4 Advent Proper 4C
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 1:35 (39-56) Sermon
December 23, 2012
Click here for internet service broadcast/podcast.
Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
TLH 274 "Praise We The Lord This Day"
TLH 275 "My Soul Doth Magnify The Lord"
WOV 730 "My Soul Proclaims Your Greatness Lord"
TLH 83 "Hark! What Mean These Holy Voices"
TECHNICALLY SPEAKING, JESUS IS TRUE GOD
TEXT: “The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.’”
Technicalities. The world is full of technicalities on just about every subject. And as it often goes, our knowledge is lacking when that subject arises.
For example, let's say that you are watching a favorite program on television. Then all of a sudden, the show abruptly stops and the screen gets all snowy. A few seconds later, a slide comes up on your television screen that says, "We are experiencing technical difficulties; please stand by." One such slide I remember was a caricature drawing of a man standing behind a television set. There's a bunch of wavy lines on the screen, and various parts are shown flying out of the back of the set. The man standing behind it has a very puzzled look on his face.
There are technical difficulties. They don't go into detail about what they are either. And if they did, we probably wouldn't understand those difficulties anyway, and most likely we just don't care. All we're interested in is getting our television show back on our set before we have missed too much of it. Most of us have no appreciation for microwave links to repeaters, or satellite network feeds, or encoding issues, or any one of a number of things that can happen.
A good example of this is what happened with our congregation's own television broadcast. My mother called me one day to let me know that the show was all jerky. It would stop and start at random, and it was almost impossible to understand. When I went to the TV station and talked with the manager about it, he explained to me the technicalities of what had happened; and for the most part I was able to comprehend what was going on. But my mother wasn't really concerned about the technical aspects of it all; she just wanted to worship with us on television with no major issues.
The Church is not without its technicalities either. In our church, we make use of what are called “ecumenical creeds.” We have three of them—the Nicene Creed which we use on Communion Sundays, the Athanasian Creed which, because of its length, we only use once a year on Trinity Sunday, and the one we use most commonly, called the Apostles’ Creed. These creeds are short declarations of the Christian faith as taught in the Bible. In summary form, these creeds present to us the technicalities of the faith. Anybody who professes to be a Christian has to adhere to what these creeds teach; and if they don’t, then they don’t hold to the Christian faith, and they aren’t Christian. It's as simple as that.
Oh certainly not every Christian needs to use the exact wording or recite the creeds verbatim to be a true believer; however they cannot disagree with what they say either. That’s why they’re called “ecumenical creeds.” They are a universal statement regarding the Christian faith. The statements made identifying each of the three persons of the Godhead are about as clear as can be; and if you remove or alter any part of this, then you are in effect denying the whole thing.
Every time we use one of our creeds (and for the sake of reference I’ll use the Apostles’ Creed), first think about how I introduce them. I'll say to you, "Let us confess our Christian faith, one to another, together with the whole Christian Church on earth, with the words of the Apostles' Creed (or whatever creed we are using that Sunday). The creed is not a prayer we make to God; rather we are affirming what we believe, and we are affirming this to each other. That's why I stand facing you when we confess the creeds, and I don't face the altar. We are declaring to each other and the whole world our faith in God, and his unlimited power. More specifically, when we recite the words, “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary,” a mystery is confessed which holds the power of salvation for all of humanity. And Mary was the individual God used.
The text that is before us today is a verse that actually is a verse just prior to the Gospel lesson appointed for this Sunday. It is one of the many Biblical foundations for what our creeds say, specifically that section of the Apostles' Creed I just read, and that is so well known to us. The verse from Luke's Gospel that I read just a few moments ago points out two important facts: Jesus was to be born of the Virgin Mary, and that he would be called the Son of God.
So this morning, on the basis of our text and our Gospel lesson for today, let us consider why we believe, teach, and confess that Jesus is true God.
His most unusual and miraculous birth is a great place to start, and Mary is the principal character in this story. Now I’ve lamented before as to how much Mary is neglected in modern preaching. Except for commentaries, or the pretty recitations about her at Christmas, or the other occasions she shows up in Scripture, there are few references to her in current Protestant literature.
The reason for this neglect goes back to the days of the Reformation in the 16th Century. There was a violent reaction against the veneration of Mary, which at the very least bordered on idolatry. Dr. Martin Luther claims that in his youth, he never heard a word said about Christ, except as the babe in his mother’s arms, or the sacrifice on the cross, or the judge on the last day. His inbred idea of worship was to call upon the saints, and Mary in particular, to pity him and intercede for him with Christ.
The knee-jerk reaction of this resulted in the elimination of Mary, not only as a subject for veneration, but also as an example of an ideal woman’s life, work, and faith. And yes, I believe we tend to forget about the words Mary speaks in our Canticle for today in verse 48: “…From now on, all generations will call me blessed.” And so we become content on giving her a passing glance and an obligatory mention now and then.
But Mary’s faith is a great example for us. To her came the most unusual promise from God that was ever made on this earth. This announcement made by the angel was so incredible that she was more than justified in asking in verse 34, “How can this be…since I am a virgin?” Here was a technicality God presented that she just didn't understand.
But yet Mary believed; she responded in faith. She expressed herself in the beautiful words of the Magnificat, which is the canticle we recited together at the beginning of our service today. Verses 46 and 47 read: “My soul magnifies (or glorifies) the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.”
Faith in God implies faith in miracles. Both are in reality one in the same thing.
If we compare Mary’s reaction to the angel’s words with the priest Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, we find a completely different approach. Zechariah did not believe the words that he and his wife would have a son in their advanced years, and so he demanded a sign from God. And God obliged him by depriving him of the power of speech until the day that the promise of the birth of his son was fulfilled.
So can we believe the miracle of Jesus’ virgin birth? How important is that? How can we wrap our minds around this very important technicality of the Christian faith?
Allow me to share a quote with you. “A generation or two ago, Christian preaching was much engaged in defending the faith which accepted the miracles as recorded in Holy Scriptures. The supernatural birth of Jesus was one of the chief targets of the infidels. They too asked, ‘How can these things be?’ and they called it a monstrous lie. Robert Ingersoll, and later the Free Thinkers of America made it their business to tear down the Christian faith by judging God’s thoughts and works with their limited human knowledge. Where are these critics today, and what effect has their campaigning had against the Christian faith?”
I discovered that quote in the writings of my Grandfather, which he had written in 1948. He died in 1964. Thankfully he hasn't had to witness the modern assertions that Mary was raped by a Roman soldier, and that she dreamed up the “Virgin birth” story to cover up for it. Nor did he have to witness the “Jesus Seminars,” which call not only the miracles of Jesus in question, but also every word he speaks in the Bible.
We believe in a God who can and does work miracles. Faith in God and faith in his miracles are one in the same thing. You cannot accept the first and deny the second. Both are tied up together. God’s work is not limited by laws, or by nature, or by the confines of the human mind. In fact, all of life is one great big miracle. Why then should anyone hesitate to accept the miracle of the Virgin birth of Jesus?
Let’s now look at the “son-ship” he has with God the Father, and what the Bible says about that.
The high point in our text for today rests with the concluding words the angel addresses to Mary: “…So the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God.”
To get the full benefit of the meaning of this sentence, we must picture in our minds (if we can) the pre-existence of Jesus before he assumed the human nature we have.
In our Old Testament Lesson today, the prophet Micah records in chapter 5 verse 2, "But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days."
And then, if we go to the New Testament, the Apostle John opens his report on the life of Jesus with these words from verses 1 and 14: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
And when the Pharisees challenged Jesus, he tells them in John chapter 8 verse 58: "I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I am!"
In addition to what Micah, and John, and ultimately Jesus himself say about his existence with God the Father, we have other testimony which bears out what the angel said to Mary.
At the time of his baptism in the Jordan, Matthew records these words in chapter 3 verse 17: “And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’"
And again on the Mount of Transfiguration, Mark records these words in chapter 9 verse 7: “Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’"
As we are drawing this Advent season to a close, and as we look forward to Christmas, the celebration of Christ’s birth is not enough. Beginning with the Christ child, we must envision Jesus, true God and true man, from everlasting to everlasting. He existed from the beginning, and reigns for all eternity. That's one of those technicalities of the faith we absolutely must understand.
So hear him. Listen to him. Do not trust your own fancy. Do not listen to counsels of men when you know they are far from following the will of God. Listen to him, the Son of God. Listen to your Saviour. He speaks to you and me through the words and pages of Holy Scripture. It is he who declares the love of God the Father, his tenderness and patience. Hear him when he says that he came to give his life as a ransom for many, or when he speaks of himself as the judge of all the world, and how all nations shall be gathered before him to receive his final word of pardon or condemnation. Hear him when he invites us to “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Hear him and respond to him in faith.
And finally, hear him when he makes this offer in John chapter 14 verse 27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
Today we can appreciate the faith Mary had and has shared with us. In today's Canticle she says, "My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.” She knew she was pregnant with God’s own Son, the Saviour of the world. She knew that the world was sinful, and needed a Saviour. She needed a Saviour too.
We are also part of this sinful world and in need of a Saviour. We have doubted God, we have departed from his will, and we have walked in the path of darkness. But thankfully Mary’s Saviour is our Saviour too. Through faith in him, we will be saved and live with him forever. When we come to faith, we experience this miracle of faith God gives us through the Holy Spirit.
We have a faith that is rooted and steeped in miracles. Faith in God and faith in miracles cannot be separated. God’s Son coming to earth—it’s a miracle! The Virgin birth—it’s a miracle! Being saved by grace—it’s a miracle! And these aren't just minor technicalities that we can brush off either. These are important things God wants us to know and believe. God's truth cannot be brushed off or relegated to those technicalities we won't even attempt to understand.
As we live our lives, may we always give testimony to the miracles God has worked throughout history and in our own lives. We have been reconciled with God and we experience God’s peace, which passes all human understanding.
Therefore, we can join in the angels’ Christmas song: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”