Advent 4 2020
December 20, 2020
Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID
Children’s Sunday School Christmas Program
“And the angel answered [Mary], ‘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… And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.’” (Luke 1:35, 38)
This morning we stand at the transition between the Old and New Testaments. As we have been considering the Jesse Tree throughout much of the Advent season, we’ve come to the point in history when the entire OT hope is about to be realized. The conception and birth of Jesus fulfills the promises of God since Adam and Eve. Mary stands as the one through whom the fulfillment has come. She is the next part of the Jesse Tree, the last that leads to the Branch of Jesse Himself. Mary rejoices as the one favored by God to become the flesh and blood home of His incarnate Son. The Lord truly is with her! She is literally full of grace, grace personified in Jesus.
Very little is said about Mary, herself. The only truly significant piece of information is her status as a virgin. This is important, as it is the fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah concerning how the Messiah was to come into the world. All of God’s prior saving activity finds its source and completion in Christ. This is why there’s not more information her. She isn’t the central character in the recounting of the story.
Jesus is the central character of this infancy narrative. It is in Jesus that God comes to Israel, is favorable toward her, claims her as His own, and is wed to His people. On the large scale, the Christian church is the bride of Christ, the Israel of God, the new Jerusalem, the one upon whom His favor rests and the one in whom He takes delight, just as this young girl, Mary, was.
Christ takes on flesh and blood from the likes of her in order to offer that flesh and blood back to His Father in perfect, unfailing obedience – even to death on a cross. That’s how He’s Mary’s Savior and yours too. He is the God who has mercy. The One who does not stand aloof from us in our humanity, in our messes, in our pain. He comes down to us. How far down? All the way down to being a baby in His mother’s womb, his tiny heart beating beneath her own, and being flesh and blood nailed for you to Calvary’s tree! The God who has mercy and remembers to keep His promises.
Mary experienced God’s grace when God chose her to be the mother of Jesus. She is a reminder to us that God is not about popularity contests. God is not about who is number one. He does not care about the lifestyles of the rich and famous. God is not interested in being a celebrity. God’s choice of Mary reveals His grace to the poor, to the lowly, to those of no importance. In this way, Mary shows us how to believe: not in our abilities or achievements or status. Rather, our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
Traditionally in Lutheranism, Mary has been held in high regard as the mother of our Lord, one who stands in the favor of God as an example of God’s faithfulness to the world. While we don’t pray to her or venerate her as doing anything for us and our salvation, we do give her this special honor. She serves as a model of the humble hearing of God’s Word and the trusting response of faith created by that Word-the Word now made flesh in her womb. “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
But what’s more is that she’s an example of faith and hope in suffering, in bearing the cross. She was told at the Annunciation that she would suffer because of the ministry of her son. She did indeed bear this suffering at the foot of the cross. Michelangelo’s magnificent statue, Pieta, in St. Peter’s in Rome captures her grief as she holds the body of Jesus after the crucifixion. Yet she bore this suffering in the confident hope that God was accomplishing His purposes in Christ in spite of His suffering and death. Mary endured the death of her son in the hope that Jesus was indeed what the shepherds had told Mary what the angels proclaimed the night of His birth: Savior, Christ, and Lord.
The Venerable Bede, a monk in the late 600s, drawing on the Church Father, Ambrose, “Well is she called ‘full of grace’ for she has received the grace… of conceiving and bringing to birth the very author of grace.” “Full of grace” may be rightly understood in the sense of unmerited grace received from God. Mary is a vessel to receive, not a fountain to dispense, this grace.
Is this not the same with all people who are welcomed into the kingdom by the pure grace of God in Christ? Simply because of God’s pleasure, He has called each one of us here today to be part of the story of salvation. Through His Word and Sacraments, He continues to make you full of grace. He pours it out in your lives over and over again. You too, are a vessel to receive the grace of God given in Christ Jesus. That you too are full of grace, completely undeserved, completely poured out on servants of the Lord, according to His Word, proclaimed at Jesus’ birth, at His death and resurrection, and even now as we await the Advent of our King.