Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Annunciation of Our Lord

The Annunciation of Our Lord
March 25, 2020
Text: Luke 1:26-38
            We need a little Christmas, right this very minute.  Okay, hokey song.  But it has never been more true.  Right in the midst of Lent.  Right in the midst of this pandemic and crippling isolation.  While people are panicking and turning against one another.  While others are suffering and dying.  While the economy tanks and we’re all wondering how this ends and where we’ll be as a society when all is said and done.  Just then, just now, Jesus comes.  Emmanuel, God with us.  Christmas.  Or in this case, His conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary.  The angel Gabriel announces it to Mary, thus the Feast of Annunciation.  And almighty God rides in on the wings of His Word through the ear of the virgin and takes up residence in her womb.  God is now flesh and blood.  He has skin in the game.  He’s in it with us.  When we comfort one another in these trying times, saying “God is with us,” we can point to the Annunciation, the conception of Jesus, and be assured that He isn’t just with us spiritually.  He’s with us bodily.  In the flesh.  Really and truly.  All the way.  And that means He knows what it is to suffer all the afflictions of the body: sickness, pain, hunger and want, fear and anxiety, grief… all of it.  All that comes of life in a world broken by sin and death.  And He takes it all into His body to redeem us from it, from our sin and all its consequences, by His death on the cross.
            We could simply call this the Feast of the Body of Jesus.  That is what the Feast of the Annunciation is all about.  It was at just this moment that He became one of us, for us, for our salvation, to be Jesus for us, Jesus, which means “The LORD saves.”  This, by the way, speaks to the sanctity of all human life beginning in the womb.  Just as our Lord takes on human flesh and blood, becomes a man for us men and for our salvation, so He becomes a Zygote for zygotes, a Blastocyst for blastocysts, an Embryo for embryos, a Fetus for fetuses.  Life begins at this very moment, when God brings into being a new human person in a mother’s body.  It is a miracle every time.  Jesus goes through all the stages to redeem all the stages.  He is a Baby for babies.  A Toddler for toddlers.  A Child for children.  And yes, a Teenager for Teenagers.  He is a fully grown Man for adults.  He is a Man for you.
            And why?  Why would God become a man with flesh and blood?  He does it to make you His own.  He does it for your redemption.  At just the right time, He who gave the Law places Himself under the Law.  God sends forth His Son, born of woman, born under the Law, to redeem you who are under the Law, that you may receive adoption as sons (Gal. 4:4-5).  He fulfills the Law for you, in your place, the Law you have not fulfilled, and you get all the credit.  He undoes all the damage done by Adam.  He obeys where Adam rebels.  He is the Seed of the woman come to crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15).  This is the ancient Promise.  God must be born of a woman to redeem us from sin and death. 
            And God must be flesh and blood to die.  God cannot die.  He is Life in Himself.  But God does die on the cross because He is a man, Jesus of Nazareth, Son of Mary.  God suffers.  God bleeds.  God cries out in pain.  Because He is a man.  His flesh is pierced with thorns.  His flesh is beaten and scourged.  His flesh is nailed to the tree.  He dies a bodily death, the shameful death of a criminal.  His fleshly side is pierced with the spear.  And from His body pours forth blood and water.  It is all very corporeal.  The Father puts Jesus, our new Adam, fully man, into the deep sleep of death, and from His side brings forth a spotless and holy Bride, the Church, born of water (Baptism), nourished by the blood (the Lord’s Supper), forgiven all her sins, healed and made whole.
            Now, after His crucifixion, our Lord’s body was laid into a tomb, dead as dead can be, wrapped in burial cloths, sealed by a stone, guarded by soldiers.  And do you know… none of that could keep Him in.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  Bodily.  The body conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, is risen and living.  Right now, His heart beats and blood courses through His veins.  Right now, He has skin and muscles and nerves and all the features a human body has.  Only they work as they were always meant to work.  That is what it means to be raised from the dead.  Fully restored.  His body, the very body with which He walked the earth, suffered and died, is glorified and whole.  Except for the wounds, which no longer hurt Him, but are left as a testimony that this is He who died.  He is risen and lives.  He is not a ghost, as He proves to the disciples.  He can eat and drink, touch and be touched.  He invites Thomas to go ahead and poke around the holes in His hands and side.  It is a flesh and blood man, Jesus, who is risen from the dead.  It is a flesh and blood man, Jesus, who has ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  Of the line of David, He is David’s Son.  He’s the King!  He reigns.  He rules all things for our good.  All things are subject to Him. 
            And it all hinges on the Annunciation.  It all hinges on a real conception of a real human being who is God in the womb of the Virgin Mary.  How can these things be?  Mary is wondering, since she is a virgin.  It’s a natural question.  She knows how these things work.  By now her parents have had “The Talk” with her.  In her case, it is not so much a rational objection as it is an honest question.  How is this gonna work?  And the angel answers, not with a technical explanation, but with preaching: The Holy Spirit will come upon you.  The power of the Most High will overshadow you.  And the Child will be in you, God’s Son.  It is a beautiful mystery, a thing not to be understood, but believed.  It is a Trinitarian action: The Spirit coming upon, the Most High (the Father) overshadowing, the Son conceived.  And it all happens by the Word of the Lord.  That is how God always works.  Through His Word, which does what He says.  “Let there be light,” and there was light.  “It is finished,” and so it was from the cross.  “Your sins are forgiven,” and they are forgiven.  “This is my body, this is my blood,” and bread and wine are His body and His blood.  Because He says so.  It happens as God says.  The Spirit comes upon her.  The Father overshadows her.  The Child is conceived.  As He says.  God is a man.
            We ask, “How can these things be,” too.  Our question does tend to be a rational objection.  How can a child be born of a virgin?  Ridiculous!  How can God become a man?  Absurd!  How can God die?  Why would He die?  What kind of God would do that?  And how does that save us?  On and on it goes.  Objection after objection to the teachings of the Lord.  We think we know better than God.  Enough!  Silence!  Repent.  God can do what He can do, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37; ESV).  Why, even old, barren, Elizabeth has miraculously conceived, albeit in her case with the participation of her elderly husband, Zechariah.  God created nature, and God is above nature.  God uses nature for His purposes.  Mary teaches us how we are to receive the mysterious gifts of God.  In simple faith.  In simple trust.  Believing His Word, which is powerful to do what He says.  The Word enters our ear and conceives faith in our heart.  Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (v. 38).
            And this is just what we need, right here and now, in our present circumstances.  To know God is with us in it, in the flesh.  Emmanuel.  To know that He has redeemed us from sin by His bodily death and resurrection, and so we are redeemed from death and all of death’s symptoms, including coronavirus and economic and societal uncertainty.  To know that Jesus is risen from the dead, bodily, and He’ll raise us, bodily, on the Last Day.  Nature itself is subject to the One who took on our nature.  Nature is God’s creature.  Nature belongs to Jesus.  He made it.  He rules it.  He has redeemed it.  So the answer to coronavirus, ultimately, is Christmas.  Or even before that, the Annunciation.  Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary for you.  Whatever happens to us with viruses or the economy or… whatever, we’re safe.  In Jesus.  The LORD saves.  That is what He has done.  That is what He does.  In the body and blood of Jesus.  May it be to us according to His Word.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.              

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