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It was confirmation day at Faith Lutheran Church in Iowa. Each of the confirmands were to memorize Romans 8:38-39 as part of their oral exam before the congregation. One at a time, the pastor asked each confirmand, “What can separate you from God’s love in Jesus Christ?” And each one responded in his turn, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present not the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Then it came to Sarah. Sarah was a Down’s Syndrome child. As she stood before the congregation everyone worried if she would be able to recite the text. The pastor asked, “Sarah, what can separate you from God’s love in Jesus Christ?” Sarah smiled, and she said, “Nothin’!” It is said that the congregation remembered her “Nothin’!” for a very long time.
Mary’s confirmation day came as a real surprise to her. No time for her to memorize a bible verse. The question that the angel Gabriel put to Mary was this one, “Mary, is anything impossible for God?” I wonder how nervous the all the angels and the congregation of saints in heaven were as they awaited Mary’s answer.
Mary listened carefully as Gabriel outlined what God was about to do and how it involved her. The whole thing seemed (pardon the pun) ‘inconceivable’ to Mary. “How can this be since a man I have not known.” Gabriel assured her that “nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary responded, “Behold, let it be to me according to your word.”
A. The “Fullness of Time”
The whole thing sounds a little far fetched I know, but what you’ve got to keep in mind is that this was the “fullness of time.” The “offspring of the woman,” whom God had promised long ago in the beginning, was only nine months from sticking his head into this world.
Amy, I don’t want you to take this the wrong way. I know that when you’re the one who is pregnant, nine months seems like a long time. But nine months in the grand sweep of human history means “the time had fully come.”
The creation was so pregnant that it groaned in anticipation for the long awaited child “to be born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law.” (Gal.4:4)
The “offspring of the woman” was the focus of all the world’s hopes and dreams ever since God promised that the child to be born of the woman would crush the serpent’s head and MAKE ALL THINGS NEW.
At the end of a long list of Israel’s mothers comes Mary. She is the true counterpoint to Eve.
• Eve listened to the serpent and she was deceived. Mary listened to the angel, and she conceived.
• Eve’s firstborn son killed his own brother. Mary’s firstborn son saved all His brothers and sisters..
• God gave His promise to Eve and He fulfilled His promise through Mary.
For a time like this, with a message like this, God would not send not just any angel, but an archangel named Gabriel. The bible tells us that Gabriel was the commander of legions of angels.
Luther imagines that Gabriel must have been a bit surprised and maybe even dumbfounded when God sent him like an errand boy to a poor teenage girl the third rate village of Nazareth. Yet what greater message could an angel be asked to deliver than this one?
“Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you.” Had it been us, we would have surely replied, “and also with you.”
But Mary didn’t know what to say. “She was greatly troubled at the saying and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.”
People in high positions are not so intimated in the presence of greatness. But Mary was just a young girl, timid and humble. She’s greatly troubled and more than a little confused.
I know that we think that if it were us, we wouldn’t be so troubled or confused if an angel visited us. But Mary had never read the Gospel of Luke or heard the Christmas story like we have. We know a lot more than Mary did about what’s going on here.
“Do not be afraid Mary. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
All of the ancient and often-repeated promises of God are being echoed forward into Mary’s ears in one, highly concentrated fulfillment.
Mary may be young and innocent, but she knows the facts of life. And so she asks, “How can this be since a man I have not known?” Mary was one of those ‘old-fashioned’ girls who didn’t ‘know’ a man until he was her husband.
Gabriel spells it out for her. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High shall will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God…. For nothing will be impossible with God.”
And Mary responds exactly as Eve should have. “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And with that, Mary became “the mother of all living.” (Gen.3:20)
The MYSTERY of the Conception of Our Lord is just that, it’s a ‘mystery.’ A ‘mystery’ is different than a ‘surprise.’ A ‘surprise’ is no longer a ‘surprise’ once it happens. As soon as you’ve opened the package or walk through the door into the restaurant, the surprise is over.
But a ‘mystery’ remains a ‘mystery’ even after it happens, even after you know the story by heart and just how it ends. It’s still an AWESOME MYSTERY.
Mary was ‘CONFUSED,’ not JUST that such a thing could happen BIOLOGICALLY. She was also ‘AMAZED’ that such a thing should happen TO HER. She was no one special. No one’s disciple. No one’s Deaconess. A ‘saint’ who would not have stood out in the ‘communion of saints.’
Some have a hard time with this and want to make Mary someone ‘special,’ ‘immaculate,’ ‘sinless,’ ‘worthy’ of such an honor. That makes it less of a ‘surprise’ for Mary than it is, and less of ‘mystery’ for us than it is. Truth is, there’s nothing in the Scriptures that say any such thing about her.
Like I said, it’s better to let the ‘mystery’ remain a ‘mystery.’ The grace of God to call whom He calls is a ‘mystery,’ and when you know that you’re one of the called by God, and all you need to do is to look to your baptism to be sure that you are indeed one of the called, then it’s an AWESOME MYSTERY.
As soon as you start examining your life and your behavior and your worthiness, either your pride or your shame ruins the MYSTERY.
It’s much better to let the DIVINE MYSTERY of a virgin who is pregnant by the Holy Spirit remain a DIVINE MYSTERY, an article of faith, and just believe it, like Mary did, simply because God’s Word says so. “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me ACCORDING TO YOUR WORD.”
The MYSTERY is AWESOME and it never gets old. The WORD OF GOD, who was in the beginning, apart from Whom nothing was made that has been made, enters into His creation IN THE SAME WAY THAT EVERY OTHER HUMAN BEING HAS EVER ENTERED INTO THIS WORLD.
The Son of God is dwelling in a sinful and fallen human being, not because she is worthy, but because He intends to make her worthy. The Son of God assumes our humanity, not because we are worthy, but because He intends to make us worthy and present us to His Father as His beloved Bride.
Today, we have had the wonderful opportunity to witness the mystery of the CONCEPTION OF OUR LORD in the baptism of Evan and Hayley. Right here before our ears, the POWER OF THE MOST HIGH overshadowed them through the Water and the Word.
And the same Son of God conceived in the virgin Mary is now conceived in them. Of course, not as a fetus. But as the crucified Jesus Christ with all of His wounds for our transgressions; and as the risen Lord of Lords who gives life to our mortal bodies.
David wanted to build a house for God to live in. And God said, ‘NO.’ I will live in Evan and Hayley and in all my baptized brothers and sisters and their bodies shall be my Temple.
Holy Baptism is a PROFOUND MYSTERY that is never over. It’s a BIOLOGICAL ‘mystery.’ HOW can this be that the God who fills heaven and earth lives in me? And it’s also a very ‘personal mystery.’ Why me – wretched sinner that I am?
We should let Mary be the example for us all to follow. Let the ‘mystery’ remain a ‘mystery.’ “Let it be to me according to Your word.”
If you, O Lord, insist on living in me and making me holy, as you are holy, I will not argue or resist. “Let it be to me according to Your word.”