3rd Sunday in Advent “Angels: Messengers of Hope = when impossible” (series #3/4)
December 11, 2022 Luke 1:26-38
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
Impossible! ‘Mission~Impossible.’ The catch phrase from that TV series, or the more recent movies, always began the same: “Your mission, should you choose to accept it,” == then the tape would self-destruct in 5 seconds. “IMF”, the Impossible Missions Force, could always find a way, thru amazing feats, to do what normal people could never hope to do.
Of course, with TV & movies, the impossible is just a set up for a ‘make-believe,’ very creative, perfectly timed & well-scripted act; it’s not reality. But, there are things that have happened in the history of this world that not even Hollywood can pull off, not even the most accomplished magician, or illusionist. If something truly impossible happens, it must be what most call a miracle; which is no problem for God. Mary, the mother of our Lord, found herself at the center of one of the greatest miracles of the Bible, a true mission impossible.
Given the important nature of this miracle, God again sent one of His heavenly messengers to announce it. And once again, it’s that particular angel = Gabriel, who had also brought a message of particular hope to John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah. So Gabriel delivers a message of impossible hope; not only the impossibility that a virgin would conceive & bear a son, but also that the Holy One conceived would actually be God – in the flesh.
“In the sixth month (that means ‘in the 6th month of Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy) the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’ ” (vv 26–28).
This is completely unexpected, and there’s no reason she should’ve been expecting it, because she was just another small-town Jewish girl, of no particular status, wealth, brains or skills, and no personal illusions of grandeur. Her reality was just as she said in her great Magnificat hymn, God “has looked on the humble estate of his servant.” (Lk 1:48). She was not competing for this position, and God had not advertised for willing volunteers. God chooses whom He chooses, for any & all the varied positions in His plan of our salvation.
For God’s own reasons He singles her out for an amazing part; actually, an impossible part of His mission. And as the timing was right, so the messenger is sent from the throne room of heaven and speaks his piece. “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” ‘Favored one’ means ‘one receiving grace.’ Mary is ’full of grace’. And Biblically, grace is that condition that is never earned or deserved; it is simply the prerogative of our merciful God. This grace is essential & assuring for both Mary, and for you & me. This grace of God is a vital part of the hope we have. None of us is worthy or deserving; yet, God shows us grace.
So, Mary will take part in this miracle by God’s gracious choice. She does not have a ‘humble estate’ because she is a humble person; not because she was trained to be polite & to say ‘please’ & ‘thank you,’ or to share her toys, or to let others go in front of her in line. Mary’s humble estate before God is the same as yours & mine: she’s an undeserving sinner who is unworthy to receive anything from the Holy God. When the big heart of God is open toward a person, it is because of His grace.
And just as Mary wondered at how it is that this greeting would be made to her, so we can also wonder how it is that God’s amazing grace -or favor- has been directed toward US. How is it that God’s promise of redemption, of the washing of Holy Baptism, and the gifts of forgiveness, the Holy Spirit, & faith has been given to us? Grace. We did not do something to cause God to pay attention to us. And yet, God has looked on our humble estates.
Like Mary, we have also been singled out to receive Christ. Altho Mary was particularly favored among women for this job of bearing the Savior, you are favored among people to have received Christ, that He is with you, and that you are God’s child in His kingdom. Be thankful that He has shown you grace.
If Mary had been without sin, as some of Christianity teaches, then she would have had no fear of a holy angel. And just as with Zechariah, the message Gabriel brings includes the announcement of peace because of fear. He says, “Do not be afraid.” Fear is the natural reaction of the fallen nature when faced with God’s holiness. Adam & Eve in the Garden had no fear of their holy Creator, communing with Him daily == until they sinned. Then they hid from Him, because His holiness meant judgment & punishment of the Law. Gabriel appears to Mary & represents all that God is; but ‘do not be afraid’, because God is looking upon her with favor. So the message is good news, and hope.
It is a message of a miracle, thee miracle; this miraculous birth is the reason God invented miracles; there would be no reason for any other miracles if this one was not done. For this is the only one that brought hope beyond Mary or Joseph, & hope beyond God’s promise for the Hebrew people == it was for ALL people of every tribe, nation & language.
