December 23, 2018: 4th Sunday in Advent

Let us pray: Dear Savior, as we stand at the verge of Your manger awe and joy fill our hearts!  To think that You agreed to be born to save us is mind-boggling to us poor sinners.  To imagine You being carried in Your mother’s womb is beyond our understanding, yet strangely comforting.  For it means that You, our God, are one with us.  Since You comprehend everything about us, we ask that You use Your power and love to make sure our lives and filled with humbleness, forgiveness, and the comfort of knowing that all things are possible because of You.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM THE BLESSED BABE OF BETHLEHEM!

TEXT:  Luke 1: 26-38

Dearly Beloved in the Coming Christ:

Today’s lesson is called: the annunciation.  That is, the angel Gabriel appears to the virgin Mary to announce to her that she would become pregnant by God’s miraculous power and in 9 months give birth to God’s Son, her Savior and our Savior.  Since today is all about Mary’s conception and the rest of the week is all about a Baby being born, let’s take a little time to ponder a baby in the womb, and by extension, our Lord.

A lot of you are mothers.  Some of you are fathers.  And all of us are children irrespective of age.  Most adults know a bit about babies.  We know the nuts and bolts of how pregnancy is achieved.  We know the various stages of fetal development.  But permit me to share with you some things I’ve learned over my life about unborn babies and perhaps thereby enlarge your understanding.

God made us with a body, a soul, and a spirit.  We can trace the body’s development via sonograms and other medical marvels.  We cannot examine the soul as it is unseen.  But what about the spirit?  From the moment of conception a new being is created and formed in the womb.  He or she is part of the mother at that point.  The baby also has emotions from that point on since emotions are part of our spirit given to us by God.  Thus the baby can “feel” or sense its mom’s emotional upsets and stresses.  They sense her good times and bad ones.  And they react accordingly.  Think of John the Baptist leaping in his mother’s womb when Mary and Jesus-in-the-womb arrived.  They are joined to their mother and even in the womb desire to help her with any upset.  Of course, this they cannot do as they are totally dependent upon mom.  These emotions certainly must imprint on the baby and help shape their future responses in life.

When I was in college the basic psychological debate was about “nature vs. nurture.”  That is, are babies born with a totally clean slate and learn about life after birth being shaped by society?  Or are they born with inherent traits passed down to them even in the womb?  I’ve learned over the years that although the godless world prefers  the “nurture” side, and it’s partially true; the nature side is becoming more and more clear over time.  Personally, I’ve had flashbacks to being in my own mother’s womb, even when I was very small.  I know others who have had similar experiences.   I could go on, but I won’t.  Instead, I’ll simply say this: Babies and fetuses are very complex and what we know about them is literally in its infancy.

I

Or course, Mary knew none of this that memorable day when Gabriel appeared to her.  From her answer to his announcement, it’s obvious she knew about how babies are made—humanly speaking.  She thus asks: “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”  Yes, unlike most young people today, Mary and Joseph waited until after the wedding (and in this case also after Jesus’ birth) to engage in sex.  To them that was God’s will.  And it still is.  And from Mark’s Gospel we also know that later on, after the marriage, they did show their love for each other in this manner.  For Mark speaks of Jesus’ brothers and sisters.

Mary was probably about 15 or 16 when all this took place.  Immediately she knows Gabriel to be an angel by his greeting and general persona.  And she is afraid.  Who wouldn’t be?  But God’s angel here, as later on with the shepherds and still later on at the empty tomb speaks those wonderful words of Gospel to her: “Don’t be afraid!”  Note to all of you: when God’s representatives speak the Gospel, or announce forgiveness to you, fear vanishes.  This is the God of pure love speaking and His words do, or perform, the very action they are saying.  Yes, the Holy Spirit is always operative in the Gospel.

“You will be with child and give birth to a son, and are to give him the name Jesus. (Meaning God saves)  He will be great and will be called the son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob (the lineage of God’s people of the promise) forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Mary may not have grasped the full import of these words, but she got the gist of them.  Hence her pointed question: “How will this be since I am a virgin?”  Note well that she doesn’t dispute Gabriel’s statement or argue with him.  She simply asks: “How?”

And then Gabriel tells her how: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”  Then to allay her fears a bit, he adds: “Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month.  For nothing is impossible with God.”

III

I have a member who has told the story of a couple who spoke to their child while it was in the womb.—Many moms and dads do.  And when that baby was born and its dad spoke to her she immediately turned her head to him!  She knew.  She recognized his voice.  The emotional imprint and bond had already been forged.

After hearing Gabriel, Mary knew too.  Her faith-bond to God had been strengthened by the Spirit Who created it in the first place.  So, her answer reflects that spiritual/emotional bond: “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.’  Then the angel left her.”

If my sainted Hebrew professor Rudolph Honsey was alive here today, he was smile and say: “Her response is pregnant” because it is!  It’s full of meaning.  We humans think we have everything in life figured out.  We think we know all the answers, until God pulls back the curtain of divine wisdom and reveals a little bit more.  He did that with Mary and He does it to and for us even today.  The more we read and inwardly digest God’s Word, the more truths of life become apparent.  The more Christians share His love and forgiveness with each other, the deeper our understanding becomes. Nothing is impossible with God!  And that truth is fully revealed for all to see and believe with both the reality of the cross and the empty tomb!  But it all begins with the manger.  And now, once again, you know that!  So, like Mary, let God be God and bow both your knee, your ear, and your heart to His glorious message of Grace directed at you….Amen