Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent based on Luke 1:39-45
Dear believers waiting for the promises of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
What you see is not always what you get, especially when it comes to God. Take Mary in today’s Gospel reading. Our Gospel reading is a tiny little slice of the pre-Christmas story. It’s maybe one of those events that could even be overlooked as it falls between the angel Gabriel announcing to Mary that she will conceive and bear Jesus, and Mary’s song of praise, the Magnificat, which we’ve been singing every midweek Advent service. But this tiny slice of history is so profound, it will amaze you as you come to grips with what happened.
The angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she will be with child. She immediately ran with great haste to see her relative, Elizabeth. The trip from Mary’s home in Nazareth to the town near Jerusalem where Elizabeth lived could not have taken more than a few days. So most likely, Mary was visiting Elizabeth within a week of conceiving Jesus, since the text says Mary went with haste.
At one week along Mary couldn’t see any signs of her pregnancy. No baby bump, no weight gain, no cravings. Anyway she was a virgin; she naturally couldn’t be pregnant! But Mary believed the angel’s word. In her excitement she ran to see her relative Elizabeth.
As soon as Elizabeth heard the voice of Mary, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for joy! John the Baptist, 6 months old in his mother’s womb, leaped for joy because he heard the voice of the mother of Jesus, who was one week old in His mother’s womb! That’s incredible! Jesus was only a little speck of cells in Mary’s womb yet His very presence causes great joy in the unborn baby John.
That is faith in the unseen. That is faith in the promises of God. That’s why we baptize infants because as Scripture clearly teaches, infants can have faith. God gives them faith in the same way He gives us faith – through His Word and through Baptism. Just as an infant can trust his mother, so he can trust his Creator even if he can’t put words to that trust. Through the Word of God, the unborn John had faith!
What comfort this is for mothers who have had miscarriages. God’s Word isn’t powerless to save. God’s Word isn’t hindered by age or by the fact that a baby hasn’t been born yet. God’s Word can save the unborn just as well as it can save those with dementia or Alzheimer’s, just as it saves us. What you see is not always what you get.
Mary believed that despite what she could see and feel, God’s promise to her through the angel Gabriel was true. Because God keeps His promises. He had promised 800 years earlier, through the prophet Isaiah, that a virgin would conceive a bear a Son. And here, in the womb of Mary, that promise was fulfilled. Mary believed God’s promise, even though she had no evidence of it. John the Baptist believed that promise, even though he was a 6-month old unborn baby.
So you too can believe God’s promises despite what you see. What you see is not always what you get, especially when it comes to God. You see change and decay. You see sickness and disease, crime and terrorism. You see death. But despite what you see, you can believe in the promises of God.
You know that this life is not all that there is. Jesus is preparing a place for you in eternity, even though you cannot see it yet. Jesus will raise you from the dead and give you a perfect resurrected body even though you cannot see it yet. And you belong to Jesus even right now, although you cannot see it. It’s all based on God’s promises to you.
In your Baptism, all that the witnesses saw was water poured over your head as they heard the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But in Baptism, God put His name on you. He claimed you as His own. He promised you that He will never leave you or forsake you. You were baptized into the death of Christ, so you were baptized into His resurrection also. Thus you have the promise of eternal life.
What you see is not always what you get, especially with God. So despite the fact that you cannot see these things, you believe them because God has promised them. God always keeps His promises, even if we don’t see the fulfilment of them all yet.
Hebrews 11 tells us, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (v. 1; cf. also Rom. 8:24) In other words, faith trusts in what is not seen. Faith is trust in the promises of God even though we haven’t seen them.
Faith isn’t an opinion. Faith isn’t an empty hope based on our feelings, ideas, or experiences. Faith is the gift of God which gives us trust in the promises of God. God keeps His promises so we can fully trust them.
And He promises you the true body and blood of Jesus your Saviour in the Lord’s Supper. He promises you the forgiveness of all yours sin through eating and drinking Jesus’ body and blood. No, you cannot see it, but you know it’s true because God promised it. All you see is bread and wine. But what you see is not always what you get. The Lord’s Supper is overflowing with forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. The Lord’s Supper nourishes you and strengthens you in the faith God has given you. Holy Communion is spiritual medicine for the soul that brings you to eternal life.
Despite what we see, we can trust in God’s promises. Just as surely as Mary could run with haste to share the excitement with Elizabeth of God’s promise being fulfilled even though she had no evidence of it, so we too can run with haste to share the promises of God with our relatives even though we have no evidence of them being fulfilled as of yet.
God’s promises are for the young and for the old; for the unborn and for those near death. God’s promises are for you. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.