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by The Rev. Canon Andrew C. Pearson
Year B, Advent 4, Luke 1:26-38
December 18, 2011
It is good for us to be excited about Christmas even though we are in the season of Advent. This morning we have caught glimpses of Christmas joy in the Pageant we have just seen and in the carols. And this joy is not simply a good feeling, like when we listen to 96.5 who has played continuous Christmas hits since Halloween. It is joy rooted in the fact that a Savior is coming. As Silent Night tells us, it is the ‘dawn of redeeming grace.'
Here in the visitation of the angel Gabriel to the virgin Mary we hear for the first time, the Gospel, in the form we hear today. Mary was the first person in the world to hear the name Jesus and to hear what it is this baby would accomplish. She may not have understood all of its implications, but she heard it and received it by faith. She was, in a sense, the first Christian.
When you read the Bible, the NT especially, it is clear what Jesus' mission is in coming to earth.
Luke 19:10—‘For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.'
John 3:17—For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.'
Galatians 4:4-5—‘But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.'
It is not just the theme of certain parts of the Bible, but all of history, points to the coming of Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection.
And here for the first time in history, we hear the angel Gabriel lay it out in a concise and clear manner what it is that this baby would accomplish. This is a message of great joy, but why is it a message of great joy? You don't have to imagine Mary's response to Gabriel because it's right here for us to see. She was greatly troubled and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. She was not overjoyed with the arrival of this angel and his announcement.
Of course the story that precedes this one is the account of Gabriel's visit to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, and that didn't go well at all—Gabriel struck him mute until the birth of his son. And, when angels show up elsewhere in the Scriptures, things don't often go well. The normal reaction is to fall on your face.
And when it says that she tried to discern what kind of greeting this might be, what the greek here really means is that she took an audit, she begin to think rationally about the situation. Mary didn't sit back and think, ‘Huh, I've heard about these angel visitations and I'm glad you're here.' No, she thinks, ‘Wait a minute, this doesn't make sense! Can this be real?'
And yet it is good news of great joy because in it is the heralding of the Gospel, the word made flesh, Jesus Christ, coming into the world to save sinners.
This was the messiah who had been longed for. Throughout the Old Testament there was a deep longing for one who would come and rescue. Jesus himself says to the Pharisees in John 8J, ‘Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and he was glad (8:56).' And yet, Mary is the first person to hear the name Jesus. The name Jesus means God's saves, Yahweh Rescues) Things have become specific.
There was a longing for a messiah because there is a need for a messiah.
Jesus did not come into the world simply to give us this touching story which we call the Nativity; he came with a purpose. And that purpose was not to simply serve as a model so that we might emulate him. He came to save us from sin and to throw open wide the gates of heaven to all those who put their trust in him. And this is not small task because sin is no small thing.
Sin is a condition. Certainly when we think of sin it's right for us to think of our misdeeds, but these misdeeds, these sins, spring up from a sinful heart which is our condition. And this condition touches every area of our lives. Our jobs, our friendships, our marriages, our relationships with our children. There is not one of us who has not experienced the effect of sin in our lives. None of us has been able to avoid that feeling of helplessness when we find a situation gone so far bad that we are helpless to deal with it. No amount of work, conversation, not our greatest effort will deliver us from the situation we find ourselves in.
Because our situation is so dire, only one person has the power to take away our sin, and that is God himself. And here we have the angel Gabriel, choosing his words with the utmost care, saying to Mary, ‘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, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.' Jesus is not just a holy person, but holiness in the flesh—God himself.
Gabriel makes the incredible declaration that he who is the Most High will be born very low. God's love is not abstract…If Christmas is true, our God is the only God who became vulnerable. He placed himself in a place where he could be harmed. And he was. He came back to get us. He came to pay the price for our sins. This is the Gospel message.
Riptide: A few years ago I was on Pawleys Island and it was a tragic year. Just days before I arrived two swimmers had drowned due to the strong riptides that are prevalent at Pawleys. Unfortunately, they would not be the last to be overtaken. Even so, as I made my way down to the beach and into the water, I thought, be careful, but you should be fine. Read: You are too young and too strong for this to effect you, so carry on…A friend, his son, and I were in the water together and not really that far away from the shore, when all of a sudden we felt it. A riptide. And it was stong. So strong that my friend picked up his eight year old son and threw him with all of his might toward the shore. I was only maybe five feet farther out than my friend, but it might has well have been miles. He swam parallel to the shore, as you are taught to do, and he was fine, but I was being swept out. He asked, ‘Are you all right?' ‘Yeah!' I said. ‘Andrew?' ‘I've got it.' As I began to flail and panic.
I know that you're supposed to swim parallel to the shore and there are certain procedures to follow when you're in a riptide, but when you're in it, forget it. My friend's father and brother in law quickly swam out, made a human chain and pulled me into safety.
Sin is like a riptide.
‘I've got it under control.'
Jesus does not wait to be asked.
God does not stand on the shore, but dives in to save us. He becomes vulnerable to harm and even death, in order to save us. He dies, that we might live.
In life, we need a lifeguard, not a swim coach.
We cannot get to the shore on our own strength.
This is the message that we hear from the angel Gabriel this morning--News of great joy that a deliverer is coming. The savior that we have so longed for is coming into the world. As God dives into the world, so would he also come rescue our hearts and redeem us for our good and his great glory. AMEN