For with God nothing will be impossible. – Luke 1:37
The fourth and last Sunday of Advent brings a much kinder and gentler text. John the Baptizer has had his say and is done for another year. The scene shifts to a town in northern Galillee named Nazareth. There was no such town by that name in the old testament. It was up in the northern hill country, a strategic lookout, and a place of recent development, which explains what Joseph, who was a contractor, was doing there.
Instead of John, our preacher is an angel, the only one of two named angels in the Bible – Gabriel. Gabriel appeared to Daniel in exile in Babylon, and now centuries later, he appears to a young woman, perhaps 17 or 18 years old, getting ready for her marriage to Joseph, who was a descendant of David. File that one away, you’re going to need it in a bit.
“Greetings, O highly favored one, the Lord is with you.” How’s that for a greeting? It’s startling enough to hear from an angel, and when the angel greets you that way you really stop and take notice. Mary was troubled, wondering what these words meant? What did it mean to be “favored by God” and that the Lord was with her?
Here is what it meant. “Do not fear.” Don’t you love how angels always say that? “Do not fear.” Why? Because they scare the daylights out of people, that’s why. For all we know, Mary let out a scream at the sight of Gabriel, and don’t think you wouldn’t have. But to stand in God’s favor, to be justified by grace, means to stand without fear in the presence of the holy, even in the presence of holy angels.
The angel had some news. “You have found favor with God.” The word is “grace,” God’s undeserved kindness toward sinners. Yes, Mary is a sinner. Don’t let pious speculations about her being conceived without original sin distract you. She is a daughter of Eve and Adam like the rest of us. She was born with the same inherited disease as all of us. That she has God’s favor is an act of God’s undeserved kindness.
We might imagine that being favored by God means that life would be easy from that point on. After all, people think that when you’re favored by God, God will do you favors. The traffic parts in front of you, the germs detour around you, and general misfortune never heads toward your house. Not so. To be favored by God is to be part of God’s plan, to have His will done with you, which inevitably results in your inconvenience. “You will conceive a child in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Y’shua, Jesus, YHWH is salvation. 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.”
That’s quite a bit for a teenager to take in, wouldn’t you say? Here is Mary, engaged, yet to be married, a virgin, being told by an angel that she was about to conceive a child without the participation of a man. His name was already picked out, and there was no question as to who the father is. God Himself. There was also no question as to what HIs purpose was – he was to sit on the throne of his father David forever. He was to be the Son of David spoken of by the prophet Nathan, the one who would establish David’s reign and kingdom forever.
Impossible, you say. Virgins don’t conceive. We all know that. And don’t think for a moment that Mary didn’t know the facts of life either. Sometimes we think that those people two thousand years ago were a bunch of superstitious rubes who would believe anything. You don’t need the internet to know that virgins don’t conceive. I’m sure Mary’s parents knew this too, and wondered what they were hearing when Mary came to them and said, “Mom, Dad, guess what? I just got a visit from an angel who said I was going to be pregnant by the Holy Spirit and bear the Son of God.” Yeah. We know Joseph didn’t but the story initially, but had to be persuaded in a dream. I’m sure the neighbors raised their eyebrows at the news, you know how small towns are. No wonder Mary went away to the hill country to see cousin Elizabeth, who also was six months out to here at an age when she should have been a great-grandmother.
Impossible, you say. Yes it is. Old ladies and virgins do not ordinarily conceive children, but with God, nothing is impossible.
Marvel heaven, wonder earth, that our Lord chose such a birth. To be conceived of a Virgin without the aid of a man. It hearkens back to the first Gospel in the Scriptures from Genesis. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between her Seed and yours.” God promised to act, to do it all. He promised that the Seed of woman (not of man) would strike the head of the serpent. It takes One born of woman yet without man, One born without Adam’s inherited fault. One who doesn’t have Adam’s sin yet who fully shares in our humanity.
That’s why Mary’s virginity is so important. This isn’t about Mary’s goodness or her purity. It’s about the fact that our Lord has no earthly father and therefore has no inherited sin from Adam, like us in every way, sharing fully our flesh, bone, and blood and yet without sin. Scoffers may scoff and wonder where did our Lord get His Y chromosome since we all know that comes from the father? It’s impossible to have a male conceived without an earthly father? Yes, but with God, nothing is impossible.
We are born in sin, sinful from the moment of our conception, as David reminds us in Psalm 51. That was true even of Mary. But her Child is different, utterly unique. He is man of His mother, but God of His Father. He is both true God and true Man in one unique Person. He is the Word made flesh, conceived in the womb of Mary to save humanity from the death and damnation our sins deserve.
Think about Eve in light of Mary. Mary is the counterpart of Eve. Eve listened to the word of the devil, that diabolical lie that God is not true to His Word, that we can be like God, that we can be gods ourselves, that we will not die as a result of our disobedience. Eve hearkened to the lie, and she was deceived. She didn’t bring wisdom into the world, as she thought. She brought deception, darkness, and death. Mary heard the Word of the Lord through the angel, the impossible Word that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and the power of God would shadow over her, and that she in her virginity would conceive a Son who would be the promised messiah and Savior. Mary hearkened to that Word and she believed and conceived. For with God, nothing is impossible.
Mary is mother Israel reduced to one young woman from Nazareth. All those mothers of Israel, some like Sarah or Hannah or Ruth who conceived sons against all the odds by the Word and promise of God. Mary stands at the end of a long line of Israelite mothers who waited with hope and faith the coming promise of God and who trusted that with God nothing was impossible. Mary is mother Israel, conceiving in the fullness of time the Son of God, born of woman, born under the Law, to redeem humanity from under the Law.
Mary is a picture of mother Church, our mother, who by the Word preached and heard conceived children of God, who are born in the water of Baptism. You and I are virgin-born, born not of natural descent or the will of the flesh or the will of man, but born of God by water and the Holy Spirit.
Mary is the prototype of each and every believer in Christ, hearing the impossible Word that declares a sinner justified before God, and saying “yes, let it me to me according to your Word.” Don’t overlook Mary’s “fiat,” her “yes.” That is the “yes” of faith, the “amen” of a heart the trusts the Word of God even when that Word has said an impossible thing. What must have been going through her mind and heart as she contemplated what the angel told her? How would she tell her parents, her fiance, her friends and neighbors? She bears the scandal of her Son’s incarnation too. The Pharisees would later say to Jesus, “We know who our fathers are,” implying the worst about Jesus and His mother. Yet this faith-filled young woman, this most highly favored lady, simply says “yes.” Amen. Let it be, according to your Word.
When the Word become Flesh and enters the world, things get messed up. Plans are overturned. People are inconvenienced. Presuppositions are utterly destroyed. God’s ways are not our ways. We wouldn’t have done it this way, but we are not God and that’s good. God’s way is to save by the Virgin’s womb, the manger crib, the cross and the tomb. He wants us to be sure that we are covered, literally from the womb to the tomb. Our humanity is embraced every step of the way from conception to grave. In the womb of Mary the most amazing thing happens by the grace of God – the Infinite reside in the finite, the Creator becomes the Creature, God becomes Man. A virgin daughter of Eve bears the sinless Son of God.
God is with us. Emmanuel. Such a Savior – neither crib nor cross refusing. Neither the virgin’s womb nor our tomb despising. A Virgin conceives. A dead man rises. Sinners stand justified before God. God and Man are reconciled.
Impossible? With God nothing is impossible.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.