Fourth Sunday In Advent – Vicar Schleusener
Grace, mercy, and peace…
Our Gospel reading for today is remarkably brief, given its importance. At roughly half the length of Luke’s account of the events surrounding the conception of John the Baptist, the Annunciation to Mary is a stripped down narrative that offers very little in the way of details. But while brevity and a lack of details can indicate that something is insignificant or unimportant, that’s not what’s going on here. Rather, there are so few details because anything that could have been extraneous or distracting from the major points has been left off, leaving us with a particularly dense and rich passage to draw from. Today, we’ll just draw two things from it.
The first thing we’ll draw from this passage is just how deeply Luke anchors his narrative in the writings of the Old Testament. That this anchoring is intentional and deliberate can be seen in Luke’s use of Greek that feels very much like the Greek of the Septuagint for much of his Gospel account, deliberately inviting comparisons to the Old Testament. Luke’s many references and allusions to crucial Old Testament passages merely provide specific anchoring points. The promise that God will give this child “the throne of his father David” and that “he will reign over the house of Jacob forever” and have a kingdom that never ends anchors this passage in the Old Testament text that was our first reading for today where God swore by Himself that He would make David a house and a kingdom that would be established forever.
The repeated references to Mary’s virginity anchors these events in Isaiah’s prophecy of the virgin who will give birth to a son who will be named “Immanuel.” They also anchor these events all the way back in the Garden of Eden when God proclaimed that the one who would bruise the head of the serpent would be the seed of the woman. Not the seed of the man. Not the seed of the man and the woman together. The seed of the woman. A child, miraculously born of a virgin.
The second thing we’ll draw from this passage is the way Luke shows that Jesus is superior to every one of the Old Testament’s greatest figures. He does this by taking John (whom Jesus would later say is greater than anyone else born of women) and showing that everything special about John is also true about Jesus, and often to a greater extent. John’s birth was announced by an angel, and so too was Jesus’. Zechariah was troubled by the angel’s appearance, but Mary was “greatly troubled” by the angel’s greeting. John’s birth was at least partly a response to Zechariah’s prayers, but Jesus’ birth was because Mary was favored by God. John would be “great before the Lord,” but Jesus would be “great” without any qualifying language whatsoever. John would “be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb,” but Jesus would be both holy in Himself and the Son of the Most High. John would make people ready for the coming savior, but Jesus was the Savior for whom John was preparing them. John would be born of a woman who had been barren for many years, but Jesus would be born of a virgin. John’s father doubted Gabriel’s words, but Jesus’ mother believed them.
Luke is very clear that John the Baptist, the final prophet of the Old Testament era and thus one who symbolized the entirety of the Old Testament, is inferior to Jesus. Jesus was greater than John just as the New Testament would be greater than the Old Testament. The Annunciation is deeply rooted in the Old Testament even while showing that Jesus is superior to anything that has come from the Old Testament because Jesus is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament promises of God. The promise of the Seed of the woman that would bruise the head of the serpent. The promise to Abraham of the Seed who would be greater than the stars in the heavens. The Seed in whom all the families of the earth would be blessed. The Seed who would possess the gates of His enemies. The promise given to David.
These promises and many others would only ultimately be fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. So when Gabriel told Mary that she was the one who had been graced by God, he was announcing that the grace of God would be taking on physical form inside her very womb. When he said that she would give birth to a son, he was announcing that she would be the mother of Him who in His own person was and is the fulfillment of all of God’s promises. And even as she heard and believed this word, it was fulfilled itself, and the eternal Word of God came to her, placed Himself in her womb, and became flesh.
He became flesh so He could fulfill all the Old Testament promises of God. So He could live a perfect, sinless, human life. So He could suffer and die upon the cross. So He could bear the sins of the world. So He could do all that the Old Testament longed for but could never actually do once and for all.
Jesus came to Mary that day through the words of Gabriel. He came to Zechariah, Elizabeth, and John when Mary went to visit them. He came to Mary and Joseph, and to the shepherds in His birth. He came to Simeon and Anna in the temple when He was taken there as an infant. He came to His own people for three years, ministering to their needs and preaching the Gospel of the kingdom. And He comes to us now in Word and in Sacrament, creating faith and forgiving sins. He comes week after week, speaking His promise of forgiveness. Giving us His very body and blood to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of our sins. “He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead.” And as Gabriel said to Mary, “…of his kingdom there will be no end.”
In the holy name of Jesus, the fulfillment of all of God’s promises. Amen.