Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Fourth Sunday in Advent

We had to cancel service this Sunday due to weather. I HATE cancelling, especially on Sunday morning, but God-willing we will be able to receive our Lord's gifts in Word and Sacrament this Christmas Eve and Christmas and again next Sunday. Our Lord is an ever-giving God. As Advent comes to a close, let us prepare for the gift of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The folowing is the sermon that would have been preached on Sunday:

Fourth Sunday in Advent (B)
December 21, 2008
Text: Luke 1:26-38

“For nothing will be impossible with God,” declares the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:37; ESV). His words are as necessary for us as they were for the Virgin Mary who that day learned that she would be the mother of the God-Man, the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ. She would not conceive Him in the natural way, for God Himself would be the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit would be the agent of conception. Mary would remain a virgin. It is a mystery. God the Son joins Himself to our flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. And she is to call His Name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. Mary is as stunned as we are. “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (v. 34), she asks. It is not that she doubts, but she knows where babies come from, and this is not the usual way. It doesn’t make sense. But the angel declares to her the Word of God: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (v. 35). And in that moment, Jesus was conceived. The Word entered St. Mary’s ear and implanted itself… or Himself rather, in her womb. Nothing will be impossible with God.

We need to hear this word of the angel as much as Mary needed to hear it, because God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways. His thoughts and ways don’t make sense to us, either. A virgin birth? God in the flesh? The King of the universe born in a stable? Dead on the cross? Risen from the dead? Impossible! The problem is that our reason cannot wrap itself around the facts. Virgins do not give birth. If we were God, we would accomplish the salvation of the world in some glorious and powerful way, but not by becoming flesh and dying on the cross. And when we start to talk about resurrection, now we’re really pushing it, because our whole experience of death is that it is final. We bury the dead body in the ground. The flesh rots and returns to the dust. We simply have no experience with resurrected bodies. And as a result, were it not for the Holy Spirit working in us through the Gospel, we wouldn’t believe a lick of this nonsense. Don’t take your faith in these events and in this enfleshed God for granted. Faith is also impossible from a human perspective. St. Paul nails it when he writes, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). When confronted with the claims of Holy Scripture, the natural man declares, “Impossible!” And so the angel Gabriel’s words are very necessary for us: Nothing will be impossible with God.

It is not just the virgin birth that doesn’t make sense to us. So many things in the Holy Scriptures are incomprehensible to us outside of the Holy Spirit. For example, not only does the angel Gabriel announce to the Virgin Mary that she will conceive and bear a Son, He also tells her of another seeming impossibility… Mary’s cousin Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age. She who was barren for years was now pregnant with John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah. Now, come on! Senior citizens do not conceive or give birth. Elizabeth is well past menopause. This is impossible! Ah, but nothing will be impossible with God.

We are reminded of how Abraham and Sarah must have felt when God promised that they would bear a son in their old age. Remember the story… When God promised Abraham that within a year he’d have a son, Sarah, who was listening at the door of the tent, laughed out loud (Gen. 18)! “Impossible!” she thought. “We’re too old!” Scripture even records that “The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah” (v. 11). Yet when Abraham was 100 years old, and Sarah not much younger, she gave birth to Isaac. Nothing will be impossible with God.

God is always accomplishing the impossible. The very creation bears testimony to that. What looks like it would take billions of years to create took God only six days. And of course, God didn’t have to take that long in creating the heavens and the earth. He could have created all that is in less than the twinkling of an eye. Impossible, you say? Nothing will be impossible with God. God is always accomplishing the impossible. Not only did He create the heavens and the earth in six days, and not only does He sustain His creation, the entire universe, all that is, and provide for the physical needs of all His creatures… not only does He do all of this… He also creates saints out of sinners. Now this may not have been highest on your list of impossible things that God accomplishes, but if you think about it for just a moment, and if you believe what Scripture says about mankind, this is really the most amazing thing. God actually makes lovers of God out of those who by nature hate Him. He actually makes a holy people for Himself out of those who are filthy and rotten with the disease of sin. And He does this in that impossible way we heard about in our Gospel lesson this morning: God becomes a man. God is incarnate. God takes on flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. He is God’s Son, but so also He is Mary’s Son. God and man become one in Jesus. Though He is very God, He makes Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. He bears our griefs and carries our sorrows. He is tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. God is one of us in Jesus Christ. He is one with us. He calls us brothers. And He does all of this, lowers Himself in this way, in order that He might submit to death, even death on the cross. He suffers our rejection. We consider Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. He suffers hell for us. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He suffers the punishment we deserve for our sins. He is wounded for our transgressions; crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brings us peace is upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God. Mystery of mysteries, it is too good to be true. “Impossible!” one might say, and many have said it. How could God so love us that He gives Himself into the accursed death of the cross for us? Beloved, nothing will be impossible with God.

And so we encounter the empty tomb. Christ is risen! “Impossible!” said the Jews. So also the disciples. None of them believed at first. And of course we remember Thomas, who declared that unless he saw the wounds, thrust his fingers into the nail marks and cast his hand into Jesus’ side, he would not believe. But then the risen Christ appeared among His disciples without warning and said, “‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe’” (John 20:27). And “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (v. 28). Thomas was just acting according to human nature. Without the enlightening of Christ, he was unable to believe what, according to both reason and experience, is impossible. Dead men do not walk and talk and eat and breathe and live. Dead men decay. But there stands Christ. He is risen! Nothing will be impossible with God!

And, beloved, God accomplishes the impossible with you. All of that impossible stuff Jesus did, being born of a virgin, fulfilling the law, dying on the cross, rising from the dead… all of that was for you! All of that was for the forgiveness of your sins. He took your punishment upon Himself. He made peace with God for you. And again, He accomplishes the impossible through His Spirit working in the Gospel. For it is a mystery beyond all telling, that when the Holy Spirit calls you by the Gospel and enlightens you with His gifts, you become spiritual and believe what as a natural man you could not even understand (1 Cor. 2:14). The Holy Spirit brings you to saving faith in Christ. And He does this through seemingly impossible means, words, water, bread and wine, the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments. The words of a book, the words of a preacher actually forgive my sins? Impossible! But nothing will be impossible with God. Simple water applied to the head in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, a washing of rebirth and renewal, so powerful it even brings babies to faith? Impossible! But nothing will be impossible with God. Bread and wine consecrated by a few words of Scripture actually are the body and blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins? Impossible! But nothing will be impossible with God. It may seem impossible, but God loves you. And He imparts His love to you in this way. So also in this way He marks you for the resurrection of the dead. Yes, you also, and all who have died in Christ will rise from the grave on the Last Day. Even though your flesh decays and returns to the dust, Jesus will put you back together again, perfect this time, your body like unto His resurrection body. Despite all reason and experience, the risen Jesus raises the dead. Impossible? Nothing will be impossible with God. For His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are His ways our ways. His thoughts and ways are so much better. And they may not make sense to us. But that is why we live by faith, not by sight, not by reason, not by any of our senses. We live by faith in the Gospel, which is the pure gift of God.

Now Mary shows us how to accept such a gift. “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). That is faith, the receiving hands into which God places Jesus Christ for your salvation and mine. May it be also unto us according to the Lord’s Word, be it delivered by angels, or through the pages of Scripture, or through the sermon of a simple pastor. For Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from all eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is our Lord, and He has redeemed us. Impossible? Nothing will be impossible with God! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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