Luke 1:30-35 (Fourth Sunday in Advent—Series B)
“Keeping His Promise”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
December 24, 2017
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is from the Gospel lesson recorded in Luke, chapter 1:
30And the angel said to her, “Stop being afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And behold, you will conceive in your womb and will give birth to a son and you will call his name Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High and the Lord God will give to him the throne of David, his father, 33and he will be King over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be since I have not known a man?” 35And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. For this reason, the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God.”
Christmas is almost here—rejoice! As this Fourth Sunday in Advent turns to evening, the new liturgical day begins with the celebration of The Nativity of our Lord! We remember with joy the promises of God fulfilled in the gift of His Incarnate Son, the Messiah-Savior, Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, the Gospel promises of God can be overshadowed in this life by the burdens of the year. Life in this world messed up by sin is full of temptations, sorrows, disappointments, dangers, fears, and uncertainties. Sometimes, the events of life shake us to our core. We may begin to doubt God. We might call into question God’s faithfulness to His promises.
Bishop Roger Herft, former Anglican bishop of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia, tells of a Croatian refugee he met in mid-2001. This man had fled his war-torn country and arrived in Australia some years before. Since then his marriage had broken up and he lost custody of his children. To add to his agony, 24 members of his family, including his 84-year-old grandfather and four-month-old niece, had been killed during the most recent conflict in Croatia. He said to Bishop Herft, “Where is God when it really matters? I’ll tell you where. God has got fed up with us. He has put up a board saying, ‘Gone Fishing’, and has left us to live in this bloody mess” (reported in Lake Macquarie News, 19/12/01).
Perhaps you yourself have felt like that at some point, maybe not to the same degree, but at the very least questioning and wondering about God’s faithfulness to you as His son or daughter. Yes, we Christians do that. It’s not uncommon for us to want our “burning bush” from God. Maybe we want a Damascus road encounter like Saul where Jesus would speak to us in a bright light from heaven letting us in on the divine will of God. Then we could understand, then we could see the big picture as God sees it. Surely, a sign or two and we would regain our confidence in His promises!
But would we really? Wouldn’t we always want more, just one more assurance, just one more sign, just one more . . . ? Think of Gideon in Judges 6. “Then Gideon said to God, ‘If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said, behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.’ And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water. Then Gideon said to God, ‘Let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let me test just once more with the fleece. Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew.’ And God did so that night; and it was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew.” Or consider Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus, “The rich man also died and was buried,
and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead’” (Lk. 16:22-17:1 ESV).
We also have the Word of Promise. And that Word is enough; it is sufficient for us. All that Mary had was the Word of Promise spoken to her by Gabriel. That word was enough. “Let it be to me according to your word,” Mary said.
Through the centuries God had promised a Savior from sin and death. He promised, and expanded that promised, and reiterated that promise through the mouths of His prophets. They had the Word of Promise. And it didn’t always seem that God was all so faithful. Israel went away into captivity to Assyria. Judah was dragged off to captivity in Babylon. After Cyrus the Persian allowed the people of Israel to return home, they were still under Persian rule, followed by the Greeks, and then the Romans. When would the time be right? History was marching forward and all God’s people had to hold on to was His Word of Promise. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5 ESV).
At the time of salvation, God sent the angel Gabriel to a virgin named Mary. It was time to make good on His promise to save His people from their sins. The Seed of the woman who would crush the head of Satan, defeat death, atone for sin, and bring life eternal to all people would be God Himself made flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary, a virgin from Nazareth in Galilee. His name would be Jesus which means “Yahweh Saves.” He would be great and be the Son of the Most High. He would be THE descendent of King David who will rule over the house of David forever, the culmination of the Davidic line. And all this we know simply from God’s Word of Promise.
But it is a Word of Promise that is fulfilled! God kept the Promise over all those centuries. God the Son “was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.” He is the descendant of David according to the flesh, the Messiah, the King of kings and Lord of lords. And Jesus has saved His people from their sins. This Messiah-King, the Son of the Most High, was “enthroned” upon a cross, bearing the sins of the world. Your sins and mine were carried by Jesus so that He bled and died, securing our complete forgiveness by undergoing sin’s punishment for us. Since Jesus was punished in our place, God declares us “not guilty,” and because of the shed blood of Jesus, we are set free from sin and death to serve the Lord with joy and gladness.
By the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus comes to us and is gracious toward us as He claims us as His own in Baptism.He forgives our sins through the Gospel Word preached and read and heard in Absolution. In the Sacrament of the Altar, Jesus strengthens our faith in His Word of Promise as we receive forgiveness, life, and salvation in the eating and drinking of His own Body and Blood with bread and wine in His Supper. In the midst of life’s challenges with all its sorrows and disappointments and troubles, God continues to give us His own Word of Promise in Jesus Christ in the Gospel. And that is all we need because God did fulfill His promise for us in Jesus so that now, by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, we can to take God at His Word. He helps us to trust ever more firmly in Jesus as our Savior from sin and death so that we live more confidently in His promises for us now and for eternity.
With a confident hope and trust in Jesus, we remember the promises of God fulfilled in the gift of His Incarnate Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. We celebrate His faithfulness to us this past year, a faithfulness that has brought us through all the sorrows, disappointments, dangers, fears, and uncertainties of life. Our Lord and King’s Word has granted us forgiveness. It has strengthened our faith. His Word continues to empower us by the Spirit to look ahead with joy to the new creation that will be ours at Jesus’ Second Coming in glory. God’s Word of promise is sure and certain. It is enough; it is all you need for your life and salvation. In faith, hold tight to the Word as Mary did. Rejoice in the goodness and grace of God that is yours through His Son, our Savior and King, Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen” (Rom. 16:25-27 ESV).