Sermon for December 21, 2014

Sermon for Fourth Sunday in Advent

December 21, 2014, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  Luke 1:26-38

Sermon Theme:  “For Nothing Will be Impossible with God”

(Sources:  Anderson’s Preaching Workbook, Cycle B; Emphasis Online Commentaries; Emphasis Online Illustrations; Hail Mary, Wikipedia Online; Hail Mary Prayer Online; My Dec. 16 From the Pastor and other original ideas; Harper’s Bible Dictionary).

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God ou r Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

In today’s sermon text, Gabriel calls Mary by name.  It’s a good thing, otherwise, she might have thought the angel was coming to the wrong person for this job.

One hot summer day in Georgia, a man named Simpson took a job on a work crew, building a road.  The crew was behind and working extra long and hard, but most of the men had gotten used to the work and the heat.  Finally, after several hours of back-breaking labor in the Georgia sun without stopping, the new guy went over to talk to the foreman.

“Excuse me, Boss,” he said, “do you have a fellow on your work-sheet named ‘Simpson’?”

“Yes, “said the foreman, “why do you ask?’

“Oh, nothing, Boss, I just thought that maybe when I signed up, you wrote my name down as ‘Samson.’

The Annunciation, which includes the “Magnificat” and the Visitation, which includes the Hail Mary, set the stage for the miraculous birth at Bethlehem, the greatest event in world history.  Our God is no mere abstract theory, but so real, so personal, that these passages are filled with specific personal names.

Even the angel has a name.  Gabriel.  Gabriel calls Mary by her name.  And the angel reports that God wants her to call the baby, “Jesus.”  In relationships with God, there is something very special about names.  God calls each of us by name and knows us personally.

In Mexico the name “Jesus” is very common, and it’s pronounced “Hey-sus’.  In Judah, during the time our Lord lived on the earth, the name “Jesus” was very common, as common as the name “John” or “Bob” is today in the United States.  Many Jews would probably have used the Hebrew version, “Yesh’- u-wuh.”  The historian Josephus mentions many men in Palestine with the name “Jesus” during New Testament days.  It is typical of God that He would give His uncommon Son a common name.

The name “Jesus” or “Jeshua” means “God will save,” so it was good to name your baby, Jesus, “God will save this Kid.”  But when Jesus was given this name, He WAS God, thus, as His name, it meant, “I Save,” or “Savior.”  Names were important to God, and His dealings with people are up close and personal.

There are several passages in the Bible that Lutherans are a little uncomfortable with, lest someone misinterpret them.  One example would be the section describing the first Pentecost, which the Pentecostal churches use to justify the practice of Speaking in Tongues.  Another would be today’s text, the “Annunciation” in Luke 1:26-38, in which the angel Gabriel greets the Virgin Mary and announces that she will give birth to the Savior.  Even though this is the main basis of the “Hail Mary” prayer and the “Ave Maria” canticle in the Catholic church, it should not be neglected by Protestants.

Martin Luther believed that Mary should be held in highest esteem, but he opposed the veneration of the mother of Jesus.  Parts of the “Hail Mary” prayer and the “Ave Maria” canticle are fully Biblical, and the musical setting to the “Ave” is beautiful.  They use phrases from both the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38) and from the Visitation (Luke 1:46-55), and these two sections of the Bible belong together.

When Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth to share the Good News, Elizabeth says, in Luke 1:24, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear.”  Our CPH translation of the announcement of the angel is, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”  The Greek word, which the “Ave Maria” renders as “Hail” can mean, “hail,” “greetings,” or even “rejoice.”

When the angel greeted Mary, no doubt she was too astonished to respond fully, so it is not until she visits Elizabeth that she speaks the word of the “Magnificat,” in Luke 1:46-55, words that we sing in our Vespers liturgy and also in Hymn 275 in the Red book.  In the sense of meaningfulness, the Annunciation (Hail Mary) and the Visitation (the Magnificat) belong together.

All of the Magnificat is taken from the Bible, and about half the Hail Mary is taken from the Bible.  From a Protestant perspective, there is nothing wrong with the first part of the “Hail Mary”:  “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.  Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.”  It is the second part that is not in the Gospel:  “Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”

For our sermon hymn, Peggy just sang the Biblical part of the beautiful “Ave Maria” in Latin, and we followed that with the singing of 275, the hymn version of the Magnificat.  She sang it in Latin, not to sneak in the Catholic part, but because she doesn’t know it in English.

This needed to be clarified so that we, as Protestants, can be more comfortable with Mary and the significant role God gave her.  Was she favored because of her moral purity?  That was an issue but that alone doesn’t explain it.  Did the Lord sense that Mary would be receptive to His grace and so He favored her?  Mary certainly was that sort of person but this still doesn’t cut to the heart of the matter.

The prime reason for Mary’s favored status was the sovereign grace of God.  The Lord doesn’t favor people because of any quality within them.  It’s God’s nature to bestow His favor, even on the sinful, the weak, and the undeserving.  God grants His favor to all who freely let the gospel conceive new life in their hearts.

Having said all of that, what is most important in today’s text and is the main message for us is found when the angel says to Mary, “Nothing is impossible with God.”  It appears impossible, — a young woman having a child though she has not known a man, and that this child would be the Son of God and Savior of the world!  Then as an example, the angel points out, how Elizabeth who had long been unable to have a child and was past child-bearing age, was pregnant.  Nothing is impossible with God.

God remains beyond limits even though we humans try to establish the borders across which even the Almighty cannot pass.  For instance, some might say that God only works through medical technology, but that He doesn’t heal instantaneously through the power of prayer.  Or we claim that the Lord works through one ecclesiastical structure but not another.  Or we exclaim, “God will never be able to get through to THAT person!”  Isn’t it time we freed God from our rationalistic constraints?

If we question whether the virgin birth was possible, then we also would have to question the miracles of Christ, from the changing of water into wine, to walking on water, and the greatest miracle of all, the Resurrection.  Indeed, nothing is impossible for God.

Taking this thought a step further, we can conclude, “All things are possible for US through the power of God.  As the Apostle Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”

I wonder what impossible thing you hear God whispering to you this Advent.  What are your hopes and dreams for our church, even if they may sound impossible?  What hurdle are you facing right now that seems impossible?

The impossible can happen.  A barren woman was pregnant.  A virgin was to have a child.  Nothing is impossible with God!  Let us keep that joyful thought in our hearts as we celebrate the Christ Child on Thursday.   Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.