In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Truth has arisen from the earth: flesh from Mary. And justice looked down from heaven: for man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.” In this section of St. Augustine’s Sermon on the Nativity, he points us toward the womb and words that were spoken to Mary by Gabriel. Adam, made from dust, returns to dust, subject to the curse of death. From the wombs of our mothers we are born, only to return to the womb of the earth in the grave. Death is the proof that you have sinned; proof that all have sinned, because all die. The movement seems eternal, from womb to tomb: today many die; today many are born. It seems an unending cycle. And it would be, except for the only completely new thing ever created in this world: the Christ child, born of our flesh, but preserved pure. He is born from the same earth as we are; from this earth comes the truth: God in flesh made manifest. From heaven above to earth He comes, with the angel’s words to the Blessed Virgin: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” This mystery can only be worshiped, not comprehended: from that Gospel word of the angel Gabriel, the Son of God lay in the womb of a dying mortal; vulnerable, helpless, dependent, and susceptible to the death that inhabits this world, into which He had been born.
Behold the promise, you awakened sleepers who have wiped sleep from your eyes. Witness God being knitted into flesh in the womb of that most highly favored lady. Hear, read, mark, digest: “The angel Gabriel from heaven came, With wings as drifted snow, with eyes as flame” to speak God’s own word to Mary: “nothing will be impossible with God.” Marvel, heaven; wonder, earth! That the Lord chose such a birth! Christ has been made flesh and dwells among us; so we sing with the angel: “All hail to thee, O lowly maiden Mary, Most highly favored lady. Gloria!” As is the way of our God, the lowly and unworthy is exalted, and becomes the highly favored. Highly favored indeed, to carry in the warmth under her beating heart her own salvation. Soon the sin in the hearts of the many would be revealed, as the One carried all sin on His own stretched-out shoulders. And she who alone carried Him in her body had her heart pierced, too, by the death of her Son, as Simeon had foretold. He alone could carry her sins and yours.
From that very moment, the moment when the miraculous conception took place, making use of Mary’s own DNA, inherited from her parents, from David, from Eve—from that moment the path of her Son was laid out. From that moment the promise to Eve about the Seed of the woman crushing the head of the serpent began its fulfillment. In that moment, the Son set His unformed face toward Jerusalem to ransom the sinful captives. The angels and the prophets and the saints who had gone before Him rejoice, and that second heart in Mary, once begun beating, has resonated and echoed throughout history, throughout space and time. Emmanuel is a literal reality: God truly, finally, literally with us. There Mary stands, blessed uniquely with God’s gracious favor; she received from the angel the word that the only hope for her life has just received life in her womb. Ever after, she is known as Theotokos, “bearer of God.” “Of her, Emmanuel, the Christ was born In Bethlehem all on a Christmas morn, And Christian folk throughout the world will ever say: ‘Most highly favored lady.’ Gloria!”
“Let it be to me as you have said,” Mary responds to the angel, her great Amen. And so it was–with her and for her–just as the angel said. And from that moment, the Word, who is Christ, has been spoken into the ears of Christians and will continue to be spoken until this age comes to its completion. We do not have Gabriel speaking to us, as Mary did, but we have the same Holy Spirit who was present to grant the conception of Jesus; the same Most High God whose presence overshadowed Mary. The Holy Spirit has spoken the Word of Christ through angels–through messengers–and faith is created, no less miraculously than that conception. It is faith in the life begun in Mary’s womb; faith in the life that grew, to whom she gave birth; faith in the life that proceeded to the cross and was extinguished there, life that was reignited in Jesus’ flesh in the resurrection. That is the faith we confess in the creed and in the liturgy of the Divine Service. The faith that is built up and strengthened, and has its way with our sinful hearts. We hear the word from the pastors who have been given to do what Gabriel did, to speak nothing other than what God has spoken: the wise and good Law, that crushes sinners; and then the sweet consolation of the Gospel, which raises us up: the Gospel that proclaims that God has become man, has died the only death that could atone for us, and has been raised up—this is the Gospel that says it is all for you, this promise and assurance that you, too, will be raised up at the final advent. This is life that enlivens and makes you resolute in the face of your life and death. This is joy, because the Son has crested the horizon, the darkness has taken notice of His glory, and has begun to flee.
For now we rest, like Mary, in the Word of promise, and blessed is the one who believes that the one who has spoken will faithfully accomplish it. Even as we wait to see His great and glorious advent, He comes now softly and hidden. Emmanuel comes for you; for the lost and the weary; for the sin-soaked masses; for the poor and the weak in spirit; for the forgiven believer and the forgiven unbeliever. He comes to ransom captive Israel and enlighten the Gentiles; His own body created in Mary is the purchase price. Just as He left Mary’s womb, so He also stepped out of the grave and left death behind forever. Fix your eyes on the horizon; the sun rises in the east, and in the darkness we wait. Refill the oil; trim your wicks. And rest in Emmanuel, who is coming into the world.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 12/15/15
*The theme for this Advent series, much of the outline, and some of the material is taken by permission from Pr. Gaven Mize, of Augustana Lutheran Church, Hickory, NC.