Every year on December 25th all Christendom kneels at the manger bed of Jesus and there both contemplates and adores the great mystery of the incarnation: of God in the flesh and blood, the humanity that is yours and mine. But it was not in the stable at Bethlehem that God became Man; no, it was in that humble home in the obscure little village of Nazareth. There a lowly Jewish maiden, betrothed to a carpenter named Joseph, received from the heavenly messenger the astonishing news that she had been chosen by God to give birth to a Child, and not just any child, but a Child who will be both her Son and also the Son of God, theSavior of the world. Greatly troubled at this news, greatly puzzled and wondering how such a thing could possibly be, Marynevertheless gives her assent to the angel’s message: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And with her assent “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
This is the moment in time, the fullness of time, the God-appointed moment in time, when the timeless One out of pure love for His fallen human creatures enters into time so that we creatures of time might become citizens of that kingdom which has no end. This is the actual moment of the incarnation. And the words of the familiar Christmas carol, “How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given,” apply not only to Jesus’ birth but also to His conception, the very beginning of His human life in lowly Mary’s womb.
God the Father sends the heavenly messenger to Mary, God the Holy Spirit overshadows her just as He overshadowed the face of the deep at the very beginning of all things, and God the Son becomes Man. And then for nine months, as Mary goes out her daily life, doing the housework, preparing food and doing the dishes, eating and sleeping, chatting with her friends and neighbors, this lowly Jewish maiden literally carries God incarnate in her body. She in fact becomes in the truest sense the very temple of God, the place of His dwelling in the world.
No wonder the heavenly messenger and later Mary’s cousin Elizabeth acclaimed her “blessed among women.” And if we, in one our hymns, in the exuberant language of poetry and love, acclaim her as “higher than the cherubim, more glorious than the seraphim,” we do so acclaim her because not even the holy angels, not even the cherubim and seraphim, have been that intimately involved in the life of the Holy Trinity.
Whois conceived in Mary’s womb? God is conceived in Mary’s womb. Who is born of Mary? God is born of Mary. Who then isMary? Mary is the Mother of God – not in the sense that she is the source of her Son’s godhead which He has from God the Father, but in the sense that she truly is the Mother of the One Person who is both Man and God. And this of course is thesettled doctrine of our Evangelical Lutheran Church which in the Formula of Concord solemnly confesses her faith in these words: “We believe, teach, and confess that Mary conceived and bore not only a plain, ordinary, mere man but the veritable Son of God:for this reason she is rightly called and truly is the Mother of God.” And Dr. Luther says: “It needs to be pondered in the heart what it means to be the Mother of God.”
Responding to the heavenly messenger Mary says, “Let it be to me according to your word!” In one sense these words areuniquely hers who out of all the women have ever lived or will ever live was chosen by God to be the Mother of Him who is both God and Savior of the world. But in another sense these words can and should be on the lips of all who like Mary have found in Jesus their Savior and their Lord. “Let it be to me according to your word” – that word of pardon and life spoken to each one of us in Holy Baptism and ever renewed in Holy Absolution, the word grounded in Jesus who is Himself the Word of God, made flesh this day in Mary’s womb and nailed to the cross in fulfillment of the Scriptures.
And so in the Epistle for this day the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, knowing that “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sin,” hears the promised Savior speaking in the 40th Psalm: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body you prepared for Me…Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God,” and then adds, “By that will we have been sanctified by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all,” the body conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of Mary, the body offered once for all on the altar of the cross, the body we now receive at this altar. For the same Lord God and Savior who made Himself little and lowly in blessed Mary’s womb comes again this evening in the little bread, the little wine of the Sacrament, which are mysteriously yet truly the same body and blood He took this day from her, which hung on the cross, the Body now risen from the dead and worshipped by angels and archangels, by blessed Mary and all the company of heaven.
In Mary‘s home in Nazareth, in the manger at Bethlehem, and at the altar:
How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him, still
The dear Christ enters in.
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THE ANNUNCIATION 2011