The Third Midweek in Advent
December 16, 2009
Text: Luke 1:26-38
Dear Friends in Christ,
What does that mean? Or in the German Was is Das - what is this? This is a familiar question to Lutherans. What does this mean? It is a question that implies that there is more to this than meets the eye. In the Commandments, for example Luther gives us the positive, that is what we are to do, along with the negative, what we are not to do.
Our text is a familiar one. We’ve heard it a hundred times. Usually the perspective that is taken is the miracle of the virgin conception of Jesus. I think we feel must hammer this in the face of rationalism. It is a miracle that had never happened before and has not happened since - in spite of the claims of some current day teenage girls. But there is more to this. There is something here that is even more profound and mysterious than a virgin conceiving a child.
The council of Nicea met in 325 A.D. in the city of Nicea. Funny how that works, the council of Nicea meeting in Nicea. It was the first of seven gatherings of representatives of the whole Christian church on earth. The council was summoned by the Emperor Constantine to settle the controversy raised by the heretic Arius who denied the divinity of Christ. St. Athanasius led the charge to condemn Arius. In response to what Arius claimed the church debated the Scriptures for several weeks. Finally, they issued a series rulings. Among those rulings is the first two articles of what we now know as the Nicene Creed. Another thing that they said was that there never was a time when God the Son did not exist. Double negatives are bad English but they are common in other languages like Greek. So they said that Christ always existed from all eternity.
The Angel Gabriel shows up in Nazareth and confronts Mary. We don’t know where this happened. According to tradition it was by the village well. No way to confirm that, nor is there any compelling reason to doubt it. So we can say it was probably by the well that the angel appears. Mary is probably about twelve or thirteen years old. That would have been the typical marriage age of the time. Now the angel tells her that she will have a son by the power of the Holy Spirit and that this child will be the Son of God. He will rule forever. What the angel is saying that this is not an ordinary human being. This child is God. This was understood from the first. We see this, perhaps most clearly in the Benedictus, the song of Zechariah, where the old priest calls Jesus Yahweh.
So think about this for a moment. This twelve year old girl has just been told that she will have a child, which she will carry in her womb in the normal manner who is Yahweh, that is God. And I think, from the Biblical text it is reasonable to surmise that she understood this. So what does this mean? It means that the child in her womb created the very universe it was now entering. It means that Mary herself was created by the child in her womb. It means that the child in her womb called Abraham from Haran to the land of Canaan. It means that the child in her womb was the One who had killed the firstborn of Egypt at the time of Moses and slaughtered the army of the Assyrians before Jerusalem at the time of Isaiah the prophet. It means that the child in her womb had parted the Red Sea and then drowned Pharaoh and his army. It means that the child in her womb was the Lord of Might who had spoken from the top of Mount Sinai, giving the Ten Commandments. The child in her womb was the One enthroned between the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant. The child in her womb was the one who dwelt in the Holy of Holies of the Temple. Ladies, are you freaked out yet? It nearly creates a panic just hearing about it.
What does it mean? It means that this is Yahweh Elohiem, that is the Lord God, now enthroned in a new Ark of the Covenant - the womb of the virgin. What does Mary do? She simply asks for instructions. Her question of the angel was not born of unbelief as Zechariah’s had been. Rather she is simply, asking, what am I to do? The answer is do nothing. God is already doing everything to bring about this miracle of the ages. God has done great things to her. This is faith at an extraordinary level. One can only conclude that God had given her a special gift of faith beyond what is normal.
The key to understanding all this, is found in the words of the Old Testament prophets. Christ had appeared many times throughout the Old Testament. But always as a judge, a destroyer, an avenger and so forth. Here, He is the wonderful counselor, the prince of peace, the great light, and all these other wonderful promises of the Old Testament. He is great David’s greater Son, the prophet who is greater than Moses. He is all these things because He is Yahweh, visiting His people to save them from their sins. This is what we must not miss. This is Holy God, Yahweh Elohiem. And He has come not to destroy and damn, but to save. This is what is in the Virgin’s womb. A baby yes, but more than that, our God. That is what this means.