Sermon: Responding to the Word

Text: Luke 1:26-38
Gospel for the Annunciation of Our Lord
Listen to the sermon here!

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Have you ever been so excited about something that all you wanted to do is tell everybody? Maybe you had some piece of news or some major announcement. Did you notice the wide variety of responses you received from people? I remember when Laurin and I made the announcement that we were going to have a second child. Some people were so overjoyed and excited for us that it brought us closer together as friends. However, quite a few people gave us mixed reactions. “Really?! Another one? Didn’t you just have one? It’s only been 14 months!” It can be quite difficult to tell how people are going to react sometimes.

Every day announcements and news items elicit a wide variety of responses; God’s Word is no different. Start talking to people about God and the Jesus and you’ll receive a wide variety of reactions. Some people will even respond with bitterness and hatred. Canadians tend to have a different response: apathy. Most people today simply don’t care. God’s Word holds no place of value in their lives. Few today respond to the Gospel with joy, and even fewer with reverence and awe. So, how about you? When God’s Word of salvation and life comes to you, how do you respond? Today we will see how the Virgin Mary provides a perfect example of how we also ought to respond to God’s Word, even when its confusing.

Mary’s Response: Confusion , Meditation, Clarification

Before there’s a birth, there has to be a conception. Nine months usually, give or take a few weeks. That’s why today, March 25, is the Feast of the Annunciation, the day Mary heard the Word of God through the angel and conceived. It’s nine months until Christmas. A popular Christmas carol describes the setting: “The angel Gabriel from heaven came, with wings as drifted snow and eyes as flame: ‘All hail to thee, O lowly maiden Mary, most highly favoured lady.’”

Image result for annunciationA young girl in Nazareth, sixteen or seventeen years old, sending out wedding invitations, is greeted by an angel who says, “Guess what? You’re going to conceive and bear a son and call his name Jesus.” Mary is at first very troubled by the angel’s greeting. After all, Mary isn’t really anyone special. She’s from a small town, in backwater Galilee. She wasn’t from a family with any status: engaged to be married to an ordinary carpenter, but no wedding yet. An average teenage Jewish girl. Why would God show such favour to her? But then, why should God show you favour?

Mary’s response is good for us to examine. Instead of rejecting what the angel says as nonsense, she turned to meditation and tried to discern what sort of greeting this was. She was chewing it; she was reflecting on it; and started to dialogue within herself. She devoted some brain power to considering it. She was turning it over in her mind. “What’s going on here? Why is this angel in my house? What is God trying to tell me?” She asks that good Lutheran question, “What does this mean?” Mary’s response is not an objection. She doesn’t mock or deny what the angel had said. What Gabriel told her was confusing, but that didn’t daunt her. Instead, she started to mull it over. As she ponders what the Angel has told her, Mary doesn’t ask whether it will happen, but how it’s going to happen. Particularly, since she’s a virgin, her circumstances would rule out having children at the moment. Mary had questions, but she did not doubt the angel.

So too it can be with us. God’s Word can be very confusing at times. The Gospel is simple enough for a child to understand, but deep and confusing enough that even scholars can’t plumb its depths. So, when you read something in your Bible, in a piece of Christian literature, or hear something in a sermon or Bible study that is confusing, how do you react? Are you be tempted to throw up your hands and give up? “I just don’t understand it! So, I’m just going to move on.” Or, do you ponder about it. Do you mull it over asking, “I wonder what this means?” That’s what that word meditate means, to dialogue within yourself. To mull it over. To let it sink deep into your mind and heart.

Consider then Mary’s response. She was confused, she was afraid, and that caused her to ponder what was said and asked for more information. The same can be true of you. God has provided you with a pastor who holds regular office hours. God has provided you with Bible Studies and devotions. During this time of social distancing there are numerous opportunities for you to hear the Word. And with the aid of technology, with a few strokes of the keys you can ask questions, do research, and seek more information. Sometimes, the complexity of Christianity and the realities of life can create questions. “How is Jesus true God and true man? How can a good God permit something like Coronavirus to afflict and kill so many? Is God punishing us for something?” A question is not a doubt but an invitation for God to come through his Word and give us an answer or a chance to marvel at His mysteries. The Bible is where God has revealed himself to us, and God can be confusing and bewildering at times. The goal of course, is not to fill your head with useless trivia and information, but to help you to grow in your faith. If God has revealed himself in his Word, then the Bible is something that’s worth thinking about and valuable enough to warrant devoting some brain power to considering.

