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|BETHLEHEM LUTHERAN CHURCH: | Mason City, Iowa USA | Pastor Mark Lavrenz|
Dec 24, 2017 SERMON ARCHIVE
She was a little girl, fourteen, maybe fifteen, years old. Still young by our standards, though old enough to get married in her time. She was betrothed to Joseph; the vows were made, and soon they would be fully man and wife. Mary was well-deserving; she was wise and devout, a maiden who had kept herself pure in her wait for marriage.
She lived in a little town, far from where anything ever happens. Nazareth wasn't exactly Jerusalem, you know. In Jerusalem, you had the king's palace and frequent visits from Roman commanders. You had the temple-the House of God-where God dwelt with His people in that Most Holy Place.
There was none of that in Nazareth, that small town by the Sea of Galilee, a community with a reputation about as glamorous as the drying fish that had been netted the day before.
She was a little girl in a little town, far away from where anything ever happens.
He was an extraordinary visitor with an extraordinary message. His name was Gabriel, and he had been sent by God to a virgin betrothed to Joseph-a virgin named Mary in the little town of Nazareth. His extraordinary message began like this: "Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women."
Read through the Scriptures, and you'll continually find that people were troubled by the sight of angels. They tended to shrink away or fall down on their faces and play dead; these heavenly messengers had come straight from the glorious presence of God, and the righteousness that clung to them was enough to terrify sinners.
Mary was troubled, too, but hold on: She was not troubled by Gabriel's appearance. She was troubled at his greeting, and she considered what manner of greeting it was. What was it that was so troubling for this devout maiden to hear? Was it "Rejoice"? Probably not.
"Highly favored one" that's a bit unusual and could leave her puzzled; so could "blessed are you among women." But troubled? For my money, I'd guess that the most troubling part of the greeting is this: "The Lord is with you."
How could the Lord be with Mary? I mean, He's omnipresent, I know. But that sort of salutation meant that He was not just present out there somewhere, but that He was present there to found. Maybe seen. To be witnessed, somehow.
"The Lord is with you" is the sort of thing you say to someone at the temple in Jerusalem, where God was dwelling behind the curtain. He was pointedly there. The Lord was with you at the temple because you had come to where the Lord promised to be.
But this wasn't Jerusalem and the temple. This was Nazareth and Mary's home. The Lord be with you," said Gabriel-here and now. But how could the Lord be with her?
Gabriel filled in the blanks: "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give 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."
That was the message. Mary was going to be a mom. Mary did note one obstacle to motherhood. It was not an doubt-filled objection, but it was a hindrance all the same: "How can this be, since I do not know a man?"
Gabriel continued: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren."
Ah, that answered that. Mary was going to be the mother of God. You see, the angel wasn't kidding when he says, "The Lord is with you." Gabriel wasn't speaking in general terms, like, "Mary, I hope you know that the Lord has a special place for you in His heart."
As the messenger of God, he spoke God's specific, concrete, powerful Word. The Lord was with Mary, as really and as concretely as the cloud of glory that overshadowed the temple before descending into the Holy of Holies. He was with her, all right: By the Word of God that Gabriel proclaimed, the power of the Highest overshadowed her.
Suddenly, the Lord was with Mary: The Creator of heaven and earth was a single cell caught on the wall of her womb. He would divide into two cells, then four, then eight. He would develop a beating heart, head, fingers and toes. By the promise of God, Mary had received the body and blood of her Lord Jesus Christ. God had become man. The Word was made flesh to dwell among Gods people. He would develop in Mary's womb until He was born in Bethlehem. He would be called the Son of God.
It's just like the Lord promised long ago through His prophet Isaiah: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel" (Is. 7:14). Immanuel. When the Savior came, He would be called Immanuel, "God with us."
No wonder Gabriel said to Mary, "The Lord is with you." Immanuel had arrived, as promised. Did she have any objections? If Mary weren't so devout and accepting of God's Word, she just might have had.
You know maybe one of those "reason rules religion" sorts of arguments: "It's impossible. God becoming man wasn't going to happen: You can't put the infinite God into a finite human body. It was impossible. You sure can't put the infinite God into a single-celled zygote. It's ludicrous, unthinkable. God is God and man is man. Creator and creation, and never the two shall meet."
Then again, there were some practical considerations: Mary was now a young woman expecting an out-of-wedlock child. This did not make her eligible for additional financial aid; it qualified her for worldly scorn, Joseph's skepticism, even stoning and death if anyone wanted to press the letter of the law. She was still a virgin who had done nothing wrong, so you'd think it would work to tell the truth.
Except that the truth was, "I'm pregnant because the Son of God is conceived in me by the Holy Ghost." Right. Everyone would believe that one.
