March 25, 2020 (revised from 2014)
St. Luke 1:26-38
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It is nine months, to the day, until Christmas. It is fitting, in a normal year, that we should pause in our Lenten observance and contemplate the joy of our Lord’s conception in St. Mary, but it is nearly necessary in these crazy times of corona obsession and the onslaught of disapointments, cancellations, and fear. It is God’s good and gracious will, at all times, that those who are humbled and fatigued by the grief of penitence, who mourn deeply for their sins and fear the thought of facing God’s wrath, or who have otherwise been cut down and humbled, that they be consoled by the Word and promise of God whose Son, born of Mary, takes away the sins of the world.
The angel sent from God comforted Mary with these words. Let them comfort us also.
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 (Luke 1:30–31, NKJV).
God promised more than a Son to the Virgin. He promised, in that Son, pardon to the guilty, redemption to the captives, and to open the prison that bound us to sin. He announced the Kingdom of the Son and in that Kingdom the glory of the righteous and the reward of faith. The Name Jesus, Yah-weh saves, is the terror of Hell and the joy of Heaven.
Who, then, does not rejoice, even in his afflictions and sorrow, to think that the Holy Spirit overshadowed our sister and gave us a Savior? Not David. He knows how to rejoice. He knows where to find hope and comfort. He writes:
Remember the word to Your servant, Upon which You have caused me to hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, For Your word has given me life (Psalm 119:49–50, NKJV).
David had comfort in his afflictions by the Word of the Lord’s prophets. The promise gave him life. He had only received the word of promise. The Messiah had not yet been born, but he had certitude in his hope, grounded in faith, for he knew that it was not a mere prophet but God Himself who made the promise. Thus he was comforted and had joy.
If, then, David was sustained in his mind with the bare hope of this salvation which had not yet come to pass but which now has, what joy, what delight, is ours! For we hjave the manifestation of the thing itself. God has become a Man, one of us. He has taken up a Body to take up our cause. Who then does not rejoice in the face of such great news? Only he who does not believe that Jesus forgave what really ails us, as though we had some other more significant or pressing need or problem, or the one who mistakenly thinks that this world and this life is more important than it is. d
Repent and rejoice. Jesus lives. His word gives life. He comforts us in our afflictions. The Messiah has come. The Word of God is readily available to us. We do not have all the luxuries we had a week ago. The truth is we are mainly oblivious and took much for granted. But there we still enjoy a plenitude of grace and of good things. We have the Word! That is the most essential thing. We even have means to get to the Word to us in new and efficient ways. We can broadcast our services and we can still, for the time being, gather in careful, small groups to receive the Sacrament. We might be quarantined but we are not alone. We can easily contact our family and friends and talk to them. We can even view them while we talk to them. We have entertainment options galore and some can even work from home. But above and beyond all that: God is with us. We are not alone. He is Immanuel. He is a Man. He is with and for and in us.
Who has ever, in the history of men, received more of the pure doctrine than we have? Who has ever had such easy access to the Bible? Our forefathers rejoiced mightly when the printing press made Bible so plentiful that every village could have its own! Soon after that every house could have one, then every person, and then multiple copies per person. Now we can have the Bible on our devices, piped into our homes as audio or made into screen savers. Not only have great hymns, like that of Paul Gerhardt, been recorded but we don’t even have to own the recording to listen. We can do it on Youtube, on demand. We can listen to Lutheran Public Radio and Issues, etc.
Do we dare to grumble because we have do not more luxuries than we do or because Satan is arrayed against us or because we do not know the immediate future? God forbid! Rather, let us rejoice.
The fullness of the time is come. God has sent forth His Son. He, the Son of Mary, God in our Flesh, is the Savior of all men. He is with us.
I do not think it is wrong to consider these current conditions as Divine chastisement for decadence and depravation, for the murder of babies in their mother’s wombs and sexual deviancy. Salvation is announced to the lost and they despise it. Life is promised to the hopeless and they neglect it. God comes to men and they ignore Him. But there is a chastisement here for us as well. Have we, who have been handed the pure doctrine of grace, who had easy access to the Bible and frequent opportunities for the Sacrament, did we not take it for granted? Did we not find it only one thing among many things on our busy schedules? Did we not start to think these things were our by right and that we are, in fact, beggars?
Let us repent. Let us also be gladdened by the Word of the angel to Mary. This is the proper course for us. He who has first been humbled by pious grief, who mourns for the violence and lies and immorality all about him and, most significantly, for his own part in it, his participation in it, he alone is ready for grace. Happy for him, and only for him, is the angel’s message to Mary. For he, full of repentant joy, receives the message of the Lord concerning His Son and rejoices. He weeps and laments that he is hindered and harassed with so many evils, that he has suffered and caused so much harm by his sins, that he has oft neglected the Word and the means of grace, and yet he also hears with great gladness of his Liberator: Jesus, Yahweh come to save, Immanuel. He rejoices in Him who takes away the sins of the world because he has sins in need of taking away. He rejoices in Him who puts an end to misery because he has and knows misery and has caused misery. He receives the endless blessedness give to the miserable, the riches bestowed upon beggars, the righteousness of God Himself which is declared only to sinners.
Blessed, then, are you who mourn. You shall be comforted. Blessed are you whose hearts have been humbled by pious grief, who repent. You shall be gladdened. Be gladdened this day by this good word: You have found favor with God. Unto you is born a Savior. His Name shall be called Jesus.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Indebted to “The Mystery of the Incarnation” Guarric Abbot of Igniac as found in J. M. Neale, Mediæval Preachers and Mediæval Preaching: A Series of Extracts, Translated from the Sermons of the Middle Ages, Chronologically Arranged: With Notes and an Introduction (London: J. & C. Mozley;J. Masters & Co., 1856), 151–153.