Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Homily for Advent Evening Prayer - Wednesday in Populous Zion (Advent 2)

Luke 1:26-45; Isaiah 7:10-14

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The angelic Annunciation to Mary that she would conceive and bear the Son of God is set in stark contrast to the angelic annunciation to Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth would conceive and bear a son who would be the forerunner of the coming Son of God. Both Elizabeth and Mary were unable to conceive, but for very different reasons: Elizabeth was elderly and was barren, while Mary was young, unmarried, and was a virgin, perhaps even pre-pubescent. While Mary received the angel’s announcement immediately and believed, Zechariah did not believe that such a thing could be possible. This difference is only exacerbated when one considers that Zechariah was a respected religious leader of the Jewish people, a priest from the tribe of Levi, who knew the Scriptures and the prophecies of the coming of the Messiah very well. In comparison, Mary was but a lowly Jewish girl whom, though she was of David’s lineage, no one would consider special by any count. Additionally, both Zechariah and Mary were given a sign to confirm the truth of the angelic message given them. Because he did not believe, and actually required a sign in order to believe, Zechariah received that sign in his very own body and was stricken mute, unable to speak, until the promise was fulfilled. But, because Mary did believe, she did not seek or require a sign. Nevertheless, a sign was given her: Her cousin Elizabeth, the wife of Zechariah, who was known to be aged and barren, nevertheless was already in her sixth month of pregnancy. For, nothing will be impossible with God.
Signs are funny things. Jesus chastised the Pharisees, specifically, and the Jews in general, for demanding signs and for refusing to believe without signs. And yet, the LORD commanded King Ahaz to ask for a sign, and Ahaz refused! Ironically, to those who believe without the aid of signs, signs are often granted and given. But, for those who demand signs and refuse to believe without signs, they are not granted and given. Nevertheless, the LORD gave Ahaz, and all of Israel, a sign: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His Name Immanuel.”
The sign of the Incarnation and Virgin Birth is a sign that hearkens back to Creation itself. This is no coincidence. For, as all three persons of the Holy Trinity were present and active in creation – The Father created. The Son was the Creative Word that was spoken. And, the Holy Spirit brooded over the waters. – so too were all three persons of the Holy Trinity present and active in the Incarnation and Virgin Birth – “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.”
However, the presence and work of the Holy Triune God is not the only similarity between Creation and the Incarnation and Virgin Birth. Both Creation and the Incarnation were accomplished by the spoken Word of God without any cooperation, decision, or merit of anyone or anything but God alone. Indeed, Mary confessed this herself in the Magnificat saying, “He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His Name.” Indeed, the Incarnation and the Virgin Birth are not so unlike creatio ex nihilo, creation out of nothing. For, as the LORD once spoke His creative Word into the nothingness and created the heavens and earth, light, sun, moon, and stars, and all things, so did He speak His creative Word into the nothingness of Mary’s virgin womb, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
In contrast to the conception and birth of John, the conception and Incarnation of Jesus did not involve the seed of a human father, but the heavenly Father spoke His Word into Mary’s womb. Indeed, Martin Luther famously stated that the organ of conception in the Incarnation was Mary’s ear. That is to say that, as she heard the Word of God spoken by the angel Gabriel, she conceived the Christ-child in her virgin womb. Indeed, the Holy Spirit of God brooded over the virgin waters of Mary’s womb as the Word was spoken, just as in the beginning. Thus, the re-creation of this fallen world, broken by sin, was in the manner of its first creation – by the creative power of God and His Word alone.
Whereas John the Baptist had a human father and, thus, the inherited corruption of original sin, Jesus’ Father was God, and His mother a virgin. God was beginning anew, in His own way, in a way in which no man could claim any credit, in a way which was simply impossible by any human understanding. Whereas Elizabeth was merely aged and thought to be barren, stranger things have happened than a woman becoming pregnant who believed that she couldn’t. However, never has a virgin become pregnant. Such a thing is impossible, except by God, for whom nothing is impossible.
When Mary traveled to visit her cousin Elizabeth, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy at the sound of Mary’s greeting. Indeed, this the angel Gabriel promised to Zechariah saying, “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from His mother’s womb.” Moreover, however, Elizabeth recognized and confessed that her cousin Mary carried the Son of God within her womb saying, “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? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
The LORD commanded King Ahaz, “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” This was an invitation to ask for the most amazing sign Ahaz could think of. But, he refused to ask for a sign at all. Though he feigned piety, Ahaz refused to ask because he lacked faith. He did not love or trust the LORD, but believed Him to be a malicious trickster attempting to trap him. Thus, he feared the LORD, but for sinful reasons. In contrast to Ahaz, and Zechariah, and, too often, ourselves, Mary believed the Word of the LORD and replied, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to Your Word.” Thus, Mary is blessed among women, and all generations call her blessed, for she simply believed, trusted, and received the Word of the LORD. For this reason, Mary is the perfect icon of Christian faith, which we are to be thankful for and to emulate in our own lives. Indeed, the Holy Christian Church is Mary, faithfully receiving and trusting in the Word of the LORD, and bearing its fruit in our confession of faith and in works of love.
The child Mary conceived, the Son she bore, was truly Immanuel, God with us. And, God is with Mary still, His Mother, His Bride, the Church. The Holy Spirit still broods over the waters of the Church’s virgin womb, the baptismal font, as the Father’s Word is spoken and new sons and daughters of God are conceived and are born again in Christ. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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