4th Sunday in Advent (A)
December 18, 2022
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 from Saint Matthew.
One of my favorite television shows growing up was In Search Of hosted by Leonard Nimoy. Now, I know most of you younger folk don’t know the show or the host, while if you do remember, your probably remember that it was a little hokey at times, but I didn’t care. The shows delved into the mysteries surrounding the Bermuda Triangle, Big Foot, UFO’s, ESP, and all sorts of the unexplainable. The shows made you question what you thought you knew as you wondered why and how. While it’s good that In Search Of never investigated Christmas because they would’ve gotten it wrong, the birth of Jesus and the events before and after it were, and are, indeed mysteries.
A great place to start unwrapping the mystery of the coming of the Savior is the Old Testament prophets. Unfortunately, many of their prophecies are mysteries in themselves. Take today’s reading from Isaiah 7: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” Imagine you have no knowledge of the Christmas account, does this even make sense? Anyone with a basic grasp of biology knows that a biological woman can only get pregnant after relations with a biological man, and certainly this fact that’s been known for thousands of years. King Ahaz wouldn’t have had a clue what Isaiah was talking about because it was ridiculous. Why would Isaiah say something that was clearly impossible? There’s only one possibility: the messages they delivered were delivered to them by the Holy Spirit. Saint Peter says, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (I Peter 1:21). Well, that explains the mystery of Isaiah’s words, but it doesn’t explain how they came true.
Mary, the virgin chosen to bear Jesus, asks Gabriel the logical question of how she could become pregnant. Gabriel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). That clears it up, right? Well, yes and no. As Christians we think, “okay”. But then there’s part of us that wants to know how it worked. We don’t can’t know for sure, except God can do what He wants.
Naturally, Mary’s explanation for her pregnancy fell on the skeptical ears of Joseph. He knew about the birds and the bees; he was no dummy. But neither was he uncaring. Matthew calls Joseph a righteous man who wanted to protect Mary, and while Joseph wanted to preserve Mary’s honor, he struggled with what to do. Until he had that dream: “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Hmm. Still not much of an answer to how.
The incarnation of Jesus, his becoming true God and true man is mysterious, but again, the question How? isn’t the right question. The right thing to ask is why? Why would God have Mary conceive the Savior without the services of Joseph? And why would God come down to earth this way? Surely there had to have been an easier way than going through potty training, puberty, and the awkward stage most of us endure. Why include mankind at all? Couldn’t the Savior just show up one day and leave out the middle woman?
On the surface the Why question is also a mystery, but not when you look at the entirety of the Bible. For hundreds of years God told the people what to expect of the Savior. He would be born of in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth. He would be betrayed for thirty pieces of silver and guards would gamble for His clothes. He would be sacrificed for the sins of the world and raised from the dead. So from the way that Jesus came from a virgin to His ascension at the right hand of God was all to show God’s faithfulness to His promises. Jesus is the one and only sent by the one and only God! And why was He sent? To save you from your sins! That’s the greatest promise God ever made, and it’s fulfilled in Jesus. Everything about Jesus and all the prophesies about Him were about one thing – you!
Jesus had to be born of a woman, He had to be True Man, so He could take your place under God’s Law and keep it perfectly. For you to be saved, a man had to take your place to do what you can’t do – be perfect. To be perfect meant that Jesus couldn’t have original sin either, that’s the sin we’re all born with. Jesus needed to be conceived by the Holy Spirit so He wouldn’t have the corruption that comes from being conceived biologically. That’s why Joseph was only the adoptive father of Jesus.
Jesus also had to be True Man so that He could suffer and die for your sins and your failure. God demanded that blood be shed for the sins of the world and instead of taking yours, He gave His. How’s that for a mystery? God loves you so much that regardless of your sins, He wants you to spend eternity with Him. He wants you to know that peace that comes from having a relationship with Him. He wants you to know what it feels like to have your guilt and shame taken away. He wants you to know that if you don’t feel like your guilt and shame were taken away, it still happened! That’s why Jesus came! To give you the forgiving, merciful love of His, and yours, Father.
There’s one last part to the Why question, and it’s just as important to know. Jesus came like you because He wants you to know that He is like you. You can rely on Jesus because He keeps His promises but also because He knows all that you’re going through because He experienced these things too. He grieved, He felt pain, He felt abandonment. He knew joy and sorrow, and yes, He also knew even anger and frustration. God promises you: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). He knows the human experience because He lived it, and because He lived it, He’s not some detached god, He’s your God, your Savior, He’s your Brother.
I know that for many of you, Christmas isn’t a mystery. It’s old hat, a story you know too well. But it’s a sin to become so bored with the story of Christmas that you miss its mystery and its meaning. It’s the greatest story ever told, a tale of prophecies, and the mysterious birth of the Savior, just for you. And really, it’s not that mysterious. It’s that God loves you so much that He sent His Son to live and die for you. He sent His Son named Jesus to save you from your sins. That’s pretty straightforward.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen