anywhere here, but here in Mary’s womb. She is the bearer of the promised Saviour of the world. The Son of God came to save the whole world from sin, including Mary. This promise that Gabriel proclaims to Mary is the Gospel – the Good News of forgiveness in the Immanuel child.
Then Gabriel gives a sign: Mary’s relative Elizabeth, barren and well beyond her childbearing years, has conceived a son in her old age. This sign is evidence of the power of the Most High. It is a sign of what the Holy Spirit can do. This visible sign strengthens the faith of Mary to believe the promise.
And finally Gabriel gives Mary the reassurance: nothing is impossible for God. This is how it can be. This is how it will be – because nothing is impossible for God.
And Gabriel starts out by calling Mary “favoured one”. Mary has been shown favour by God. Mary received unmerited grace from God. Mary has been shown favour – the very Gospel promise has been given to her. She also has the blessing, honour, and favour of God to carry the Son of God in her womb – the very Son of God who would earn salvation for her and for us.
So, how will this be? It will be through the Holy Spirit, through the power of the Most High. It will be because it has been promised by God and now is promised to Mary. It will be just as the sign of Elizabeth being miraculously with child. It will be because nothing is impossible for God.
How will this be? This is a question with which we are very well acquainted. We could ask this question concerning everything that God does by the power of His Word. How will it be that our children receive forgiveness and are received into the family of God by water sprinkled over their heads? How will it be that a word spoken by a sinful man forgives sin? How will it be that this finite bread and wine on the altar will contain the infinite God?
Like Mary, we are given an answer. It is through the power of the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit that hovered over the waters and brought forth creation through the Word is the Spirit who will come upon our children in Baptism. The same power of the Most High that brought the Israelites through the Red Sea; that conquered their enemies; that brought them into the Promised Land – this same power will forgive your sin. The same Spirit that descended on Jesus at His Baptism; who was poured out on Pentecost so that the apostles spoke in all the languages of those visiting Jerusalem – this same Spirit will cause the bread and wine to be the body and blood of Christ. This is how it will be.
We also have the promise of the Gospel. “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mk. 16:16). “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them” (Jn. 20:23). “This is my body… this is my blood… for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt. 26:26-28). These words of Jesus give to us what they promise.
We also have been given signs – visible signs in the sacraments to which the word of promise is connected. The sign is a sort of picture of the Word; a picture of what the Word is doing. In Baptism we see the sign of water. The water that is poured over the head is a sign of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit; the sign of sin being washed away; the sign of being cleansed from sin. The bread and wine are signs of the spiritual nourishment we receive in the Lord’s Supper; they are signs of the strengthening we receive in eating and drinking Christ’s true body and blood. These signs strengthen our faith because we see visibly a sign of what the Word promises.
Finally, we have the same reassurance Gabriel gave to Mary: nothing is impossible for God. Since nothing is impossible for God, we know that He will certainly do what He has promised. He will certainly give us the forgiveness of sins in Baptism, Absolution, and His holy Supper as He has promised.
As Mary pondered the words of Gabriel in her heart, so you should ponder the words of promise given to you. You should ponder in your heart that you have been shown favour by God. You have received unmerited grace from God. You have been given the promised Holy Spirit in your Baptism. You receive the promised forgiveness of sins in Absolution. You receive the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of your faith through the body and blood of Christ.
Nothing is impossible for God. The Word of the Gospel has begotten faith in you, as miraculous as that is. God’s Word of forgiveness has transformed your heart from unbelief to faith. God has claimed you as His own through His Word of promise. So you have been given all the answers to your question of “How will this be?”
Dear favoured ones: God has shown you His favour. His favour for you is Jesus Christ our Lord. His favour for you is the forgiveness of your sins. So let us with Mary say, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.