And this supreme miracle would be the hardest to grasp. As a virgin, without a man, as Colossians 1 says, all the “fullness of God” would “dwell” in this baby to be conceived in her womb. Remember your confirmation class terms? God is /eternal, /almighty, /omniscient, /omnipresent, /omnipotent. The Word is made flesh to ‘tabernacle’ or dwell among us. God himself came to live where we live, to face what we face, & to suffer the things we suffer.
He would be one of us; but He would also be more than us. In the messenger’s words, He would be ‘great’, and called the “Son of the Most High”. King David, in his day, was -essentially- the king of the world. The throne of King David would be given to Him; & even more: His kingdom will have no end. The smartest philosophers in the history of man have not been able to grasp this concept: that all the infinite fullness of Almighty God would be contained in this little embryo & fetus carried in Mary. But all the wisdom of man is foolishness. With faith, you & I believe what God promised & proclaimed. With the faith of a child, as small as a mustard seed, we believe what God promised is true: thru Mary, God came to us in human form. And His name is Jesus.
When Zechariah was visited by Gabriel, he essentially responded, ‘what you say can’t be, we’re too old.’ Mary doesn’t say ‘can’t’, but she does wonder ‘how’? How can there be a baby without a father? There is no Scriptural precedent for this kind of miracle. We do hear of a few times when God ‘opened a womb’; but this was more than that. Even Gabriel did not have to understand it, but his message did include a ‘how’. God-the-Holy-Spirit would come upon her; the power of the Almighty will overshadow her. This is the same picture used in Exodus 40 when the ‘shakina’ or the cloud of God’s holy presence ‘overshadowed’ or filled the tabernacle with His glory. That was a ‘mission impossible’ = that the glory of God would dwell on earth among a sinful people. Likewise, it was impossible for the glory of God’s holy presence to be inside the womb of a sinful woman. And Gabriel says, ‘oh, don’t worry’, ‘for nothing is impossible with God.’
In the beginning, when there was nothing, God created the heavens & the earth; and when there was nothing, God said, ‘let there be light’ and there was light. What’s so different here? Let there be ..life. And after that Good Friday, when where was only death, God’s plan to save mankind included Easter Sunday morning. Let there be ..life. I think this is why Mary, about 34 years later, would be able to stand at the foot of the cross as her son died that horrible death. She was told that He would reign on the throne of David with a kingdom that would have no end; and nothing is impossible with God. Her hope was in the promise ..of life.
One of the big enemies of hope is the threat that all possibilities are exhausted; there are no options left, so no hope of a future. We’ve run into this at times, when there is no other medicine that can cure or slow the disease; when there’s no known procedure or surgery that can fix the problem. Every door has been tried, & every lever pulled. That’s the way it is for humans, & for our earthly medicine & science = hope gets exhausted. But for the Heavenly One who created all medicine, all science, all humans, & even the whole universe, nothing is impossible. God will not always do what we want done, but He has demonstrated that we should never leave Him out of the equation; we should always inquire of what He wants for our situation. God still works miracles for His people and for His purposes. That means that HE is our hope in all things.
And we know what is the biggest hopelessness: it IS impossible for a sinner to enter the kingdom of heaven. That actually is impossible. So, that’s why, when the time was right, God sent for His Son, born of woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the Law. That’s why Jesus was conceived of the HSp, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died & was buried. That’s why he descended into hell, and on the third day he rose from the dead, and then ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the throne of God. It was a ‘mission impossible’ made possible by the forgiveness our all our sins at the cross.
That’s how God so impossibly loved the sinful world; that’s how God has looked at each & every one of your sins, and has declared you ‘not guilty’; you are among His ‘favored ones’. He has washed you clean in the blood of the Lamb; He has baptized you into a new life, and adopted you into His family.
That is the message of hope & life that you have, that has been delivered from heaven’s throne room – by prophets, apostles, pastors, Christian parents, fellow Christians == and even sometimes by angels themselves.
And about 30 yrs after the angel Gabriel visited lowly Mary, that was the message spoken by the mouth of Jesus = the very Son of God himself, so that you & I, and everyone who believes in Him, will always have the hope of His grace.
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
35 And the angel answered her, “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. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.