Sunday, December 24, 2017

Sermon -- 4th Sunday in Advent (December 24, 2017; 10:00 AM)

LUKE 1:26-38

BEHOLD, THE SERVANT OF THE LORD.

In the name + of Jesus.

     Evangelical Lutherans have had a strange aversion to the Virgin Mary.  It is true that we reject any kind of worship of her—for, worship is reserved for God alone.  And it is true that we label it blasphemy when others name Mary co-Redemptrix—for, Christ alone is our Redeemer—or Queen of heaven—for, God alone reigns on high and does not share that glory with anyone.  But as it often happens, we let the pendulum swing too far the other way.  When Mary sang praise of God after she had conceived a son in her womb, the lyrics of her song included these words: “For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed.” (Luke 1:48)  God chose to bring the Savior of the world into the world through the womb of Mary.  The blessed Virgin Mary is the only person ever who can claim that she gave birth to God.  The Church has made that confession for centuries.  But calling Mary the mother of God is not about exalting Mary; it is about confessing who Jesus is.  He is God in the flesh.  Or, as the Athanasian Creed so brilliantly says: “He is God, eternally begotten from the nature of the Father, and he is man, born in time from the nature of his mother...” (Athanasian Creed)
     Although Mary is not worthy of worship, she is worthy of imitation.  You are likely familiar with the angel's greeting and message to Mary.  But it is good to consider again exactly what the Lord was asking of Mary.  Gabriel informed Mary, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” (Luke 1:31)  I suppose that “asking” is not the right term.  Gabriel was not asking Mary for her permission to have the Savior conceived in her womb.  The Lord had chosen her for this special and unique vocation, just as in ages past the Lord had chosen Noah to build the ark, Moses to deliver Israel from Egypt, and David as king of Israel.  The Lord had promised to send a Savior into the world.  Nothing was going to keep the Lord from fulfilling his promise.  So, when he sent Gabriel to Mary, the Lord informed her that this Savior would come through her.  Mary's response revealed a humble, remarkable faith: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)  
     We tend to romanticize the Christmas story.  We want it to look like a Hallmark card.  Real life is much more gritty than that.  Mary was not yet married when she got word that she had conceived.  No matter how much her parents loved her, this was a problem for them.  No matter how understanding Joseph was, he would feel betrayed.  And no matter how much Mary explained to the townsfolk about Gabriel's appearance and message, who would believe her?  Mary would have to bear scorn for this, perhaps for her whole life.  So, the Lord's favor was upon Mary, and this was the result?!  Nevertheless, Mary took the Lord at his word.  Mary accepted the vocation that was given to her.  “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord.” (Luke 1:38)  Even when serving the Lord meant hardship, Mary preferred to be the Lord's servant over serving her own interests with an easier life.  The cross was more valuable than comfort.
     Now, the Lord will never lay on you the responsibility he put upon the Virgin Mary.  Your Savior has already come, born through her.  Still, the Lord calls you to serve him in your various vocations.  In those vocations, you love the Lord by loving your neighbor.  You seek God's honor by seeking your neighbor's good at the expense of your time, energy, and money.  You demonstrate God's patience by patiently enduring the sins of your fellow man.  That is what God has given you to do in your home, in your community, or at your job.  And yes, it will often be hard.  Your sinful flesh will hate it.  Your sinful flesh will urge you to sit on your rear end and pawn off your responsibilities to others.  Your sinful flesh will want you to hoard your time, energy, and money for your own interests and to despise others in need of mercy.  Your sinful flesh will want you to seek revenge on those who sin against you and to defend your pride and your importance at all costs.  Repent.  There is nothing commendable about following the desires of the sinful flesh.  Sin may appease the flesh, but it stirs up the wrath of God.  If you reject the vocations and the works God gives you to do, you have earned his judgment.  Repent.
     When Gabriel told Mary that she would conceive and give birth to a son, she wondered how a virgin could conceive.  She did not reject God's word; she was confused by God's ways.  Gabriel informed her that this was a miraculous act of God, and that the Holy Spirit would implant in her the Word now made flesh.  He then declared, “Every word with God is not impossible.” (Luke 1:37, my translation)  Mary's response was simply to say, literally, “Behold, the servant of the Lord.” (Luke 1:38)  Whatever God had given her to do, Mary submitted to it.  He is the Lord, and she—his servant—would do what he had given her to do.
     Behold, the servant of the Lord.  If you would be known as a servant of the Lord, then you also submit to do what the Lord gives you to do.  If he is the Lord, then you do not have the liberty to tell him, “No.”  A servant does his master's bidding, or he is a bad servant.
     What can we say about this?  We aren't good servants.  We have told our Lord, “No,” because his ways are hard and inconvenient and costly.  We have despised our vocations and neglected the works God has given us to do.  Even if we could imitate the Virgin Mary who demonstrated an amazing faith in submitting to her role as being the mother of the Savior, we also note that she acknowledged her need for this Savior too.  We all do, because all have sinned.
      Behold, the servant of the Lord.  The true servant of the Lord is not you or me or the Virgin Mary.  It is the Son who was implanted in the womb of Mary.  Jesus came to be the perfectly obedient servant of the Lord.  This did not just mean being nice to his friends and to his enemies.  It also meant leaving the glory that is rightly his and living in the weakness of a human being.  It meant forsaking the heavenly riches for earthly poverty.  It meant forsaking the use of his divine power and submitting to the limits of this world.  It meant submitting to abuse, scorn, and false accusations.  It meant submitting himself to beatings, flogging, and to death on a cross.  It meant taking on the guilt of sins he did not commit so that he could deliver us from our guilt and sin.  It meant enduring the pains and torments of hell on behalf of the people who defied his commandments, shirked the responsibilities for the vocations he had given them, and did not serve him as Lord.  Behold, the servant of the Lord!  Jesus did everything that was given him to do.  He lives up to his name, Jesus, which means Savior, because he has done all that is necessary to save you from your sins, to pardon you of your guilt, and to bring you into the kingdom of God.
     Behold!  Now you are servants of the Lord!  This is true because Jesus, the perfect servant of the Lord, has served you.  He has supplied you with what the Lord intends for you to have—the forgiveness of your sins, the confidence of your salvation, and the favor of God.  And Jesus summons you to keep on receiving your Lord's gifts—the body and blood of Christ which conquers death and pardons sinners, the word of absolution which consoles troubled hearts, and his constant blessing.  Then, as redeemed children of God—not merely servants, but beloved children of the Father—you get to go out and honor the Lord with lives that are motivated by God's service, God's love, God's mercy, and God's honor.
     You will never be asked to do what the Virgin Mary did.  She is blessed because of her unique role as the mother of God.  You will never be asked to do what Jesus did.  Only he could carry the sins of the world to the cross to be the atoning sacrifice for sinners.  The Lord, however, is pleased to use you in his kingdom for his glory and for the good of your neighbor.  Behold, you are the servants of the Lord; you get to do what God has given you to do.  Behold, you are the redeemed of the Lord, you are the beneficiaries of God's goodness.  Behold, you are the beloved of the Lord; you are the evidence of God's grace.  Behold, you are the Lord's because the Lord has been pleased to serve and to save you.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.