Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I’ve heard that many people have had great difficulty remembering that the service this week was on Friday. We are so used to Wednesday vespers in Lent that it’s hard to remember the change to Friday. So, why do we have a service tonight? Before there’s a birth, there has to be a conception. Conception occurs nine months before birth, give or take a few weeks. Do you get it yet? Which other church festival always happens on the 25th of a month? That’s right, Christmas, which always falls on December 25. And since we celebrate our Lord’s birth on December 25, nine months before that, on March 25, is the Feast of the Annunciation, the day Mary heard the message spoken by the angel and conceived the Son of God, our Savior Jesus. Today we have paused during this season of fasting and repentance and take a moment to celebrate. “Conceived by the Holy Spirit” on March 25, “born of the virgin Mary” on December 25, nine months later. Today we hear again the angel Gabriel and his startling claim that Mary “will conceive in [her] womb and bear a son … and he will be great.”
Why was it necessary?
But why was it necessary? Through our first father, Adam, sin and death came into the world. Disorder, disease, and death result from that one act of rebellion. Adam chose the way of death over the way of life, and he did for all of us. Just as death came to Adam because he sinned, death comes to all because everyone sins. We sin because we inherited Adam’s sinful nature. We don’t just follow Adam’s bad example. Like your parents passed on their traits to you, Adam passed on his corrupted nature to all of his children. We are actually ‘made sinners’ by the nature we inherit from him. Our humanity is ruined because we lack fear, love, and trust in God above all things. It has been replaced with a constant inclination and appetite for sin and destruction. We have rejected God from being king and decided to rule ourselves. We like our rebellion, and we want to sin more. Adam sinned; Adam died. All the rest of us sinned; all the rest of us came under the power of death.
We are ruined by sin, and we ruin everything else. Don’t you feel the misery of living in a world under sin and death? There’s a paradox at work here. We live in a world of wonder and beauty and yet so savagely marred by evil and overshadowed by death and suffering. And it’s our fault. We broke it. Politics have become a show of self-seeking pomp. We’re appalled every time we hear about more unjust killings. Hatred, discrimination, and inequality are under every nook and cranny! The flames of lust are fanned into blazing fires. The economy is fuelled by greed. There are riots and wars, famines and diseases, which are all the results of our sin. We brought sin into the world, and we have left a bloody trail of death and destruction with it. We are all sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, stuck, imprisoned in their deadly decision to go with knowing good and evil and choosing death as the way of life. We’re all born bent inward, curved away from God, and bent in on ourselves. Self-oriented. That’s how we are, and we can’t be fixed. And no one in this world can fix us.
God holds us responsible. That’s why no amount of rule-keeping is going to fix things. God did not give you his Law as a “self-help”, “fix-it-yourself” guide. God’s Law only makes things worse because it shines the light of truth on what we might otherwise have persuaded ourselves were morally justifiable actions. We are not only guilty sinners but become hardened rebels. When we come face to face with the command of God, we immediately start breaking it. The Law exposes sin, showing us just how far the decay and blindness go. Yet by itself, the Law is powerless to do anything about stopping it.
What did it accomplish?
Now, that’s where the Virgin comes in. Today the Church remembers that a virgin conceived. Yet, we live in an age of sceptics. We know how babies are made. Virgins don’t conceive. We all know that. Virgins do not ordinarily conceive children, but these are not ordinary circumstances. God is involved, and with God, nothing is impossible. The angel Gabriel does not leave any doubt about who the father is. God, Himself is the Father. Jesus was not only going to be her Son, but he “will be called the Son of the Most High.” The Holy Spirit was to come upon her and overshadow her. That’s the Power of the Creator God himself. This child would not only be a son of God but the Son of God. Like father like Son. The Creator God, the almighty himself, who made all things which holds all things together, takes up residence in the Virgin’s womb and becomes a man. The Creator becomes the creature. God becomes Man. The fullness of Deity deigns to dwell in the womb of a human mother. And our humanity, in its most basic and helpless form, is embraced by God.
God becomes a man because we need a second Adam, a new head, a new birth, a new start, a new creation. We need an insider who is outside of our sin and death. We need a son of Eve who isn’t an heir to Adam’s sin and death. That’s Jesus. He is the second Adam who undoes what the first Adam did. He takes up our humanity into His own humanity. “For us men and for our salvation, He became man.” For us children of Adam, He became the new Adam, embracing all of humanity in His flesh and blood conceived and born of the Virgin Mary.
Mary’s Son will reign upon the throne, “over the house of Jacob forever,” and “of his kingdom, there should be no end.” Maybe some of the fuss and bother about whether Mary could have conceived Jesus without a human father is because, deep down, we don’t want to think that there might be a king who could claim this sort of absolute allegiance. We all have a natural aversion to the idea of Jesus being King. Like Adam, we don’t want God to be king because we would longer call the shots. That means we are accountable for what we do. We live in a world that is broken and damaged. We live with the results of the evil choices we make. Evil is the result of choosing to live our lives in rebellion against the king. We don’t want Jesus to be king because we can’t do whatever we want. We want a God that’s a genie who does our bidding. We do not want to be subjects of the God of the Bible.
This king is not a tyrant, nor is he cruel or demanding. Instead, we experience his astonishing generosity. What we wouldn’t even consider doing, God did without hesitation because he loved us. Just as Adam’s disobedience led to universal disaster, so the righteousness of Jesus Christ has the gracious power to undo all that disaster. He sent his Son to die a cursed death upon the cross for us and rise again on the third day. Because of what Jesus did, God is merciful towards you. Because of that one righteous act, all the ruin of sin has been undone. Because of what Jesus did, we are forgiven and now enjoy the free gift of the Holy Spirit.
This child announced by the angel, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary–this Jesus Christ has become your king. What does it mean for Jesus to become king? It means that you had no King. You rebelled against God and were captive under the power of the devil. You were condemned to death and entangled in sin and blindness. It means that despite your rebellion, Jesus has sought you and bought you from sin, from the devil, from death, and all evil. God became man, conceived without sin, by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin. He suffered, died, and was buried that he might make satisfaction for you and pay what you owed, not with silver and gold but with his own precious blood shed for you. All this in order to become your king. Now you belong to him, and you will live under him in his kingdom, in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness by God’s grace. This is most certainly true.
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.