Sunday, December 24, 2023

With God all things are possible. . .

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent, December 24, 2023.

    In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a village named Nazareth, to a Virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David, whose name was Mary.  There might not seem something miraculous in those words but Blessed Mary would disagree.  She wondered aloud in the Magnificat how the Lord on high could notice her, of low estate, much less visit her with the Word of the Lord through the Archangel.  But with God all things are possible.

    The angel greeted her saying, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.”  But Mary was troubled at this and wondered what it meant.  There was a time when everyone believed in God but they believed that God was angry with them.  An unannounced visit from an angel would not be an occasion for comfort but fear.  If God noticed you, He noticed your sin and a visit would certainly mark that sin with disfavor, punishment, and condemnation.  But not this time.  The Lord did not come to blessed Mary with a call to repent but with the voice of blessing.  “Hail, full of grace” and with a gracious promise: “The Lord is with you.”  But with God all things are possible.

    “You will conceive and bear a son and you shall call His name Jesus.”  Mary did not know what to say.  She knew this could not be true.  She was a virgin.  She knew where babies came from.  She was not an ignorant youth or a prude.  She honored marriage and was herself betrothed to Joseph.  She brought to her husband her most important gift.  The gift of herself.  So how could she be pregnant and how to know she was carrying a son and how was it that the son was already named by God.  But with God all things are possible.

    He will be great, called the Son of the Most High, and will inherit the throne of His father David and over the house of Jacob forever and His kingdom shall be without end.  Kings come from royal families and not insignificant lines on a family tree that distantly flows from David.  Or do they?  Kings come and go but their kingdoms remain.  Or do they?  Blessed Mary was perplexed by what this all could mean because it promised a future she had never even dared to dream.  Looking around her, the age of kings like David and Solomon were a memory and now Israel had but a puppet on the throne, one placed their not by divine right but by the will and consent of the Romans.  But with God all things are possible.

    The Holy Spirit shall come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you and the child you bear shall be called holy.  This is not how children are conceived.  This is not a child born of fleshly will and desire.  God was working and working in her to bring to fulfillment the plan of the ages to save His people from their sins.  She was a sinner.  The sacrifices had been made in the Temple, the offerings given, and the blood of the atonement poured out for the sins of Mary as for any other sinner.  How can a sinner give birth to the Holy One?  With God all things are possible.

    Your cousin Elizabeth in her old age has conceived and is with a son – you know for how many years she was judged to be barren.  Elizabeth and Zechariah had planned on, hoped for, and then lived with the loss of their dream of a family.  And when flesh could not provide a son, God did.  This was a sign for Mary – just as Abraham had wrestled with his dream of a son until God brought the surprise of grace to bear upon his broken heart.  Just was what God did for Abraham was not for Abraham alone, so what God did for Elizabeth and Zechariah was not for them alone.  Neither would the Son of Mary be for Mary alone but for the sake of the whole world.  With God all things are possible.

    And when you expected blessed Mary to throw up her arms and say it was all too much and to leave her to her ordinary life, from her lips is spoken the voice of faith.  “I am the Lord’s servant; do as you have said.”  Her consent probably surprised her.  Every instinct in her was telling her to run away but she remained.  Every impulse of her mind and heart was to laugh at how ludicrous it was for her to be the mother of God’s Son and Him come to finish the reign of David once for all.  But she did not.  She bowed her head in submission and whispered a yes to the promise that nothing is impossible with God.

    Here you are.  On the cusp of Christmas – literally.  The holiday has long ago become a burden of plans and parties, families and fault lines, gifts and ingratitude – but Christmas will come whether you want it or not.  It is come not to fit into your plans but so that you might fit into God’s.  The Savior born of Mary has come for you and to you and because of that you, too, are favored by God and the Lord is with you.  You thought that God was too good for you but He came in flesh and blood just for you, that you may know His favor, receive His forgiveness, be born anew to everlasting life, and walk the days of your life in the fear and favor of the most High God, the one called Jesus.  With God all things are possible.
    Here you are.  You have lost loved ones whose place will never be filled and have other ones who have enlarged your family.  You have had a year’s worth of days of conflict and are now trying to paper over differences for a Hallmark holiday.  This is not what you hoped for and much less than you imagined.  But Christ is here and He has reigned from the throne of the cross over sin and from the throne of the empty tomb over death.  He reigns for you, that you may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom without end.  He reigns to raise you from sin’s death and sweep you up in His arms that You may belong to Him forever.  You did not know God cared or that He even noticed you among all the big issues of the day but God came for you to be Your Savior.  With God all things are possible.

    How can this be?  We have all the excuses along with all the disappointments to lay at the feet of Jesus and the miracle of miracles is that He takes them from us, forgives us, and now nothing separates us from His grace and mercy.  The saints of old stand out not like heros who triumphed against enemies but those who were raised to glory by the God who raised you from death to life in baptism.  We are all the barren in whom the Spirit has worked faith.  We are all the impossibilities in whom God has worked His salvation miracle.  At last we see.  It is true.  Nothing is impossible with God.  Not even my own forgiveness, life, and salvation.

    Only one thing left.  The amen of faith.  I am God’s servant.  Do with me as You will.  This is not the voice of defeat and resignation but the voice of victory and promise.  We who come with a past have been given a future.  We who come with sin have been washed clean in baptismal water.  We who come with doubts and fears have had faith planted in us by the Spirit.  We who hunger and thirst for all the wrong things have been granted a place at the table where God filled us with good things we do not deserve and for which we dared not ask.  That is the miracle of Christmas.  And in but a few hours we will celebrate anew what it means for us that nothing is impossible with God.  Mary will be there.  Elizabeth too.  All of us with Jesus who fulfills us and fills us with goodness, mercy, and love forever.

No comments: