4th Sunday in Advent
18 December 2011
St. John's, Chicago, IL
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Ben was born around 9:30 at night, so when the excitement and activity was over, we fell asleep somewhere around midnight. The next morning, Kristi was up and eagerly addressing birth announcements between 5 and 6 a.m. She had already cut the blue paper and the white paper, rubber stamped the design, and layered the cut-outs. We knew he was a boy, and so already had his name printed on the cards. Only the details of his length and weight and so on, needed to be completed. Soon, dozens of friends would know!
Of course now, with Facebook, there are births that several hundred people find out about, perhaps within moments of their occurrences. We need look no further back than the last week or two. Just think for a minute how many people -- around the world! -- knew about Xander Fasshauer's and Anna Wier's births, within hours! So instantaneous! Still, in either of these situations, the baby is "announced" following the birth.
When was Jesus' birth announced? Well, angels filled the sky, praising God in the sight of the Bethlehem shepherds right away that night. A star was placed by God, so that the wise men would see it and come. But you know, even before it happened, God was at work to announce the Savior's birth.
This morning we hear the greatest birth in history, being announced nine months before it happened! The archangel Gabriel had the honor of being the one sent by God to the Blessed Virgin Mary, proclaiming to her that she would have the amazing blessing of being the Mother of God the Son. And she has a very different reaction than her cousin-in-law, Zechariah.
Zechariah had also received a visit from Gabriel. About six months earlier. But when he heard that he and his wife, in their advanced age, were finally going to have a baby, he reacted with the unbelief of his ancestor Sarah, the wife of Abraham. He might not have laughed, but he thought it ridiculously impossible. But Gabriel reminds us, "With God, nothing shall be impossible."
You often join Zechariah in unbelief. Something is too good to be true. Or specifically, the Word of the Lord speaks something that is too amazing, too wonderful to really come to pass. And so it is easier to doubt or deny the Word of God than to believe it. The devil, the world, and your sinful self can work at you until you weary and fade into such unbelief. Anyone can fall prey to them. Look! Zechariah was even a faithful priest, who knew God's Word! And he still doubted when an angel preached to him, at the temple!
But then there is Mary. The Blessed Virgin hears the Word of the Lord, proclaimed by the angel, and believes it. Unlike Zechariah who doubts and disbelieves, Mary is in awe and amazement, yet welcomes this miracle, "Let it be to me, according to your word."
Zechariah, it would seem, is like your Old Adam. He hears the Word of God, but doubts. He chuckles and says, "That would be great, but it'll never happen." Of all people, one of God's priests should hear and believe His Word, but Zechariah falls into the same damning disbelief as you and the rest of the world.
On the other hand, the Virgin Mary is like the new creature that God made you at Baptism. In fact, often Mary is spoken of as a symbol for the entire Church. She receives the Word of God and believes it. She ponders it. Treasures it. She hears the blessed preaching of the angel, and in essence joins the prayer, "O come, o come, Emmanuel!"
Baptized into Christ, you have been given this faith. You hear the Word of God, and receive it. You now kneel with Mary, and eat and drink the Body and Blood of her Son, whom you adore, at His altar.
At the Annunciation, the Blessed Virgin Mary received Him into her body, as a tiny cell placed in her womb. He entered human flesh, to bring forgiveness and life and salvation for all. Now you receive Him into your body -- Him who came into the flesh for you! He enters you and transforms you, forgiving you, and bringing life and salvation.
How amazing! The Lord God forgives and renews you in the annunciation of His Gospel, whether preached by Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin, or by generations of pastors to you, His Church. And he forgives and renews as He continually enters human flesh, from that first moment as Gabriel spoke to Mary, to now at His Holy Eucharist, to the day when we see Him in His fulfilled glory.
Yes, in this advent season, you hear, receive, and celebrate your Savior whose birth was announced by the angel, even as He was conceived. You rejoice that He who came, comes even now in His Holy Word and Sacraments, and will come again, to gather you into His everlasting Kingdom. "Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!" Amen.