Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! Amen. Today is the second week of our sermon series, The Word and the Wonder, and our focus for tonight is God’s Word to Mary. In our Gospel from Luke 1 we heard how the angel Gabriel came to visit Mary—the same angel who appeared to Zechariah in the Temple.
The first thing the angel said to her was “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:28, ESV). Luke tells us she was very troubled by this greeting and didn’t understand it one bit. As far as we can tell, Mary was a nobody by worldly standards. She was from the backwoods town of Nazareth, of which someone later quipped, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Unlike our little town of Castle Rock, which routinely shows up in Money Magazine and other lists as one of the best places in America to live, Nazareth was a middle-of-nowhere, wrong-side-of-the-tracks place to grow up.
And despite the Roman Catholic Church’s outrageous claims about Mary’s supposed “immaculate conception” and calling her “the Queen of Heaven” (Latin: Regina Coeli), Mary herself was a person of no particular significance. She calls herself a handmaiden, “the servant of the Lord” (Luke 1:38), someone of “humble estate,” or lowly status (1:48).
Yet to this young virgin, a mere girl of about 15 years old, God called her “favored” or “full of grace” (Latin: gratia plena). Martin Luther paraphrases Gabriel’s greeting like this: “O Mary, you are blessed. You have a gracious God. No woman has ever lived on earth to whom God has shown such grace. You are the crown among them all.” This Word surprised and disturbed Mary because God’s grace is always unexpected, unlooked for, and undeserved. Despite her great faith, Mary was a sinner like us. And the angel’s message would have been no less astounding to the daughter of the Jewish high priest, or even King Herod’s daughter, as it was to her.
Yet the unexpected Christmas Gospel is that God does not treat us the way we deserve. Instead, he treats us with mercy and love. The Psalmist says it this way: “[God] does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him” (Ps. 103:10-11).
The angel answered Mary’s fear and said, “Don’t be afraid!” Then he told her of the wonderful Good News that she, a virgin, was about to conceive and give birth to a son. “He will be great and be called the Son of the Most High…, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33). That a human child could be called the Son of God was amazing enough! That a virgin could conceive defied all nature and reason! Little Mary’s heart leaped, but her head swooned.
“How will this be,” she asked, “since I am a virgin and have never been with a man?” Or, as my favorite children’s Bible has it: “But it’s too wonderful!”
“Is anything too wonderful for God?!” the angel replied.
No! Nothing, of course! “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). Not the virgin birth, not faith in God’s Word, not even God’s grace for sinners like us. The Son whom Mary would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit would be called Jesus, whose name means “The Lord saves.” Jesus would be born to save his people from their sins—to save you and me from our sins (cf. Matt. 1:21). And even if God’s grace is too much for our little minds to comprehend, it is never too much for our hearts to believe and receive by faith.
Mary believed the message spoken by the angel and humbly submitted to God’s will. “Behold,” she said, “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your Word” (Luke 1:38). Luther makes an excellent observation about Mary’s response:
“Well might Mary have said, ‘Who am I, little worm, that I should bear a King?’ She might have doubted, but she shut her eyes and trusted in God who could bring all things to pass, even though common sense were against it; and because she believed, God did to her as he had said.”
Many years later somebody would praise Jesus’ mother to his face. “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” (Luke 11:27). All of that, of course, was true of faithful Mary. But that is true of any true believe in Christ, which is why Jesus would reply, “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28).
Mary believed and obeyed the Word of God. By God’s grace, we can do the same, because the Son born to Mary was also born for us.
In our Scripture readings tonight, we hear Jesus called David’s son (2 Sam. 7:12-16), Mary’s son (Luke 1:31), and even the Son of God—“Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32). But we must overlook this comforting fact: he is also our Son, because he is God’s Son for us. As Martin Luther writes in his Christmas Book, “This is for us the hardest point, not so much to believe that He is the son of the Virgin and God himself, as to believe that this Son of God is ours.”“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…” (Isa. 9:6, KJV). God gave his Son Jesus so that the whole world might be saved (John 3:16). “This Child belongs to all mankind.” The Word given to Mary is that the Christ Child belongs to you and to me because of the wonderful, amazing grace of God. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of T the Holy Spirit. Amen.