Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sermon for December 20-21

The Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 20-21, 2008
Text: Luke 1:26-38

Dear Friends in Christ,
I can just picture this conversation. A girl comes home from school and says, Mom, Dad, I’m pregnant, but it’s okay. An angel came and talked to me between algebra and lit. He said this baby comes from God. Somehow I just don’t think too many parents would believe the girl. I think they’d be looking for the “angel’s” picture in the year book and checking which side of the tracks this Gabriel comes from. They might even call the police depending on the age of the girl and the age of this Gabriel. But really, why should parents be so suspicious? Virgin conceptions and births happen every day don’t they? Isn’t that why we have so many teenage girl’s pregnant? It couldn’t possibly be anything else, could it?

Sadly, of course the parents are correct about a hundred percent of the time. If their daughter shows up pregnant it is by the will of a man. A friend of mine is one of those rare creatures who has remained a virgin throughout her life. When her mother was diagnosed with cancer she decided she’d better have everything check out. The doctor did a double take when she said she’d never had sexual intercourse. According to this doctor, our friend is the first virgin over fourteen she’d seen in many years. Such is the sad state of our society.

Our text deals with an event that has happened once in the whole history of the world. The implications of this one event are staggering and mind boggling. Luke’s simple prose cover the turning of the hinges of time itself. It’s such a simple thing. A young girl is pregnant. Knowing the customs of the time she was probably twelve or thirteen years old. But this was not uncommon. This was the typical age of marriage. But there is this once in the whole history of the world fact that changes everything. She is a virgin. This child is born apart from the will of a man. This little tidbit is a like a nuclear explosion on the time line of the world.

There is more to this than just that it’s only happened once. A child born apart from the will of a man breaks all the rules. When Adam fell into sin, that sin became his legacy to all future generations. Thus we say, “In Adam’s fall we sinnĂ©d all.” Everyone of us inherited sin from our father. Thus every human being is born a sinner, like his or her father. But here we have a child born apart from the will of a man. This child has no human father. He does not inherit sin from His Father. Why? Because His Father is not a sinner. His Father is not a human being. This child is not a son of Adam. What does our text say? Instead of being a son of Adam, this child is the Son of God. There are more implications to this than Colonel Sanders has chicken parts.

Luke’s straight forward account drips with massive amounts meaning. A Child without sin. A Son of God. One who would rule forever. If you ran all this through the most powerful computer in the world, it would blow up from informational overload. A Child without sin. That alone would be remarkable. A person without sin will not die. Sin is the cause of death. To understand this we need to look at the words of Genesis 2:16-17: And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." Now people will say that they weren’t struck dead. But that is not what is meant, and perhaps this is more clear in the Hebrew. With the fall into sin, death entered the world. The process of life was replaced with the process of death. By death here we mean the whole business of human frailty and infirmity. Mankind becomes capable of dying and physical death becomes his ultimate end upon this earth. Death along with sin is what we call original sin. It is, as we said, passed down from father to child. But, because this child that Mary is carrying has no human father, and therefore is without sin, it cannot die. He is exempt from infirmity and death. Death cannot claim Him, unless some sin becomes attached to Him.

What else does the angel say? He will be called the Son of the Most High. By this Luke is telling us that this Child will be called the Son of Yahweh. There was once another child called the Son of Yahweh. We read this in Genesis 4:1. But here we must consult the Hebrew, because most English translations get this wrong. The translators look at the Hebrew text and say that just can’t be right. But it is. We read: “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a man who is Yahweh.’” But Eve was wrong. It was quickly painfully obvious that Cain was not the Son of God, but the son of Adam. Cain was a sinner, like all sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. But now in our text the Archangel Gabriel says that this Child will be rightly called the Son of God. He is the Son of God because He will be born in His Father’s image - that is the image of God the Father.

There were three things. What was the third thing? Oh, yes, He will rule over David’s kingdom forever. That’s a neat trick. Sure the Son of a Jewish peasant girl is going to be a king? Right. And He’s going to rule forever. Right. The last I checked kings have this habit of ending up in tombs. Usually really deluxe accommodations, Westminster Abby, a pyramid, or some such thing, but it’s still a tomb. But this One is going to rule forever. That’s the promise made by the great archangel.

All of this is pointing to one extraordinary fact. There is only one way for this promise to be fulfilled. The Child she was about to carry is not just a descendant of King David. This was great David’s greater Son. This child would have to be God. God in the flesh - Yahweh, the One enthroned between the Cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant. In fact Mary was about to become a living Ark of the Covenant. I think, being a good Jewess, raised in the synagogue tradition, that Mary probably understood this. I don’t think that her serenity was just ignorance. Yes, she was very young, and like all of us, she would need some time to work out all the implications. I think she was just a faithful believer gifted with an incredibly serene nature.

Why then is God taking up residence in Mary’s womb? So that He can save us from our sins. We said earlier that someone without sin would not die. Christ took our sins upon Himself so that He could pay the price of our sins for us. He died because He carried our sins. He died our death. So in a real sense we can say that Christ took up residence in Mary’s womb to die - to die for us. This then is the significance of the angel’s words. Christ would rule over all believers, not as their conqueror, but as their Savior from sin and death. Once in a lifetime! That is once in the lifetime of the world. Only once would a virgin bear a Son. Only once would God be born among us as our Savior. Once was enough. The deed is done. Our salvation is a accomplished. The fulfillment of all of God’s promises began when a young girl conceived through her ear, and God took up residence in her womb.

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