Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent – December 20, 2020
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
There are a lot of exciting moments during a pregnancy, but among the most exciting is when you go in for the ultrasound. It is a big moment. You catch a glimpse of your baby for the first time. You actually get to see inside the womb! You get to peek at what’s cookin’ in there!
When my wife was pregnant we got the regular 2D ultrasounds, which don’t look like much to the untrained eye. We could tell that they were babies and, with a little help, that they were boys, and that was about it. Now there are new 3D, high resolution, high-definition ultrasounds that let people peek into the womb like never before. The images are stunning. The detail is incredible. You can see each tiny finger and toe. You can make out facial features and facial expressions and wisps of hair. Rather than the weird inkblot picture we had stuck on our refrigerator door, you can actually see what your baby looks like while it is still in the womb. I even saw recently that there are fancy “Mommy Spas” with these kinds of ultrasound machines where well-to-do moms go and have parties and show off the baby before it is born.
Our gospel reading begins with a reference to the sixth month of Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy, and goes right into Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she will even more miraculously conceive in her womb. “Greetings, favored one,” Gabriel said to Mary, “The Lord is with you!” Mary was perplexed by these words and pondered them. Gabriel continued: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.”
What Gabriel had to say to Mary about this child serves as a sort of theological ultrasound. It is a 3D, high-definition spiritual ultrasound which gives us some amazing details about this baby Mary will deliver. It reveals to Mary, and to us, what exactly it is that God will be cooking up in Mary’s womb.
The first detail we notice in this theological ultrasound is the baby’s name. He will be named Jesus. This wasn’t a suggestion from Gabriel, this was a command: “You will name him Jesus.” This name is significant. It is revealing, because the name “Jesus” means “savior.” It is related to the name “Joshua,” which Mary would have remembered as the military savior who won the battle of Jericho for God’s people. But this savior would be different. This savior was coming to win a much bigger victory. He was coming to save his people from a much bigger array of enemies. He was coming to save people from sin, death, and the devil. He was coming to conquer them all! And this savior would win this victory in an unlikely way – by dying and rising again.
That’s getting ahead of the story, perhaps, but this is the first important detail revealed by Gabriel’s theological ultrasound: His name will be Jesus, “savior.”
The next amazing detail to note is that this baby will be great, that the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David, that he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and that his kingdom will have no end. Whew! That’s a lot, but these are some amazing details! What this meant would have been understood pretty well by Mary and by her contemporaries, who were steeped in these names and the stories behind them, but we might need a refresher to understand what these details mean. Long ago, God promised that Abraham and his offspring, what we might today call his DNA relatives, would be blessed. God further promised that one day, through his line, ALL the families, all the tribes, all the ethnicities, all the peoples of the earth would be blessed. This blessing can be traced through Abraham and Sarah’s own miraculous son, Isaac. It can be traced through Jacob, who eventually came to be known as Israel. It can be traced through Israel’s greatest king, David. When David’s royal family tree was reduced to a stump, the prophets declared that one day a shoot from that stump would sprout, bringing a new king and a new kingdom. This baby was that sprout! He was that heir to David’s throne! He was that king – but his kingdom wouldn’t be a few thousand square miles with a border around it. His kingdom would not be of this world. His kingdom would have no end. These details reveal that this baby would a fulfillment of a promise, a blessing for all people, and a king who would rule for all eternity.
At this point Mary interrupts Gabriel, asking how any of this can be, since she has never been with a man. And it is here that Gabriel points out the most amazing detail of all. He tells Mary that this child will be conceived by the Holy Spirit, that this child to be born will be holy, that he will be called Son of God. This child Mary will carry in her womb will be a human ancestor of David, with the DNA of Jacob and Isaac and Abraham, but this child will also be God himself, God in the flesh.
As this high-definition spiritual ultrasound with all these amazing details concluded, Mary responded with remarkable trust, remarkable faith, saying: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
By witnessing this theological ultrasound on this last Sunday before Christmas, we get to catch a glimpse of the gift God has in store for us that we will celebrate in just a few days. We get to peek under the wrapping. We get to peek into the womb to see what God is up to. God is sending us a savior to rescue us from every enemy, from everything that makes us afraid or ashamed or alienated. God is fulfilling his promise to bless all the peoples of the earth, including each and every one of you. God is sending a king to establish an eternal kingdom, and you are invited to be part of that kingdom through faith in his Son. God is coming to us in human form as a baby, that we might look upon his face and see all the precious details of his great love for us.
What God put in Mary’s womb he is also putting in your heart even now. Let us receive this gift in the same way she did, with her same remarkable trust, her same remarkable faith. With Blessed Mary, let each of us say today: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church