Thursday, December 13, 2018

Sermon -- Advent Vespers: Week 2 (December 12, 2018)

LUKE 1:26-38

GOD'S FAITHFUL PEOPLE AWAIT 
THE COMING OF THE LORD.
They Are Humble.

In the name + of Jesus.

     People commonly wonder why Mary was chosen by God to be the woman through whom the Savior would come into the world.  God does not reveal why he does many things.  The only way we can ever answer a “Why” question is if God plainly tells us in the Scriptures.  Anything outside of that is a guess.  It may be an educated guess, or it may be a very bad guess based on wrong assumptions.  But it is still a guess.
     Scripture assures us that God does not do anything for us because we have earned it.  We are all sinners, and Mary of Nazareth is no exception.  God did not choose Mary because she deserved to be chosen for this honor.  Still, there are a few things about Mary which offer some insight on why God chose to work through her.  First, Mary was a believer.  She knew the promises of the Messiah, and she humbly waited for the Lord's fulfillment of them.  God would not have chosen someone who denied these.  She was among God's faithful people who were awaiting the coming of the Lord.
     We also know that Mary was a nobody girl from a nothing town.  If God had not chosen Mary to bear the Savior, history would never have remembered her.  There was nothing remarkable about Mary which demanded recognition, and there was nothing special about the city of Nazareth.  But that is the way God works.  God takes things that are nothing and he makes something out of them.  It was true when God created the heavens and the earth—making everything out of nothing; and it was true when God made you a new creation.  His Law showed you that you have nothing to give to God that he should honor you.  We are sinners; we are nothing.  But God was favorable toward you.  He made you a new creation—putting to death the sinner in baptism, and raising you up to be something special to God—a saint.
     The angel Gabriel was sent to a nobody girl in a nothing town with an amazing announcement.  “The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” (Luke 1:30-31)  Although Mary was humbly waiting for the coming of the Messiah, she certainly did not have plans that he would come into the world through her.
     We know the whole story, so we tend to marvel at the honor which the Lord bestowed upon Mary, that she would be the mother of our Lord.  I doubt Mary really saw it that way at first.  As she was trying to process Gabriel's announcement, she may have been thinking, “What did I do to deserve this?  People are going to accuse me of being the town tart.  My betrothed will accuse me of infidelity.  My reputation will be dirt—not just up to the birth of Jesus, but even for the rest of my life.  Why me?”  It was no small thing that the Lord was giving her to do.  It would come with incredible hardships. 
     Gabriel did not ask Mary if it was okay with her that the Lord chose her for this.  It was an announcement that this was God's plan, and that God was employing her to fulfill it.  God's faithful people were awaiting the coming of the Lord.  And Mary, in her humility, accepted what God had given her to do.  Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
     God has called people to serve him in various ways throughout history.  He has raised up prophets who were called to preach a particular message.  God did not give them the option to water down the message or to decline this service.  Moses tried.  Jonah tried.  God sent them anyway.  God did not tell them it would be easy, but he did tell them that he would be with them.  It was the same for Noah, for Abraham, for David, and for other faithful people of God.  While the faithful people of God awaited the coming of the Lord, they were humble and served the Lord in what he had given them to do.
     God has called you to be his own and to serve him as his people.  We each serve the Lord in our various vocations.  This is what God has given you to do—as parents, siblings, children, employees, neighbors, and so on.  We are all called to order our lives according to the Commandments.  God does not ask us if we want to obey, or if there are any works we would like to avoid.  He gives us his Commandments and sends us forth to live according to them.  It does not mean that it will always be easy or convenient to keep them.  It is hard to be kind and compassionate to people who are rude or arrogant.  It is hard to be chaste and decent when the world expects us to be immoral and cheers lustily when we are.  It is hard to be faithful to God's word when others tell us how hateful we are for saying that there is no salvation outside of Jesus, even for nice people, or when we say that people who do not keep the Commandments are sinning, even if it makes them happy.  When people sin against you and show no remorse, you want to strike back in revenge.  It is hard to turn the other cheek and to be merciful as God tells us to.  Humble obedience to God's word is hard, and we often fail at it.
     God calls you to be his faithful people.  He does not say that it will be easy; but he does promise that he will be with you.  Therefore, as you await the coming of the Lord, humbly submit yourself to the Commandments.  Order your life according to them, even when your sinful flesh so eagerly craves for carnal pleasures and an easy life.  Humbly submit yourself to the scorn of the world who despises God's word and those who believe it and follow it.  There will seldom feel like there is any reward for such humility.  But we follow him and trust that his word is good and that he does not lie to us.  God promises to be with you and to preserve you.  We faithfully wait for the coming of the Lord, knowing that the humble will be exalted on the Last Day.  For we also know that the only good we receive is from God's hand.
     The greatest good we receive came through the womb of the Virgin Mary.  She knew that it would be hard to be pregnant and give birth as a virgin, which no one would believe.  She did not even know Joseph would believe her when Gabriel told her what was about to happen to her.  Yet, she believed that everything God does is good, even when it is hard.  And she humbly submitted to his will and to his plans.  Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
     Therefore, Jesus Christ who is true God took on the flesh of his mother, Mary.  He became man for us to save mankind from all sins.  Where we have failed to live up to God's Law, Jesus satisfied God's demands by keeping it.  Where we have violated God's Commandments with our sins, Jesus satisfied God's wrath by suffering and dying under the curse of God's Law.  Jesus humbled himself perfectly to carry out all of God's plans and to fulfill God's will to save sinners.  It did not matter that it would be hard.  It did not even matter that it meant his death and damnation.  Jesus humbled himself for us in order to save us.  He is the Lord's servant.  He submitted to the will of his Father and let it all happen according to God's word.  He humbled himself so that, at the Last Day, we would be exalted to heavenly, eternal glory. 
     When Gabriel told Mary what her role would be in God's plans, it came with a promise.  The promise is not that it would be easy.  That promise was: “The Lord is with you. “ (Luke 1:28)  The Lord who was with her and who was conceived in her and was born of her—he went forth to save her … and you, too.  And this Savior has called you to be his own.  Whatever he says to you—whether it is a promise or instruction—is for your good.  Therefore, in humility, we respond with Mary, “I am the Lord's servant.  Let it be to me according to your word.”  And indeed, it is.  For you are the Lord's—humbly serving for his glory, and set apart for everlasting glory.

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

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