Monday, December 20, 2021

Different stories or one?

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent, preached on Sunday, December 19, 2021.

They were a story of opposites.  Mary is a virgin, a young woman of marriageable age but not yet married.  Elizabeth an old married woman who could barely recall what her life was like before she married.  Both of them, however, were unlikely prospects to be moms.  Mary knew that for her to conceive meant a husband and she had none.  Elizabeth had a husband but she also had a lifetime of grief and disappointment for the want of a child who never came.  And then both of them found their wombs filled with the promise of God in the flesh of a son.

To us the story seems so quaint and old-fashioned.  Our culture long ago decided that sex did not mean marriage and neither marriage nor sex meant a child.  In fact, the birth rate this past year was the lowest in recorded history.  Only 17.8% of American families look like married parents of their children.  Nobody is bothering with marriage and nobody thinks anything of living together and nobody presumes that children are wanted or needed.  COVID deaths still pale in comparison to the babies aborted since the pandemic began.  How quaint, old-fashioned, and out of step these stories are to the present day!

This is not some antique description of how life was but the most contemporary story of all.  A barren woman finds herself pregnant with the voice of the prophet who would prepared the way of the Lord.  A virgin finds herself pregnant with the very Son of God in flesh and blood.  One becomes the mother of the man Jesus calls the greatest of those born of women and the other becomes the mother of the One who will confront death, pay the price of sin, and open the door to an eternal future.  Two unlikely mothers woven together in one story of God’s deliverance.

As if the mothers were still surprised and shocked by it all, we find the cousins rejoicing in this mission from within the womb.  St. John hears the greeting of the Mother of our Lord and jumps for joy.  Jesus hears the words of praise offered up by Elizabeth to the one whom all generations would call blessed.  Two mothers and two sons come together for the one story of God’s mighty act of salvation.

What we celebrate this week is not some sentimental moment in the midst of an often harried and hassled year and week but a miracle strong enough to save us all. The fullness of time has come.  The plan set forth from the foundation of the world now enters its final days.  The sons both women carry will carry out this plan and fulfill the promise of the Father and even the secular world will pause.

The world still stands in need of voices to prepare the way and the Savior who comes to save.  All manner of troubles and trials, decadence and deprivation, sorrows and struggles, evil and affliction are not only present but celebrated among us.  We ought to be chastened and we need to repent.  We thought life was improving, getting better, and we were getting a handle on everything.  But we have only succeeded in ruining more of what God made and destroying our hopes with the ruins of our noble intentions.

We lived in an age when it was easy to be a Christian and we did not take any advantage of this ease.  We exploited the gift of technology for foolish ends that entertain us to death or pervert our values.  We used our social connections to be so very unsocial to one another.  We cowered in fear worrying more about catching a virus than losing out on hearing God’s Word or receiving His Sacrament.  Now we find the world even more hostile to God and more resistant than ever to the message of salvation.  Our culture has become the barren woman who no longer wants or desires a child and who is ashamed of virtue and virginity.

As much as we need to repent of the ways we have lost or distorted God’s call and turned away from His gifts, we also need to learn to rejoice again in the hope He offers us in spite of our unworthiness.  We should be glad that the last hope of a barren woman was fulfilled in the son who would prepare the way of the Lord.  We should be glad that a Virgin was filled with the Holy Spirit and her womb filled with God in flesh.  This is a story of hope and a future for a people who despair and are preoccupied with their past.  Christ fulfills the promise of the Father and comes to deliver the sinner from punishment and death.

God is no longer the God who is out there somewhere but the God with us, in the flesh of the Virgin’s Son, in the Gospel word, in the absolution gift, in the baptismal water, and in the bread and wine of Holy Communion.  He has entered our world to carry the burden of our misery, the curse of our sin, and the pain of our death.  He has come to bestow riches to beggars, hope to the wounded, and life to the dying.  He has come to clothe our darkened and evil hearts with righteousness and holiness forever.  That is the story of the Virgin who met an angel and the barren woman who gave birth to a son in her old age.  That is the joy that we meet on this day just days before Christmas.

My friends, there is nothing quaint or old-fashioned in this Gospel.  It is as relevant and contemporary as anything can be.  Despite our screw up, God is faithful.  God is good.  And you who deserve nothing of that goodness or faithfulness can rejoice and be glad.  The Lord has worked to save YOU, to redeem YOU, a lost and condemned creature, not with silver or gold but by a baby born of the least likely woman for a mission to redeem an undeserving people.

THIS God has surprised us all not with condemnation but with mercy, with a baby boy strong enough to call a world to repentance and with a baby boy strong enough to save every sinner and raise up all the dead.  This is why we are the blessed of our Father, the mourners who find comfort, the grieving who find hope, the lonely who find friends, the persecuted who find peace, and the dying who find life.  Jesus has come for you and to you.  He came to fulfill the promise of the prophet and to fulfill the holiness of the law, to die the death once for all so that we might live, and to pay the price of sin not with silver or gold but with His own most holy and precious flesh and blood.

The son of Elizabeth bore the name God promised.  The Son of Mary born the name God promised.  And YOU bear the name of promise, in your baptism into Christ.  Repent, rejoice, and believe.  The Bible has only one story.  It leads from the surprise of the womb to the surprise of the tomb and this story has the power to deliver you to everlasting life.  That story was written for you.  You are written into God’s story by baptism and faith.  Who can but rejoice in this news? In Jesus’ name,  Amen.

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