Posted by: Johnold Strey | December 14, 2017

Sermon on Luke 1:26-38

This is the second sermon in a three-part Advent sermon series, titled “O Lord, How Shall I Meet You?”

O LORD, HOW SHALL I MEET YOU?

With Humble Faith  (Mary)

Based on Luke 1:26-38

Introduction

I preached last Wednesday’s sermon as if I were Zechariah, explaining the account from Luke 1 of the angel Gabriel telling Zechariah that he and his wife were going to have a son in their old age as if Zechariah were retelling the story himself. Tonight we move forward to the next section in Luke 1, and we learn about the annunciation—the announcement that Mary received from the same angel, telling her that she was going to conceive in a miraculous way and give birth to the Son of God. I do not plan to preach this sermon as if I were Mary speaking to you tonight! I probably can play the role of an old Jewish priest better than I can play the role of the mother of our Lord. Of course, the advantage of a “first person sermon” is that it helps you to mentally place yourself in the position of the person who is imagined to be the speaker. Even though this sermon will take a more traditional approach, we will do well to try to imagine what it was like to be in Mary’s proverbial shoes; then we can truly appreciate the way she greeted the angel’s news about the coming Savior with such humble faith.

New Testament Illustrations 006One useful way for us to appreciate Mary’s response of humble faith is to compare the response we heard about last week from Zechariah with the response that we heard about in tonight’s reading that focused on the angel’s message to Mary. At first glance, maybe that seems like a simplistic exercise. We could just jump to the bottom line and review how Zechariah was filled with complete skepticism that he and his wife would have a son in their old age, while Mary humbly believed all that the angel said to her and accepted the angel’s Word as God’s Word. Sermon over! Amen! Gather the offering and go home!

We could immediately jump to the bottom line, but I think we would miss some of the details that reveal just how significant it was for Mary to humbly receive and believe the angel’s message. For a moment, let’s go back and contrast some of the details in the account with Zechariah that we heard last week and the account with Mary that we heard a few moments ago. 

The desire for a child:

  • Zechariah and Elizabeth had prayed for years—decades!—that God would give them a child. They had gone through the emotional pain of God saying “no” to their prayers for so many years, and they had gone through the cultural assumptions that people would have made about them, assuming that God was punishing them because they were childless. Zechariah may have doubted the angel’s news that they were going to have a son, but at the end of the day, he and his wife both wanted a child!
  • Mary, on the other hand, would not have wanted a child prior to her formal marriage to Joseph. According to Jewish law, an engaged couple was legally married, but according to Jewish custom, they did not begin their married life together for some time after the engagement. For Mary to be pregnant at this point, before she and Joseph were living together as husband and wife, was a personal crisis! What was Joseph going to think? (We know what he thought at first—he thought Mary had been unfaithful to him!) What were the relatives going to think? What were the neighbors going to say? What would you think if your teenage daughter came home and said, “I’m pregnant through a miracle of God?” You’d think, “Right! Nice try!” Imagine the presumed guilt and shame that people would project onto Mary for the next nine months! If there was anyone who would not want the angel’s news of a miraculous child to be true, it should have been Mary!

The questions asked:

  • Both Zechariah and Mary asked the angel a question after hearing the news about these miraculous births. But Zechariah’s question was really a statement of doubt: “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years” (Luke 1:18). Don’t forget the irony: He would have wanted this news to be true, but he would not believe that it was actually true!
  • Mary also asks a question, but her question was actually a question! “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” The tone of her question was not to make a statement of unbelief, but to ask a question and seek an explanation. Mary knew how the birds and the bees worked, and she knew that there wasn’t a reason for her to be carrying a child in her womb. To ask the angel a question was not a sign of doubt, but a sign of both faith and intelligence: She accepted the angel’s news as true, but wanted to know how this was going to work, since this conception obviously wasn’t going to happen in the normal way children are conceived.

The conclusions:

  • When the angel was finished speaking to him, Zechariah was left speechless—literally! The punishment for his unbelief is that he was left silent for the nine months that followed until God’s Word was fulfilled and his son, John the Baptist, was born.
  • In contrast, Mary speaks one of the most simple and humble and beautiful statements of faith a believer could ever utter. “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” This news was going to change her life and upset the apple cart in all the ways we described a moment ago. If you are a young Jewish peasant girl living at the end of the first century B.C., this is not exactly the best news you could discover about your future. Pregnant before the formal marriage ceremony by a miracle that no one was going to believe—and yet how did she respond! “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” “If this is God’s plan, and he wants me in this plan even if it causes all sorts of discomfort and inconvenience and rumors and judgment from others, then so be it! May God’s plan be fulfilled. He is the Lord; I’m just his humble servant.”

It’s no theological secret that our friends in the Roman Catholic Church have elevated Mary to a status far higher than she deserves or would want to receive. We need not elevate Mary to the role of a co-Redeemer with Jesus or pray to God through her. But in our desire not to elevate her to the level of her Son, we need not overreact to the overreaction. Mary deserves our respect for the high honor that she received to be the mother of Jesus. And like so many saints of ages past, Mary is an excellent example of humble Christian faith and trust that we do well to emulate today. That’s why, even in the church calendar of minor festivals in the front of our hymnal, there is a day set aside on August 15 to commemorate Mary, the mother of our Lord.

“I am the Lord’s servant.” There can be no greater statement of humble faith than that, can there? But all too often, our prayers and thoughts to God reflect the opposite of Mary’s words. Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant.” But isn’t easy for us to say, “I am my own lord, and God, I need you to be my servant!” And so I pray prayers that tell God what I want him to do, and I shake my fist in frustration and accuse him of abandoning me when he puts my life on a path that is different than what I wanted! “God, you need to be my servant. Give me what I’m praying for. Carry out my plan on my terms and my timetable! Don’t put any inconveniences into my life that would put a detour into my plans!”

Have we forgotten that the inconveniences that God places into our lives are his plan—just as they were his plan with Mary? Have we forgotten that God is still the Lord, and we are always his servants? And have we forgotten that our attempts at reversing roles with God should give him every right to remind us where we stand in the divine scheme of things, that he would have every right to silence us with Zechariah now and abandon us to our own hellish unbelief forever?

But we have humble confidence tonight, drawn not from Mary’s faith, but from God’s faithfulness. For the God who planned to intervene in Mary’s life with a miraculous child made that plan to intervene in your life as well. The miraculous child born to Mary was also the miraculous child born for you! The child to whom she gave birth, gave birth to God’s plan to rescue us from our sins and rebellion, yes, even from our attempts to play Lord over God, even from our failures to trust God with a sincere and humble faith.

Yes, look at Mary as a fine example of humble trust, but look especially to her Son, Jesus Christ, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. As fine an example as Mary is, she still called God her “Savior” later in this chapter. And in the perfect obedience of the Son born to her, you and I are given the Savior from sin we need in the sinless baby Jesus who came for us. In Jesus, we have God and man united in one person, who went from Mary’s womb to Bethlehem’s manger to Calvary’s cross and finally to an emptied grave—all to take our place, pay the divine penalty for our guilt, and empty our grave of its power!

Is there better news to proclaim this time of year? Is there a better plan that could have undone our sin? Is there a better plan for our life than the plan that God made for his Son who has placed forgiveness into our hearts and heaven into our future? Is there anything else worth believing, trusting, and clinging to than this good news that God has brought us a Savior? Of course not! Then let us, with Mary, cling to this news in humble faith as we meet our Lord again as a tiny baby who will return as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! Amen.

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