Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent (December 23, 2012)

Wordle: Untitled

“Miraculous Babies…Miraculous Faith” (Luke 1:39-45)

It’s hard not to marvel at the miracle of life when you see a precious little baby.  We can explain it all with scientific language, I suppose.  But that takes all the wonder out of the miracle of childbirth.  God takes two unique individuals and creates a new unique person.  When a mother is expecting, I don’t think she waxes lyrically on the biological explanation of what is going on inside her.  Instead, she is full of love and joy, of hope and expectation … those familiar Advent themes.  She dreams about what is in store for her and her baby.  What will he look like?  Will he have his father’s nose?  His mother’s eyes?  What will her personality be like?  What kind of a student will he be?  What will she be when she grows up?
Elizabeth and Mary probably had some of those same questions about their babies … although they had been given a bit more of a divine preview into the futures of their children.  The angel Gabriel had paid a visit to Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah and revealed that their baby would prepare the way for the coming of the Lord, calling people to repentance.  Gabriel had visited Mary and revealed that her baby was going to be the Son of God.  God also gave these babies their names … John and Jesus.
While we often speak of the miracle of childbirth, the fact is that it’s really not a miracle.  As wonderful and amazing as it is, this is the natural way God planned for babies to be made.  In the case of Elizabeth and Mary, however, God interrupted the way things naturally occur.  This is the definition of a miracle.  Elizabeth was barren and far past the years that women are able to conceive.  Mary had not yet been with a man.  Her Baby was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit.  John and Jesus are TRUE “miracle babies."
Two miraculous babies.  Three examples of miraculous faith.  Not faith stirred up by the human will.  Faith stirred up by the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God, the promise of a Savior, the greeting of the mother of the Savior.  By nature, we humans are unable to believe “by our own reason or strength” or in any way come to God.  God comes to us and gives us faith to believe and rejoice in his promises.
John heard Mary's greeting and he leaps for joy in his mother's womb, even before he is born.  The angel Gabriel had told John’s father Zechariah: “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb” (Luke 2:15).  Little baby John got all excited that the Savior was paying him and his mom a visit!
Elizabeth hears Mary's greeting and she, too, is filled with the Holy Spirit.  She cries out, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  It was revealed to Elizabeth that the baby in Mary’s womb is the Lord, Yahweh, God in the flesh.  Like Elizabeth, we too honor Mary highly as the Mother of our Lord, the God-Bearer.  Our Lutheran Confessions say that she is “worthy of the most ample honors.”  We are to follow her example of faith and humility (Apology XXI.27).  At the same time, in the presence of the Lord in Mary’s womb, Elizabeth recognizes her own sinful nature.  She knows she isn't worthy of this visit from her Lord.  Yet God graciously comes to her with Good News.  The Messiah that her people had long awaited was soon to be born.  The promises to the patriarchs and prophets of old are all coming to fulfillment in the baby in the woman right in front of her.
Mary also was given miraculous faith.  As her relative said of her, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”  Put yourself in Mary’s sandals.  Would YOU have believed the angel’s words?  No man involved here.  But you’re still going to have a baby.  God is going to do something that he’s never done before and never will do again.  A unique birth.  The only-begotten Son of God.  In you.  Don’t be afraid.  You have found favor with God.  Grace.  Undeserved love.  An undeserved honor.  But the highest honor any mere mortal has ever received.  Could this be possible?  Gabriel had the answer: “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).  And Mary believed. “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord,” she said to Gabriel. “Let it be to me according to your word.”  Mary believed, received God’s Word in her ears and her heart, and the Word was made Flesh in her womb.
Both Elizabeth’s and Mary’s situations seemed impossible.  For Elizabeth, it was shameful to be childless.  That’s the way it was back then.  You were thought to be under God’s curse.  For Mary, she faced the threat of suspicion and slander.  Word gets around, you know.  People talk.  Rumors followed Jesus into adulthood, the Jewish leaders even questioning his parentage and his mother’s virtue (John 8:41).  This was more than just an Eighth Commandment issue, gossiping and refusing to explain things in the kindest way.  This was a First and Second Commandment issue … refusing to believe in Christ as God and defaming his holy name.
Elizabeth and Mary faced challenges from the sinful people around them.  They were sinners in need of a Savior, too.  Recall Mary’s song, the Magnificat, where she sings, “My Spirit rejoices in God MY Savior” (Luke 1:47).  But God visited them to lift them up, to comfort them, to bless them, to forgive them through the birth of Jesus.  John was born to prepare the way for Jesus, calling people to repentance.  Jesus was born to die for us, going from the cradle to the cross, bearing our real guilt and shame to earn forgiveness for our sins, to bring us back to God, and to rise again in victory over sin, death, and the dark powers of hell.
There are situations in your life that seem impossible.  It could be a health problem.  It could be family conflict.  You face challenges from sinful people around you.  You face challenges from your own sinful heart.  You bear shame for something you have done.  Many people know about it.  Or only you.  Could be recent.  Could be something in your past.  You wonder if it’s possible for God to truly forgive you, for God to love you.  The last thing you feel like doing is leaping for joy.
When your world seems dark and joyless, remember that Jesus has broken into your dark world as the Babe of Bethlehem.  As a sinner, you do not deserve a visit from him.  But you have found favor with God in Christ Jesus.  He comes now to lift you up, to comfort you, to bless you.  He comes to forgive your sins and remove your real guilt and shame.  He visits you today in the bread and wine which are his Body and Blood.  And when you begin to doubt any of this, remember that NOTHING is impossible with God.  He comes to give YOU miraculous faith through this Good News you hear today.  You cannot stir this faith up on your own.  In and of yourself, you have no reason or strength to believe in Jesus.  But the Holy Spirit has overshadowed YOU.  Just as Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary, God the Holy Spirit comes to you in the Gospel and conceives faith in your heart to believe in Jesus Christ your Lord and come to him.  And blessed are you who believe in the Savior Jesus.  Blessed are you who believe that there has been be a fulfillment of what was spoken to you from the Lord.
A blessed Advent to you … only one more day!  Advent will soon be over, but we will continue to watch and wait with hope and joy for the glorious Second Advent of Jesus.
And in case you will be out of town the next few days, allow me to wish you an early Merry Christmas!  Wherever you may be this week, celebrate with joy the miraculous First Advent of the Son of Mary, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, your Savior.

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