Saturday, December 20, 2014

You Have Found Favor with God

Sermon on Luke 1:26-38
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
December 21, 2014 (The Fourth Sunday in Advent)

Being reminded of our own sinfulness is not pleasant.  Most people go out of their way to avoid it if they can.  Of course, it’s not just the reminders of the end of the world that do this to us.  Our old selves flee from any reminder that God’s Law makes demands of us that we have not, and cannot fulfill.  And this includes the reminders of His Law that come to our minds when we see or encounter one of His messengers.  Even human pastors make some people uncomfortable, because of the reminder we represent, even without saying anything, when someone sees one of us wearing a clerical collar in public, of whatever has been bothering that person’s conscience.  Even my co-workers at Walmart take an extra second or two to recognize me if I stop by the store where I work to pick up something while I’m wearing my clerical collar, because they see that collar and are suddenly blind to everything else about me, including my face.  Even when I’m wearing my Walmart vest, some of my co-workers who know I’m a pastor will suddenly apologize if they’ve used foul language in my presence.  Of course, there isn’t much I haven’t heard, so if they think they’ll offend me specifically, I’d rather they not bother apologizing, because that just ends up being hypocritical.  On the other hand, if remembering that I’m a pastor causes them to remember that they shouldn’t be using foul language in the first place, that’s another thing entirely.  In any case, however, if that’s the reaction that God’s human messengers get from their fellow sinners,  it’s not surprising that God’s supernatural messengers provoke outright fear in the hearts of those who see them, even in the heart of the virgin Mary.

But Gabriel says to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”  And he then goes on to tell her what will happen to her, that she will become the mother of the boy-child who is God Himself, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.  It is through the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God on the lips of His messenger, His angel, that God the Son comes to dwell within her.  And the Word does what it says, as always.  God the Son does, in fact, come to dwell within her.  He is conceived as an infant in her womb, but He also comes to dwell within her in an even more miraculous way, the same way He comes to dwell within each of us by the power of the Word.  He comes to dwell within her heart, to put to death the fears and doubt that come from her old self, so that a new heart can be created within her, a right spirit renewed within her.

That’s what God’s Word does for us.  Remember, God can’t lie.  Not so much because He’s good and won’t tell a lie, but because His Word is powerful and creative, and whatever He says comes true even if it wasn’t true before.  For those who don’t know or refuse to acknowledge their sin, God’s Law comes and crushes us and causes us to fear God’s wrath and punishment.  But more importantly, the Gospel, the good news of what God has done for us, tell us that we should not be afraid.  The old Adam is right to be afraid; Christ’s coming to us means that he gets drowned underneath the waters of Holy Baptism, and that this old life and the ability to pretend God doesn’t exist and we can continue living comfortably in our sin are themselves temporary.  But what God says to us then is, “Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God.”  And that’s the whole point of what we’re about as the Christian Church.  That’s the whole point of my job as your pastor.  Because of Christ’s innocent life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection, we have found favor with God.  God comes to dwell within us, under bread and wine, with the same body and blood that were conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.

As we examine ourselves according to God’s Law, this doesn’t seem possible.  We see our sin, our selfishness, our tendency to do even outwardly good things for the wrong reasons.  We know we aren’t worthy to have God’s messenger speak to us, let alone for Christ to come and dwell with us.  But what is impossible with men is possible with God.  What we couldn’t do for ourselves, He did for us.  He lived a perfect life, died an innocent death, rose again, and ascended into heaven, so that we could die to our sins and live a perfect new life with Him.  For Christ’s sake, we also have found favor with God.  It may look impossible that this could be true, but with God, nothing shall be impossible.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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