Advent 4 2020
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
December 20, 2020
2 Sam. 7:1-11, 16, Romans 16:25-27, Luke 1:26-38

Sermons online: 
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Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com 
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
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            If you ever visit Dresden, Germany you cannot help but be awed by the towering dome of the Frauenkirche, The Church of Our Lady with a big statue of Martin Luther out front.  This is a church with interesting history.  The original church was built in the 11th Century and then rebuilt in 1727 after the Reformation as a sign to the prince that even though he converted to Catholicism the people of Dresden remained Lutheran.  The 315 foot high dome collapsed on the morning of February 15, 1945 after two days of firebombing Dresden by Allied forces. The stone pillars holding up the dome became so hot they exploded destroying much of the building.  The church remained in ruins for 47 years as a war memorial during the time of Communist rule of East Germany.  In 1992, after reunification, rebuilding began. Builders used as many of the stones from the rubble piles as possible back in their original positions.  You can see these black stones amidst the lighter yellowish stones.

            Lots of St. Paul, St. John, St. Peter, and the like, but no St. Mary. Why?  I would guess that it would seem “too Catholic”.  And Lutherans, over the years, have desired not to look “too Catholic” even though we are reformed catholics.  For a long time we resisted making the sign of the cross or having a crucifix because it would seem, “too Catholic.”

Also interesting is the name; Frauenkirche, German for “The Church of Our Lady”.  It is Our Lady Lutheran Church.  It is named after Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Now the Frauenkirche was named when it was a Roman Catholic Church before the Reformation and kept the name afterwards.  You do not find too many Lutheran Churches with names like Our Lady or St. Mary.  In the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod I searched but did not find one St. Mary Lutheran. 

            Lots of St. Paul, St. John, St. Peter, and the like, but no St. Mary. Why?  I would guess that it would seem “too Catholic”.  And Lutherans, over the years, have desired not to look “too Catholic” even though we are reformed catholics.  For a long time we resisted making the sign of the cross or having a crucifix because it would seem, “too Catholic.”

            And I can certainly understand that after the Reformation Lutherans wanted to be clear that they have a different understanding of many things, including Mary. The cult of Mary in the Roman Catholic Church has grown since the Reformation.  A few years ago I was at a Catholic retreat center in Illinois and they had a parade with a statue of Mary on a bier carried on the shoulders of four men. It can seem that devotion to Mary starts to supplant devotion to God.  And there are a number of teachings in the Roman Catholic Church about Mary that are not in the Bible but have become dogma; teachings you must believe in order to be Catholic.  That Mary was conceived without sin, that she was a virgin her entire life, that she ascended into heaven in her body. 

            Now, while Roman Catholics can err in elevating Mary to almost being God, Lutherans can err by ignoring Mary and not giving her enough honor; not viewing her as a great hero of the faith alongside others in the Old Testament and New Testament.  We certainly should have a St. Mary Lutheran Church somewhere in our synod. 

            Like other Bible heroes, Mary is not without fault.  It would seem that there were times that Mary and her other children tried to rescue Jesus from Himself.  She likely did not always fully grasp what Jesus was about.  Mary has flaws the same as every other Biblical character except Jesus.  We know this because Mary is a descendant of Adam and Eve and she has original sin just like Moses and David, Peter, James and John, and just like you and me.  Mary is a sinner.  But this is what makes Mary a remarkable example of faith.  Mary believes the angel Gabriel.  In a Martin Luther Advent sermon on the annunciation he writes:

            “There is such richness and goodness in this Nativity that if we should see and deeply understand, we should be dissolved in perpetual joy.  Wherefore Saint Bernard declared there are here three miracles: that God and man should be joined in this Child; that a mother should remain a virgin; that Mary should have such faith as to believe that this mystery would be accomplished in her.  The last is not the least of the three.  The Virgin birth is a mere trifle for God; that God should become man is a greater miracle; but most amazing of all is that this maiden should credit the announcement that she, rather than some other virgin, had been chosen to be the mother of God.  She did indeed inquire of the angel, “How can these things be?” and he answered, “Mary, you have asked too high a question for me, but the Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you and you will not know yourself how it happens.”  Had she not believed, she could not have conceived.  She held fast to the word of the angel because she had become a new creature.  Even so must we be transformed and renewed in heart from day to day.  Otherwise Christ is born in vain.  This is the word of the prophet: “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6).  This is for us the hardest point, not so much to believe that He is the son of the Virgin and God himself, as to believe that this Son of God is ours.  [1]

            Mary heard the message from God and she believed it.  Luke 1:38 (ESV) 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. [2] 

            Mary is a wonderful example of simple, trusting faith even in the midst of things she does not understand.  There are many things about God that you do not understand and still you trust His promise to you in your baptism.  God has chosen you to be His.  God has marked you as His own child.  Jesus takes your sin and your guilt and trades them for His righteousness, His holiness and His blessedness.  Jesus declares through the mouth of the pastor, “I forgive you all your sins.”  Jesus gives to you His own Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sins.  This is His message to you.  This is His promise to you.  Jesus declares you are forgiven.  Jesus has chosen you to live with Him forever in the Heavenly City.  Believe it.

            There is great danger lurking when you elevate your own reason and understanding to be greater than the mysteries of God.  Just because you do not understand something does not mean that it is not true.  I do not understand how Jesus’ Body and Blood are present in the bread and wine of Holy Communion.  This troubled me when I was at seminary.  But then I realized I do not need to understand because I know it is true because Jesus said it is true.  I know Jesus has chosen me because He promised that to me in my baptism. 

            Meditate this week and throughout the year on Gabriel’s words to Mary and Mary’s humble faith.  Treasure Mary as one of the great cloud of witnesses that encourages us to… Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV) 1 … lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. [3]

            Each week as you confess in the creed that Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, remember what a great example of faith Mary is to you.  Marvel not only at the miracles of the Virgin birth, and the incarnation, but ponder also the greater miracle of Mary believing that she was chosen by God. And know that you too have been chosen by God.  Amen. 

[1] Martin Luther’s Christmas Book, Roland H. Bainton, 1948, pp. 15-16

[2]  The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[3]  The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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