Mary’s Firm Conviction: According to Your Word

Gabriel’s explanation is the stuff of miracles. The Cloud of the Glory of the Lord covered and overshadowed the temple signifying that God was present and dwelt in the Temple. And because God was present, it made the entire building holy. Remember the burning bush? “Remove your sandals, for the place on which you stand is holy ground.” Why was it holy? Because God was there. This is the idea behind Gabriel’s response to Mary. The child is God in the flesh, dwelling in her womb instead of a temple.

Why is Mary Holy? Not because she was anything special, but because God was present inside her. With God, nothing is impossible. God can do marvellous things! Mary is going to have a son, a human Son who is also fully God. The fullness of God dwells in the human flesh of this Child named Jesus. God has come to save us. He takes up our humanity into His own humanity. “For us men and for our salvation, He became man.” This unborn child is Israel’s promised king, the Messiah. If He will reign forever and ever, that means death will have no hold on Him! Gabriel preached the Gospel to Mary. In her womb man and God are one person, and this God-man will die and rise again. Because of his life, death, and resurrection, those in His kingdom will have everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

When presented with all the information, how did Mary respond? She responded in faith. She confessed that she was nothing but God’s handmaiden. She was of no particular importance. When God speaks the Word, the Word makes impossible things happen. The Word created everything out of nothing – earth and sky, sea and dry land, plants and animals. Mary believed that God would accomplish what He had said He would. That’s exactly how Elizabeth explained the situation in the next part of the story. Mary visited Elizabeth, and when they met, Elizabeth said that Mary was “Blessed among women.” Why? “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Mary believed that what the Lord had spoken to her through the angel would absolutely be come to pass! Later, while Jesus was teaching, someone cried out, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked.” How did Jesus respond? “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” That’s exactly why Mary was blessed. That’s why we call her the Blessed Virgin! She is blessed because she heard God’s Word and kept it. God’s Word and promises created faith. Mary is blessed among women, not because of anything she had done, but because of God’s unearned and unmerited favour towards her.

Mary of course had fears. What would Joseph think? Would he believe her? How would the village respond? Would she be stoned as an adulteress? Would she still have her family and friends? But despite her fears, she put her confidence in what God had spoken through his Word. God’s undeserved love reaches out to the unworthy ordinary people like you and me and is given as a free gift. We have fears and anxieties. It may be our health, or finances which cause anxiety. This crisis with covid-19 has many of us afraid, worried, and on edge. But, in his grace, God sends his Word to us. He promises to be with us in trouble. God in his Word comes and comforts us. It helps us deal with our fears and replaces that trembling with the assurance of sins forgiven and a place in the family of God. Mary did not “earn” God’s favour any more than we have. That’s the confusing thing about grace. It’s undeserved. Mary is not favoured because of anything in her. She is favoured without any merit or worthiness in her. God’s favour is freely given through his Word, and we can trust in Him through covid-19 or anything else that may befall us.

God’s Word produces a variety of responses. Salvation is announced to the lost and many despise it. Eternal life is promised to the hopeless and many reject it. God becomes a man, is born of the Virgin Mary, and lives a perfect life, and humanity murders him. But, Mary’s response to Gabriel’s message was faith. Her faith was God-given, and it allowed her to humbly place herself in the Lord’s service, even though she had fears. It was God’s unearned, unmerited favour which gave Mary the confidence to trust him in the face of many dangers. Faith is: “hearing the word of God and keeping it.” Faith is, “believing that there will be a fulfilment of what was spoken to you from the Lord.” Faith is hearing the Word of God and holding on to it for dear life! That same grace which Mary was given comes to you. It was won for you upon the Cross. It comes to you in your Baptism where God has declared you highly favoured. It comes to you through the Word where God has promised you eternal life alongside the Virgin Mary in Christ’s Kingdom. God’s Word may be confusing at times, and we may be beset with many fears, but by our own God-given faith, we respond like Mary, clinging firmly to his gracious promises expressed in that saving Word.

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.