Video of Vespers is here. The sermon begins around the 11:13 mark (after I retrieved my sermon manuscript!).
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This Lent looks like it’s going to be a little bit longer than in other years. While we haven’t given up on celebrating our Lord’s Resurrection after 6 weeks of Lenten preparation, it looks like we might wait to have the full celebration when we can gather as normally as possible. The Church Year was made for man, not man for the Church Year, so if we celebrate the events of the Lord’s last week, when He accomplished our salvation, on a different timeline than the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring equinox, I think we’ll be fine. And since every Lord’s Day is a little resurrection celebration, we’ll do it one way or the other.
But if this Lent is a little longer and you were looking for a glimpse of light in the midst of the darkness, today is it. This is the day nine months before we celebrate our Lord’s birth, which means it’s the day we remember how God sent a messenger, Gabriel, to a virgin in Galilee to proclaim that He had chosen her to be the mother of God-in-the-flesh. Thus, today we celebrate the beginning of our salvation in the flesh of Jesus, and not on Christmas. Today we celebrate the conception of Jesus, when God took on flesh from Mary and purified it for His own habitation. He did not become a human being at His birth, but nine months before, just as all of our lives began.
In Psalm 45, we are given a picture of the King and His Queen, His Bride. The King is the mighty one who rides out victoriously for the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness, in awesome deeds of power. “The King shall come when morning dawns and light triumphant breaks” (LSB 348:1). When He appears, He doesn’t sit on the throne of an earthly king, but on the throne of God Himself. Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. To that King has been given the reign and rule, the scepter, of God Himself. He is called God and the psalmist praises Him: Therefore, God—your God—has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions. The Anointed One is a man, but not only human. He shares with them flesh and blood, but is above them according to His divinity.
And He comes first of all, uniquely, and most intimately to His mother. From her He receives His flesh and blood and DNA. From her He receives His nourishment and continued life in the flesh. From her He is born, and she is His first teacher. To her the angel comes and might well have spoken in the words of the psalm: Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear. Hail to the one whom the Lord has favored! He is with you! Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor and grace from God. Incline your ear: You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His Name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give 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. Hear, O daughter, and consider!
And she does hear, and she does consider, and she answers, Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word. Amen, she says. It is true. The Word of the Lord comes to her, and she believes it, and the Word is conceived in her and takes flesh. This Word-made-flesh is not only her son, but her Lord. Bow to Him! And because of that grace and favor that God bestows on her, all generations of the Lord’s people call her blessed. Blessed is she among women, and blessed above all is the fruit of her womb, the Seed of the woman who has appeared to crush the head of the Evil One. Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what God had spoken to her: let it be to me according to your word. To her God says, I will cause your name to be remembered in all generations; therefore nations will praise her forever and ever—not because of who she is in herself, but because God lifts up the lowly and granted to that virgin from Nazareth to be the mother of God according to the flesh. “Yahweh has established His throne in the heavens,” Psalm 103 says (Psalm 103:19). But the astounding fact is where He first established His throne on earth: “here a maid was found with child, yet remained a virgin mild. In her womb this truth was shown: God was there upon His throne” (LSB 332:3).
But besides being chosen and favored by God, Mary also becomes the great picture of faith. The psalmist says, “In place of your fathers shall be your sons; you will make them princes in all the earth” (45:16). This is the same picture that John sees in the Revelation: the woman who has a crown of 12 stars, joined to both the Old Testament Church of Israel (Jesus reigns over the house of Jacob forever), and the New Testament Church of the Apostles (His Kingdom will have no end). She is a daughter of Israel, and as the mother of Jesus, she is, by the physical fact of giving birth to Him, the mother of the Church, which is the Body of Christ. So it happens in Revelation that the woman gives birth to a male child, who rules with a rod of iron (as Psalm 2 prophesied), and who is caught up to God and to His throne in ascension and glorification.
Then she becomes a picture of the Church’s faith in that Child, as she must live for now in the wilderness, attacked by the dragon—Satan—but protected by God. John sees the dragon furious with the Woman, making war against the rest of her offspring, those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus—you baptized believers, that is (Revelation 12). She is the mother of all who believe, in the sense that she is the first to believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of Israel and of all God’s promises. The messenger of God speaks, and she says Amen to his word, just as we and all Christians say Amen to God’s word.
And now the picture of mother shifts to the picture of bride, as the psalmist and St. Paul both lead us to see. At the King’s right hand stands the Queen in gold of Ophir, glorious with robes interwoven with gold, many-colored robes, with joy and gladness, she is led to the King. So Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, that He might make her holy, having cleansed her by the washing of the water with the word, so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish—glorious in robes washed clean by the blood of the Lamb, led in joy to the King (Ephesians 5:25-27).
Today the announcement goes out again: the Son of Mary is the Son of God, conceived and born; flesh of her flesh, so flesh of ours; blood of her blood, and blood of ours. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me.” To do the will of God, He came in the flesh, and by that will He has made us holy through the offering of His own body, once and for all. Amen; let it to be to you, and to me, as He has said.
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, 3/25/20