Sermon: Responding to the Word

Text: Luke 1:26-38
Annunciation of Our Lord
Listen to the Sermon here.

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

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 the month? That’s right, Christmas, which always falls on December 25. Since we celebrate our Lord’s birth on December 25, nine months before that, March 25 is the Feast of the Annunciation. That’s 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 announcement that Mary “will conceive in [her] womb and bear a son … and he will be great.” Every day announcements and news items elicit various responses; God’s Word is no different. Start talking to people about God and Jesus; you’ll receive various 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. So, how about you? How do you respond when God’s Word of salvation and life comes to you? Today we will examine how the Virgin Mary responded to the angel.

Mary Considers the Word

It’s nine months until Christmas. Our Hymn of the Day 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.’”

A young girl in Nazareth, sixteen or seventeen years old, sending out wedding invitations, is greeted by an angel. Mary is at first very troubled by the angel’s greeting. After all, Mary isn’t anyone special. She’s just an average teenage Jewish girl. Why would God show such favour to her? But then, why should God show favour to any of us?

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, reflecting on it, and starting 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 has said. What Gabriel told her was confusing, but that didn’t daunt her. Instead, she started to mull it over. As Mary ponders what the angel has told her, Mary doesn’t ask whether it will happen but how. Notably, 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 profound and confusing enough that even scholars can’t plumb its depths. So, how do you react 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? Are you 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 the 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 and afraid, which caused her to ponder what was said and ask for more information. The same can be true of you. God has provided us with pastors, Bible Studies and devotions. And with the aid of technology, with a few strokes of the keys, you can ask questions, research, and seek more information. Sometimes, the complexity of Christianity and the realities of life can create questions. A question is not a doubt. A question invites 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. God has revealed himself in his Word. That means the Bible is worth thinking about and valuable enough to warrant devoting some brain power to considering.

Mary Responds With Faith

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 will have 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 reigns forever, that means death will have no hold on Him! Gabriel preached the Gospel to Mary. In her womb, man and God are one person; 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. Mary believed that God would accomplish what He had said He would. That’s exactly how Elizabeth explains 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 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 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.

Mary responded to Gabriel’s message with faith. 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, but by our own God-given faith, we can respond like Mary, clinging firmly to his gracious promises expressed in that saving Word.       

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

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