pinecone_16521cAdvent 4 2017
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
December 24, 2017
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, Romans 16:25-27, Luke 1:26-38

Sermons online:
Text:                            pastorjud.org
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:    bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

Here we are on the cusp of Christmas Day.  We have gotten all the way through the four candles on the Advent wreath and the 24 days on the Advent calendar.  We are nearly to Christmas.  The wait is almost over.  But… we are not quite there; not until this evening.  So before we get to Christmas, let’s back up.  Let’s back things up nine months to March 25.  The day the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would give birth to the Savior Jesus.

Now the dates are interesting and a source of much discussion and debate.  I had always heard that the reason Christmas is on December 25 is that was the date of a pagan sun festival and the Christians were trying to make Christianity more compatible to the pagans in Europe.  The problem is that there is no early evidence of this being the reason and only a passing note 1200 years later that might suggest it.  But it is a popular idea online and in the media because many want to discredit Christianity by tying it to pagan roots.

There is evidence against this theory in that there are records of December 25 being set as Christmas as early as 200 AD; well before Constantine converted and legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire.  This was a time of persecution and Christians would certainly not be adapting pagan practices.

Now, there is another possibility that doesn’t get as much press that seems to make more sense and have more evidence.[1]

It was thought in the early church that prophets died either on the day they were born or the day they were conceived.  The date of Jesus’ crucifixion was calculated to have occurred on what we now know as March the 25th, in spring, at Passover.  This was set as the day of Christ’s conception and became the day to observe the Festival of the Annunciation; the day when the Angel Gabriel announced Jesus’ conception to Mary. Nine months later we celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25.

So we back up nine months and that brings us to our Gospel reading today.  Luke 1:26-27 (ESV) 26 In the sixth month [of Elizabeth’s pregnancy with John the Baptist] the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.[2]

As Lutherans we are reformed Roman Catholics.  In the Reformation Luther did not invent something new, but went back to an older form of the Catholic Church before many errors were introduced.  So we have a lot in common with Roman Catholics.  And since we look and sound a lot like Roman Catholics, sometimes Lutherans have a tendency to do things, or not do things in order to not look “too Catholic” to emphasize that we are not Roman Catholics.  Sometimes Lutherans have issues with making the sign of the cross because it feels “too Catholic”, or chanting, or processing with the crucifix, or private confession, or having communion each Sunday.  These are thought to look “too Catholic”.

Lutherans are often guilty of ignoring Mary and not talking about Mary enough.  Mary is, after all, the Mother of God.  She had God the Son in her womb and gave birth to God in Flesh and named Him Jesus, Jeshua, which means YHWH Saves; the Lord Saves.

Something else that can strike us as “too Catholic” is talking about the Virgin Mary.  The Roman Catholic Church has elevated Mary beyond what is Biblical.  They teach the perpetual virginity of Mary.  They teach that Mary was conceived without sin in the Immaculate Conception declared to be church dogma in 1854.  Also, that Mary ascended in heaven in her body in the Assumption of Mary declared to be church dogma in 1950.  There has also been a movement afoot in Rome for centuries to declare Mary to be Co-Redemptrix.

But while the Roman Catholic Church has gone too far in the veneration of Mary, Lutherans are often guilty of ignoring Mary and not talking about Mary enough.  Mary is, after all, the Mother of God.  She had God the Son in her womb and gave birth to God in Flesh and named Him Jesus, Jeshua, which means YHWH Saves; the Lord Saves.  Mary nursed Immanuel, God with us, at her breast.  Mary is blessed by God.  Mary is indeed the Blessed Virgin Mary and it is quite okay to call her that.

When Mary visits her pregnant, elderly relative, Elizabeth declares to Mary, Luke 1:42-45 (ESV) 42   …“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” [3]

Mary says of herself in the Magnificat, Luke 1:48-49 (ESV) 48 … For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me….[4]

Mary gets it.  Mary understands.  Mary knows she is blessed not because of who she is or what she has done, but because of what God has done for her.  Mary trusts God.  After Gabriel has told her what will happen she trustingly declares, Luke 1:38 (ESV) 38 … “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” … [5]

As far as we know, Mary was a normal, young lady from the small, Galilean hill town of Nazareth, and yet we can learn great things from the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Mary is blessed because of what of God has done for her.

In this life we are far too often concerned about who is better than whom.  Who is the best at school or at sports?  Who is the most popular?  Who makes the most money?  Who is the strongest, fastest, thinnest, best looking?  Who has the most attractive mate?  Who has then nicest car; nicest house; newest cell phone?  One of my children once stacked up the presents under the tree to see who had the most.  Far too often we want to compare ourselves with others to see how we measure up.

So learn a lesson from the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Your status, your value, your dignity do not come from anything that you have done; it comes from what God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, has done for you.

Your identity comes from being baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Your value comes from being made holy and perfect through the blood of Jesus shed on the cross for you.  Your dignity comes from being forgiven and knowing you will rise from the dead on the last day to live eternally with the Lord.  You are blessed because Jesus died for you and you have faith in God through the Holy Spirit.

The Blessed Virgin Mary’s statement, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word,” should also be your declaration and mine.  When you are faced with difficulties in life; when you are tempted to take a sinful shortcut; when you are tempted to give in to the ways of the devil, the world, and your own sinful nature declare this in opposition, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

Mary receives this incredible message from Gabriel.  Luke 1:30-33 (ESV)  30 …“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 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, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”[6]

It is interesting that we don’t hear anything about the angel other than his name.  No description of how he arrives, what he looks like; nothing.  The focus is completely on the message he brings.

The Blessed Virgin Mary hears the message and inquires.  “Luke 1:34 (ESV) 34 … “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”[7]  Mary does not think she has to take charge of this.  She doesn’t start thinking of how she can make it happen like Abraham and Sarah with Hagar.  She simply asks, “How will this be?”

The angel Gabriel brings God’s word to Mary, changes her identity, and the Blessed Virgin Mary accepts the role she is given by God despite the shame this will bring on herself and Joseph and their families.

The Lord has spoken to you through the words of the pastor and changed your identity; “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  You have been set apart by God to do His will in the world; to love and serve your neighbor despite any shame it might bring you.  Declare with the Blessed Virgin Mary, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

Amen

[1][1] https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/new-testament/how-december-25-became-christmas/

[2]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[3]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[4]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[5]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[6]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[7]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

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