Saturday, March 24, 2007

Sermon for the Annunciation of Our Lord

The Annunciation of Our Lord (March 25, 2007)
“God Does the Impossible” (Luke 1:26-38; Hebrews 10:4-10)

Those old crooners Andy Williams and Perry Como both once sang, “It’s impossible—tell the sun to leave the sky, it’s just impossible—ask a baby not to cry, it’s just impossible.”

You can probably think of other things that are impossible...including someone like Mary getting pregnant. I mean, things like this just don’t happen in our world. Biologically, it’s impossible. But our Gospel reading today tells us that it did happen. The angel Gabriel visited Mary of Nazareth and told her that God’s grace was shining down upon her. “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you,” he said to her. But instead of responding, “And also with you,” as would have been appropriate, she apparently was dumbstruck wondering what this was strange visitation was all about.

And so the angel reassures her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” And he goes on to tell her that this child to be conceived in her womb would be the long awaited Savior of the world. That’s why he was given the name Jesus, because it means, “The Lord saves.”

But why are we talking about this during Lent? This sounds more like a story that ought to be retold during Advent. Well, first of all, we celebrate the birthday of our Savior on December 25. And if we believe that the moment the Word of the Lord from the angel came to Mary was the moment she conceived, then nine months before December 25 is today, March 25th, the day on which we commemorate the day when the angel Gabriel came to Mary and announced that she would be the mother of the Savior.

Second, Lent is an appropriate time to talk about this. Advent and Christmas always have their eye on Lent and Easter. The death and resurrection of Jesus are the culmination of his conception and birth. So let’s talk about the Annunciation today, since the Son of God had to become a man in order for him to be the right kind of sacrifice for us at the cross.

That Which is Impossible

In the Old Testament, God had given the people of Israel a system of sacrifices to cover the sins which they had committed. They had to come to the tabernacle and later the temple with bulls and goats and sheep. The priests would lay their hands on the heads of the animals, symbolically transferring the sins of the people on to the animals. And then, the animals were sacrificed. But these sacrifices had to be done over and over again, day after day and year after year. Why? Because these sacrifices were only a shadow of the once-for-all sacrifice to come. And so the author of Hebrews writes, as we heard in today’s Epistle lesson, that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”

But that’s not the only thing that is impossible. In our natural sinful condition, it’s also impossible for us to do God’s will. Our sinful nature does not love God. In fact, St. Paul says that “the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” (Rom. 8:7 NIV) The sinful mind hates God and does not like him telling us what we are supposed to do and not to do.

If that’s the case...and it is...then you would think that it would be impossible for sinners to be saved. You would think that it is impossible for God to love someone so unlovable because of their disobedience to his holy will...

...except for the fact that God has done that which is only possible for him.

God Has Done the Impossible

God has done the impossible. He broke into time and space. The infinite became finite. A child was conceived in the womb of a woman who was never touched by a man. A body was prepared there for the Son of God. A body was prepared for him to be the Savior of sinners, because of God’s great love for us. The author of our Epistle lesson says, “when Christ came into the world, he said”...and here he quotes Psalm 40 where the Son of God says... “ ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, “Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written in the scroll of the book.”’”

Now, one man might be able to die in place of another. Every so often you read about someone giving up their life to save someone. For example, back in 1943 during World War II, the SS Dorchester was steaming across the North Atlantic with 903 troops and 4 chaplains on board. At 12:00 am on February 3, a torpedo from a German U-Boat ripped into the ship.

“She’s going down!” the men cried, scrambling for the lifeboats.

A young GI crept up to one of the chaplains. “I’ve lost my lifejacket,” he said.

“Take this,” the chaplain said, handing the soldier his jacket. Before the ship sank, the other three chaplains had given their lifejackets to another man. The four men then linked arms and joined in prayer as the Dorchester went down. Each lost their lives that day, but were posthumously award the Distinguished Service Cross. And in 1948, the US Postal Service issued a stamp with the words "These Immortal Chaplains" above their faces.

Yes, it’s possible for one man to die in place of another, yet even that does not happen very often.

Moreover, one man’s life would not be sufficient for all sinners of all time and places. Psalm 49:7 says, “No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him.” Only God can satisfy his own justice. And a death has to occur, since the Bible says, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Heb. 9:22) And so God became Man in the flesh of Jesus Christ.

And in that flesh, Jesus came to do the will of God (Heb. 10:8). That will was to live perfectly according to the Law of God as our substitute. That will was to die on the cross for the sins of all the perfect, unblemished Lamb of God, shedding his blood to take away our sin and the sin of the whole world.

By the way, I mentioned that our Epistle reading today from the book of Hebrews quotes Psalm 40. If you were to read Psalm 40 in the Old Testament, it wouldn’t be exactly the same. That’s because the authors of the New Testament usually quoted from the Greek Version of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint, written about 200 years before Christ. So in our New Testament book of Hebrews it says, “A body you have prepared for me.” However, in the original Hebrew it says, “you have given me an open ear,” or literally, “ears you have dug for me.”

Now don’t lose any sleep over this difference. Think about it. “Ears you have dug for me.” The Creator takes his finger and prepares a body, like a sculptor molding and modeling clay. He prepares a body, including and especially ears. He dug out an ear canal in that little baby growing in the belly of his mother. He opens his Son’s ears so that his Word can be heard, trusted, and obeyed...doing the will of his Heavenly Father in our place.

Also, when the angel brought God’s Word to Mary, you might say that God “dug out” Mary’s ears. He opened her ears so that she could have faith in the impossible thing that he was going to do for her and for all people. “Nothing will be impossible with God,” the angel said. And Mary responded, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your Word.”

Mary was enabled to be the Lord’s servant because of the Suffering Servant who was conceived in her womb, whom she bore nine months later in Bethlehem, and who thirty years later was nailed to the cross outside Jerusalem. That body prepared in Mary’s womb also rose in victory from the tomb. That body prepared in Mary’s womb appeared to his followers in the Upper Room. The fear and unbelief that had clogged up Thomas’ ears were then dug out by Christ’s almighty Word. “Put your finger here and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Hearing his Lord’s Word and seeing the risen body that once was in Mary’s womb and a rock-hewn tomb, Thomas worshiped him and declared, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:27-28)

It’s impossible for us to believe and be saved. In our sinful condition it’s impossible for us to worship the Savior as our Lord and our God. But God has done the impossible for us. He prepared a body for his Son in the Virgin’s womb, and that body always did the will of his Father...for us...including suffering and dying for your sins and mine. And now, God digs out our ears...he opens them to hear his Word, so that we might hear and trust in the work of the Suffering Servant, and so that we can say, like his mother did, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your Word.” “The power of the Most High overshadows” us. He forgives our sins and pours down grace and mercy upon us. He allows us to eat and drink of that body and blood once prepared in Mary’s womb. And where once it would have been impossible for us to love and serve God, he makes it possible for us to be his servants through the power of his Spirit working in us.

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