No, it was not going to be an easy life for Mary. She would be the object of scorn, whether as the expectant mother or the grieving one entrusted to John at the foot of the cross. She would be at the top of the devil's list; he'd been waiting a few millennia for the Seed of the woman, and he will do his best to pierce her heart.
Still she exclaimed, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word." It was a remarkable statement of faith, this acceptance of God's plan whatever the consequences. You see, faith is a gift of God, and she could make this confession because the Lord was with her.
Let the world scoff and scorn; it knew humanity in the twistedness of sin, but the world could not comprehend a God who would become flesh to sacrifice and serve. Let the devil rage in his jealousy; ever since Eden, he'd tried to worm his way close to man and woman. But he could never become man.
But here in Mary's womb, God had become man; and the Word-made-flesh would crush the devil's head, once for all. He was not just there to be there; He was there for a purpose-to go to the cross for the redemption of the world.
Don't worry Mary; you are highly favored. Many will mock you, but all generations will call you blessed. Often when we see you in the Scriptures, you will be troubled because of your sinless Son-like when He was lost for three days as a young boy in Jerusalem, or when you stand at the foot of His cross. Your heart will be pierced, too; but a broken and contrite heart God does not despise. Don't be afraid, Mary: The Lord is with you.
So here you are, the morning of Christmas Eve, in Mason City, Iowa. Great place to live, but not exactly New York or L.A. Our meger electoral votes don't get us a whole lot of political respect on the national level. And, frankly, anyone who lives west of the Mississippi thinks that we're mispronouncing "Idaho."
But here you are, at the corner of Fourth and Delaware-up the street from the Post Office, across the street from Fareway, across the street from a second hand store. This is not the most glamorous spot in the world.
And right here, a messenger of God makes an extraordinary declaration. No, he isn't an angel, just departed from the glorious throne of God; he's flesh and blood just like you, robed in a plain black and white set of robes to draw attention away from him to the Word of God he speaks. And the extraordinary Word that he says to you, again and again, is this: "The Lord be with you."
The Lord be with you: These are pretty much the same words that Gabriel spoke, that troubled Mary so. They may not trouble you at all. This may not be a good thing.
It may not be a good thing because it's a symptom of the age in which we live. Contemporary religion doesn't like to be pinned down. On the one hand, forget laws about sin, right and wrong; those are too constricting. It's up to you to make up your own code of behavior, what is right and wrong for you personally.
On the other hand, keep God good and general and not-too-identified; that way, it's up to you to determine what He's like. It's also up to you to determine where He is for you.
So if you say "The Lord be with you" to your average somewhat-spiritual person, they will respond, "I know that. I know he's here." But if you ask them to point, specifically, to where He is, you might get a funny look. God is considered to be very abstract and vague these days.
This is not at all what these words mean when you hear them from the pastor here. "The Lord be with you" is not a wish, but a statement of awesome truth: The Lord is with you. Concretely, bodily with you. He is as with you here and now as He was with Mary as He developed in her womb. He is located, findable, here. With you.
The Word made flesh dwells among you; where the Word is proclaimed, the Word is present. The Son of the Highest, who stood His body in the Jordan river to be baptized by John, is present in the Sacrament of Baptism-where you are washed clean by water and the Word.
The Son of God is present at the Lord's Supper, saying, "Take and eat, this is My body take and drink, this is My blood, for the forgiveness of sins." The Lord is with you, and you can point to Him. Where?
Point to the words of Absolution coming out of the pastor's mouth. Point to the font. Point to the altar.
Where the Word is proclaimed, so is the Word-made-flesh present. Do not worry that you can't see Him. Those who journeyed to the temple in Jerusalem could not look behind the curtain, but that did not mean that God was absent.
Those who watched Mary's belly grow couldn't see that the Baby was the Son of God, but He was all the same. You've got something better than what your eyes see: You've got His promises.
He is with you as really and bodily as He was with the virgin Mary. This means, of course, that you will hear the same objections that Mary likely heard. Even from fellow Christians, you will hear the "reason rules religion" argument: "Jesus can't be present in water or bread or wine. Don't look for Jesus in those Sacraments; look for Him in your heart."
To this we respond with the words of the angel Gabriel to Mary: "With God nothing will be impossible." It is Christmas tonight, dear friends, when we peer with wonder into the manger at Bethlehem, point to the Baby and say, "Behold the Son of God, present with His people."
This is indeed a great and mighty wonder; rejoice that this miracle is continued wherever His Word is preached and His Sacraments administered according to His Word. By these means of grace, the Lord is with you-just as much as He was with Mary.
Christ is Risen.
|Christ Is Risen|
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