4th Sunday in Advent (B)
December 20, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Gospel account of Gabriel appearing to Mary.
The story we’re hearing today and later this week is the most familiar one in the whole world. I hesitate to call it a story because the word “story” makes it sound make-believe. Huck Finn is a story. The Avenger movies are stories. The account of Jesus’ birth is an event that literally changed the world and all of history, and not in an insignificant way. Unfortunately, the Nativity account is so familiar, it isn’t appreciated for what it is. How often do we listen with only half an ear because we’ve heard it so many times already? “I know the story: Mary gets pregnant, no room at the inn, Jesus in a manger, shepherds, wisemen, and a little drummer boy show up and that pretty much sums it up.” But that doesn’t sum it up, not at all. The account of the birth of Jesus is an account replete with miracles, miracles then and miracles now.
Despite the multitude of stories about angels on television and in literature, we know very little about them. Only two of them are named in the Bible, Gabriel and Michael, and from the descriptions in the Bible, they’re not the cute little cherubs we imagine. Angels are the mouthpieces of God, for the word angel means messenger. So here’s the first miracle of Christmas: a citizen of Heaven, created to serve God and man, crosses into our world and our time to deliver a message unlike any other. God didn’t use a prophet or a priest. Gabriel is a heavenly being who took his marching orders directly from the almighty God. It’s almost unbelievable that God would point at Gabriel and send him to Mary with the Good News that is for everybody of every time and of every place. That this account of Gabriel and Mary continues to be told all these years later is a miracle in itself, that God ensures through the Bible so that all may hear of the birth of the Savior.
One of the challenges of translating the Bible into English is that Hebrew and Greek words can have different meanings depending on which grammar rule the translator thinks applies the best. One option isn’t wrong while the other is right, it’s a judgment call, and there’s a perfect example in the words of Gabriel. In the English Standard Version of the Bible, the version we use, when Gabriel appears to Mary, he says, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” and this is perfectly fine. However, the Hebrew and Greek words for “greetings” can also be used as a command when referring to God’s saving work. So Gabriel could instead be saying, “Rejoice, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” I love this word “rejoice” because you can hear Gabriel’s excitement. “Rejoice Mary! For God has planned to do great things through you! Rejoice Mary! Rejoice all mankind! God has come to work miracles!” and the conception of Jesus is absolutely a miracle.
Gabriel says, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” Do you understand the astonishing miracle that Gabriel says will happen? God reaches down and through the Holy Spirit conceives Himself in her womb. A miraculous conception that’s literally impossible. Do we ever really contemplate what this means? God becomes man! Just like that the words of Isaiah are fulfilled, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel, which means ‘God with us’.” Just like that God takes on human flesh and becomes our brother! Nothing is impossible for God and He will work miracles to save His people from their sins.
The choosing of Mary isn’t a miracle, but it is unexpected. God doesn’t choose well-to do young lady. He doesn’t pick a woman who already had children and would know exactly what to do. He doesn’t pick the daughter of the High Priest or a king. He picks a young lady from a town far removed from the holy city of Jerusalem. Gabriel says, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” and while Mary is wondering what in the world is going on, he goes on to says, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” How’s this for a miracle? How could Mary possibly find favor with God? Was she holier than everybody else? Was she sinless as the Roman Catholics believe? Not at all! God chose her entirely out of His grace God looks at Mary as one saved through the Son she hasn’t even conceived yet! How’s that for a miracle!
Of course, you know the miracles didn’t stop there. The angel choir that sang to the shepherds was a miracle. The star that led the Wise Men was one too. Throughout His earthly ministry Jesus performed an untold number miracles; cleansing lepers of their disease, enabling the paralyzed to walk, and opening the ears of the deaf. Then in the greatest miracle of all, He fulfilled the meaning of His name, “The Lord Saves”. Is there any greater miracle than the Son of God sacrificing Himself on the cross and then rising from the dead to save Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and you? Not a chance! Rejoice! For through Jesus you have found favor with God!
Yes, it’s true! Despite your sins, despite all the ways you let God down by breaking His commandments, despite your inability to lead a perfectly holy life, God calls you His “favored one.” Mary was favored, even though she was a sinner by God’s grace – His undeserved love. You’re favored by God the same way! God gives you His underserved love. And you can be absolutely certain that He gives you His undeserved grace because your sins are forgiven! What an incredible miracle! We don’t deserve anything good from God, certainly not forgiveness, even so He gives it to us because His Son who was conceived in a miraculous way, who died in a miraculous way, and who rose in the great miracle ver did what was necessary to live up to His name, “The Lord Saves”.
When Gabriel says that nothing is impossible with God he is echoing what the Bible says repeatedly about God. Jesus would use the same phrase with His disciples thirty years later. It might seem impossible sometimes that God would forgive you. I wonder the same thing. How could God forgive me for all the sins of my past and present, and the sins I know I’m going to commit in the future? But it’s another miracle that nothing is impossible for God! God forgives you no matter what you may think or how impossible you think it might be. He finds favor with you and you are saved! How’s that for a miracle! God became like you in every way, but He had no sin. Rejoice, He’s your brother. Jesus knows all that tempts you, He knows your sorrows, your joys. He knows your aches and pains because He went through them too. He went through them Himself and He’ll go through them with you. “Rejoice, O favored One, the Lord is with you!”
I know it’s tempting to zone out on the Christmas account because you’ve heard it dozens of times. But knowing the story isn’t the same as contemplating the significance of it in your life. Mary’s life was never the same after Gabriel appeared and neither was yours. The baby promised to Mary is the Son of God who took on human flesh to save our human flesh from sin and death. Now that’s a miracle unlike any other! Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ listen to these miraculous words one more time: “Rejoice, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen