Advent 4 Readings (Series B): Luke 1:26-38; 2 Sam. 7:1–11,16; Romans 16:25-27
Pregnancy is a time of eager anticipation. So much is still unknown. The are unknowns throughout with anticipation of the babies gender, concern and wonder about the child’s health, and an eagerness as the day approaches of the joys that are to come. Those nine months can seem so long and while there are nine months to prepare of what is to come, the birth comes in a flash and we are never as prepared as we’d like.
So it has been for much of human history. Eve faithfully confessed at the birth of her first born, “I have begotten the God-man,” in anticipation that God would fulfill His promise to send a Savior to redeem them from death. So it was so for all the faithful throughout history, an eager anticipation.
And now, on this the fourth Sunday of Advent, the impossible. God is coming into the world. For the faithful there is a pregnant anticipation as God fulfills His Word. For nothing is impossible with God, or a literal translation would be “no word is impossible with God.” A barren Elizabeth, well past her child-bearing, is six months pregnant with the one who will be the voice in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord. And her teenage, virgin cousin is told she will conceive the Christ-child.
In the eager anticipation and glitz of Christmas, these small things are often missed and overlooked. Every detail of the Lord’s coming, from His conception through His death and resurrection is important, for He fulfills God’s Word in completeness and takes on our flesh in total. When our Lord comes He comes in fulness to join us to Himself. He comes in the womb. What begins as a few cells conceived in the womb is God in flesh. In taking on our sinful flesh Jesus goes through everything of humanity from womb to tomb to bring all flesh into the resurrection.
If we were living at the time we’d probably expect a great flash and show when the Messiah was to come. But it happens quite suddenly and quite unexpectedly. To a teenage virgin girl the angel Gabriel and proclaims, “greetings.” Not just a “hi Mary,” but the word is “Rejoice!” Greetings, rejoice, for the Lord is with you.
Most of us think we’d be happy to see angels. But truthfully, Mary reacts how everyone else in history had done when in the presence of the Lord’s holiness in His angels, greatly troubled. The Angel Gabriel is not some cute being that comes calmly, but the Lord’s angels within the Scriptures are massive beings, with multiple and massive wings, and bear the full holiness of the Lord. There was a great reverence and awe of the Lord’s presence, with the recognition that sinful people could not look upon God’s holiness and live. So Gabriel proclaims that which all who encounter the Lord need to hear, “do not be afraid, you have favor with God.”
For this Nazarene girl, her life was changed. She was just a girl planning her wedding. She had plenty to rejoice in and knew God had graced her much already. The greeting, “the Lord is with you,” is unique. You see, despite the reality that the Lord is indeed everywhere, when it comes to receiving His grace He has always located Himself. In the tabernacle and the arc of the covenant, within the temple in the Holy of Holies as the priest entered to offer sacrifices on behalf of the people, and within His Word as given through His prophets.
Mary likely knew her lineage as well as Joseph’s. After calming down this faithful young girl would hear the echoes of Nathan the prophet. She knew that a son of David would sit on his throne and establish his kingdom forever. Imagine the reality of teenage girl planning her wedding upon receiving the news that she, of all the girls of Israel, of all the daughters of Zion, has been chosen to bear and be the mother of the Promised Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of God.
What happens from this time on goes against all of our notions and desires. The Lord is with you. Not in a spiritual way, not in an abstract concept, not in some sort of well-intentioned wish or greeting, but in the flesh within the virgin’s womb, Immanuel, God with us. The promise God spoke to King David through the prophet Nathan is fulfilled. The Lord will make you a house…And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. In Nazareth of all places – in Mary’s virgin womb is conceived The Son of the Most High…of whose kingdom there will be no end. Even well-intentioned Christians have difficulty comprehending that the finite, that which is contained and earthly, can contain the infinite, the eternal Lord. But now, God is in flesh in the virgin’s womb.
And I love Mary’s response. It’s a lot to take in. Of all that is being taken in, the God is entering into flesh in her womb, that all that has been anticipated in faith is now happening in real time, she simply asks, “how will this be, since I am a virgin?” She doesn’t doubt the Lord’s Word given to her, she just doesn’t quite understand how. Let’s face it, she is a virgin, science and medicine may not have been what they are now, but these basics were certainly known. Even at this time when a young girl is pregnant and seeks to maintain she is a virgin there is a simple eye-roll. Matthew even records Joseph’s doubts, as he contemplates calling of the whole wedding, as his betrothed is pregnant and he knows he is not the father.
But no word is impossible with God. His word from the angel to Joseph keeps the family together trusting the Word and promise of the Lord. Luther contemplates Mary’s question and brings forth an amazing insight for us. Gabriel proclaims, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will shadow over you.” That’s about it. It’s the Lord’s work through the Spirit. It is through the ear that she conceives, through the hearing and proclamation of the Word. Just as it was at creation, by God’s Word, and just as it is for us in lives of faith, through the hearing of the Word. Through that faithful hearing Mary receives the favor and grace of the Lord.
As you stand at the door of Christmas contemplate the awesome wonder of what this angel said to this girl. In the fall angels guarded the way to the tree of life as man was driven out of God’s presence. But now God sends His angelic messenger to announce that He has come into our presence – giving us a new tree of life. The entire Old Testament hope is realized in the womb of Mary. The word for “overshadow” used in our text is the same word used to describe the cloud overshadowing the Tabernacle as the glory of the Lord filled it (Ex. 40:34-38). The Lord now lives and locates Himself for the next nine months in the body of Mary’s womb.
He who delivers the Word to our ears, delivered the Promise to Mary, and the Word became flesh in her womb and made His dwelling among us. And there, my friends, is the mystery of long ages revealed in Christmas. The Creator by whom all things were made has become a creature. God has become man. The infinite Lord of all is for nine months in the womb a virgin. God, embraces our humanity in all states, starting with conception in the womb. There is nothing of our life that is not embraced and redeemed by the Lord, from womb to tomb He takes on the fulness of our flesh to redeem us.
Nothing is impossible with God, no word is impossible with God. It’s a slogan many misuse, and this Christmas it is important to faithfully receive that this phrase pertains to the Lord’s coming in flesh to save us.
Even still today men and women alike are impregnated with faith through the Word of the Lord. As we proclaim over and over again in the liturgy, “the Lord be with you” it is not a mere wish or a prayer. The Lord is with you as with Mary, in the flesh, in this world, here now, according the His Word. He has united Himself concretely to His Word as you hear Him, “in the stead and at the command of Christ, your sins are forgiven.” He has located Himself through the Spirit in Holy Baptism as He overshadows you with His death and resurrection. The finite contains the infinite, in humble means of bread of wine through the Word of the Lord He comes to us in body and blood. For no word, nothing, is impossible with God who comes to us in flesh.
In the eager anticipation during the pregnancy season of Advent, we soon await the birth of Christ, to see God in the flesh of a baby. He continues to come to us, declares and we continue to eagerly await Him to bring us with Him through death and grave and into resurrection glory. Let it be for us, according to His Word.
For nothing, no word is impossible with God. The barren old woman conceives the last of the Old Testament prophets, the one who prepares us to repent; the virgin conceives and bears the Son of God; sinners are declared right with God as God becomes flesh, you have no need to fear sin and death, for you have God’s favor in Jesus, the Son of the Most High who reigns forever in resurrection glory and of His kingdom there is no end. How will it be? According to the Lord’s Word. The Lord is with you.
“Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.” (Rom. 16:25-27)