A sermon preached at New Hope Lutheran Church, West Melbourne, FL on December 21, 2014 by Pastor Dale Raether
Please visit our Synod’s website at www.wels.net
Ponder the Miracle of Christmas!
Luke 1:26-38

Are you ready for Christmas? I suppose that depends on how you define “ready”. For some it’s having all their presents bought and wrapped. Or, it’s having Christmas dinner planned and the house cleaned for company. You know the problem with these preparations? They’re stressful! And besides, you still have your regular work and then the parties to go to, and on top of all that, the kids get squirrelly. Merry Christmas, right? This morning we’re going to see how Mary got ready for Christmas. It wasn’t by the things she did. Rather she got ready by pondering what she was about to receive. May we complete our Christmas preparations the same way as we ponder the miracle of Christmas. A miracle: 1. Announced by the Angel. 2. Prophesied by God. 3. Received by faith.

1. Announced by the Angel

We read in our text: In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” – Luke 1:26-28 What would your reaction be if an angel suddenly appeared to you? Maybe, “He’s coming for me, and I’m not ready to leave my family yet.” Or, maybe your reaction would be fear. We believe that Jesus is our Savior. Nevertheless, whenever sinners come into the presence of a holy being, even if it’s just an angel and not God Himself, we become fully aware of our sinfulness. That’s what happened to Isaiah. When he saw a vision of heaven. He said: Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty. – Isaiah 6:5 Guilt was also Peter’s reaction after Jesus performed one of His earlier miracles. He said: Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man! – Luke 5:8 Mary too, our text says, became greatly troubled.

Now neither Isaiah, Peter, or Mary were guilty of some of the sins we’re guilty of. However, even if we were as good as anyone could possibly be, when we ponder or think about the meaning of the Commandments, and when we compare ourselves to them, we are going to have fear. The fear will be: Are the troubles I’m having now, because God is punishing me? Or, “God has blessed me so far, but what if He takes everything away like He did Job? Then what?” Fear exposes our sinfulness. Fear shows us that we don’t fear, love and trust in God above all things. And then if we strive for Christmas peace by having everything just right, we’re not really celebrating Christmas. We’re celebrating things. However, our sinfulness doesn’t stop God from wanting to give us true Christmas joy and peace.

We read on in our text: The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” – Luke 1:30-33 God’s favor is not based on our cleaning up our hearts and minds, because His standards are so much higher than ours. Rather, God’s favor is based on what He would do for us. He would send Emmanuel, which means God with us. Emmanuel is also called Jesus, which means the Lord saves.

And now, here’s how Emmanuel would save sinners. Earlier we sang: Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel, That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear. – CW 23:1 Just as the Children of Israel were captives in Babylon because of their sins, by nature we were captive to the guilt Satan keeps biting us with, and to the power of sin, so that not giving into sin seems impossible. But Emmanuel would rescue us by true God also becoming true man. This miracle is brought out in the next verse of Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel: Oh, come, O Root of Jesse, free Your own from Satan’s tyranny; From depths of hell your people save, And bring them vict’ry o’er the grave. – CW 23:2 Jesse was the father of King David; and King David was the father or ancestor of Jesus. However Jesus wasn’t just from the line of David. He is at the same time is the root or the creator of Jesse and David. Quietly ponder that! But He had to be both, so He could take mankind’s place in suffering the punishment for all sin, and then having paid it all, could conquer the grave for all! Now by believing this, the Light of His Word rules in our hearts. And then we are no longer slaves to sin, but joyfully, willingly we are servants of righteousness.

So, how many times have you heard me talk about these things? Every week! But we need to ponder these things every week, because there’s a constant battle inside us between the faith God gives us and our sinful nature. Nevertheless we win, or I should say, God lights the way for us and strengthens us, as we keep turning to His Word and holding on to His promises. We sang of that in verse three of Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel: Oh, come, O Dayspring from on high, And cheer us by your drawing nigh; Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death’s dark shadows put to flight. – CW 23:3

We wouldn’t have to sing of gloomy clouds and dark shadows if there weren’t any. But there are, and sometimes we might wonder if we’re going to make it. But Emmanuel will never leave or forsake us. We sang in the fourth verse of the hymn: Oh, come, O Key of David, come, And open wide our heav’nly home. Make safe the way that leads on high, And close the path to misery. – CW 23:4 Just as David was the King of Israel, Emmanuel is our eternal King. And so no real harm will ever come to us. Either He prevents the evil from happening in the first place, or He rescues us after a little while, or He allows it, but works it into blessings. Also, should we stray from Him, which we’re basically doing every time we sin, He comes after us to lead us back to His fold. And now all of this proves that God’s favor is resting on us. Ponder that!

But why should you believe what I’ve been announcing every week? Or, by the same token, why should Mary have believed Gabriel? What made him any different than the angel that supposedly appeared to Mohammed, who started the Islam religion? Here’s the “why.” The Christmas miracle announced by Gabriel was packed with fulfilled prophesies of God.

2. Prophesied by God

Here are a few of them. Mary was living in Galilee. Isaiah had written 750 before this: In the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light. – Isaiah 9:1-2 Another fulfilled prophesy was the virgin birth. Again, it says in Isaiah: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. – Isaiah 7:14 Still another prophesy fulfilled was the one we heard in our first reading this morning: Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever. – II Samuel 7:16 Emmanuel would begin His reign when He physically rose from the dead and then 40 days later ascended to the right hand of God. Now, of course,“His Kingdom will endure forever”, is a prophesy that for us remains to be seen. But just as God’s previous track record gave Mary faith to believe the angel’s announcement, so God’s track record strengthens our faith to believe that He still reigning, until He comes again. But what if the things happening in our life or in our world just don’t make sense to us? Well, pondering the miracle of Christmas, doesn’t mean we’ll understand everything, for it is:

3. Received by faith.

We read on in our text: “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” – Luke 1:34-35 Mary did not doubt a Savior was coming. But maybe she had the wrong idea that the Savior would be born in an ordinary way, and so when the angel said that SHE would be the Savior’s mother, she sincerely asked, “How can that happen, since I’m a virgin?” Gabriel then explained things to her as well as he could, but I doubt if she really comprehended it yet. How could a virgin conceive? How could the holy, all knowing, almighty, present everywhere God become a baby inside of her?
Actually we face similar questions today. How could Emmanuel’s body and blood be truly present with the bread and the wine in the Lord’s Supper? Or, even how can there be one God, yet separate persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? In all these things, we can only repeat what the God says in His Word, but we can’t really comprehend it. Nevertheless all of it is to be received by faith.
Reading on in our text: “Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” – Luke 1:36-37 Here was a little encouragement for Mary to believe God’s promises. Her cousin, Elizabeth, was maybe in 70’s and was 6 months along and going to have a baby for the first time. Impossible? Not with God! Actually, for us too there have been many little miracles in our life. Count them up sometime, and share them with each other, because they all drive home the point – no word of God has ever failed.
May this be our true Christmas preparation – to keep in our hearts and forward in our minds that no Word of God will ever failed. The Christmas miracle announced by the angel and prophesied by God proves it. And now let’s receive this by faith! And finally just as Mary was ready to do whatever God was giving her to do, let’s also place ourselves totally into His hands to serve and obey Him, for He is with us, and with Him all things are possible. And now we are ready for a truly Merry Christmas. Amen.

Please visit our Synod’s website at www.wels.net