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December 8, 2019

Sermon Luke 1:28 . . .“The angel said:  ‘Greetings, O favored one’”

“The angel said:  ‘Greetings, O favored one’”

Luke 1:28

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Some sixty miles north of Jerusalem and fifteen miles west of the Sea of Galilee, resting at the feet of three mountains, there’s a little town called Nazareth, population 77,064.  Today, it’s known not only as the Arab capital of Israel, it’s even been called, because of its rich technological potential, the “Silicon Valley of the Arab community.”

But if you were to visit there, there’s really not that much to see.  Among its dozen or so churches and monasteries, you’d find St. Joseph’s church which, supposedly, marks the site of Joseph’s carpenter workshop.  There’s the Mensa Christi Church, where Jesus, supposedly, ate with His disciples.  There’s even the Church of the Lady of the Fright, (yes, you heard me correctly!), where Jesus was nearly thrown from a cliff.

But of the things to see and do in that little town called Nazareth, the most important of all is called, The Church of the Annunciation, where the angel Gabriel first appeared to Mary.  It’s the heart of Christianity.

The first shrine was built there three hundred years after Christ.  At the time, it was little more than an altar in the cave of Mary’s childhood home.  Later, a much larger church was built, what’s become the largest Christian sanctuary in the Middle East.

And if you were to visit there, you’d see a two-story building filled with ancient carvings, statues, and mosaics.  There’s a dome in the shape of a lily, a symbol of Mary, that’s eighteen stories high.  And deep inside the church, there’s a spring, “Mary’s well,” with the sound of rushing water.

And marking the spot where Gabriel once appeared to Mary, there’s an altar with words written in Latin, inscribed in stone:  “Verbum Caro Hic Factum Est,” “Here the Word was made flesh.”

It’s where Christmas first began.

Please turn in your Bible to page 1088 as I read the words of our text.  Luke chapter 1, beginning at verse 26:  “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.  And the virgin’s name was Mary.  And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’  But she was greatly troubled at the saying and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.  And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.’”

If you were here last week, you’ll remember that, just a page before, the Bible tells of the day old Zechariah came to minister in the temple.  And as he tended the fire on the altar and the people prayed outside, the angel Gabriel appeared to him to say:  “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard.  Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son.

And Zechariah, in his doubt and disbelief, couldn’t help but say, “How shall I know this?  For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”  In other words, “With all due respect, there is absolutely no way!”

Still the angel replied:  “I am Gabriel.  I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.  And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”

Now, as it says in verse 26, “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth.”

Notice those words--”a city of Galilee.”  Why does it say, “of Galilee”?  Because Nazareth was so small, Luke wanted us to know exactly where it was.

Remember when Jesus called His first disciples?  Just as soon as He called Philip, Philip found a friend named Nathanel.  He said, “We have found the One Moses wrote about in the Law, about whom the prophets have spoken--Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph!”

And what did Nathaniel say?  “Nazareth!  Can anything good come from there?

Later, even Pontius Pilate seemed to make fun of it.  That’s why he posted that sign above Jesus’ head:  “Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus of Nowhere, King of the Jews.”

And to whom did the angel Gabriel come?  Verse 27:  “...to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.  And the virgin’s name was Mary.”

She was “betrothed,” he said, engaged, promised, set apart before both God and man.  Wine was poured, a blessing was spoken, an agreement was signed, and a ring was given.  It was as legal and binding as marriage.

Verse 28:  “And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’  But she was greatly troubled at the saying and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.  And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

And what did she say?  What would you say?

I mean, think about it.  Here she was, a young teenage girl, from a little town called Nazareth.  There was so much to do, and so much to think about.  Her wedding was only months away.

And with all that swirling in her mind, she barely noticed that stranger standing in her yard, with that bright complexion and a close-cropped beard.  But when she saw him, her heart stopped.  It wasn’t fear, exactly.  It was more surprise.  Who was this man, and why was he standing in her backyard?

It was then that he spoke:  “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”

Favored?  By whom?  And for what?

Verse 35:  “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the Child to be born will be called holy--the Son of God.”

And what did Mary say?  There she stood, her young, tender face looking up, her hands trembling, her eyes opened, questioning, but not afraid, wondering, but not terrified, unsure, but not uncertain.

And as all of time and history rested on the answer of a teenager, she said, “Yes.”  She said yes to the plan and the will of God.

A thousand years after Christ, Bernard of Clairvaux wrote this:  “You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man, but by the Holy Spirit.  The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him.  We too are waiting, for your word of compassion.  The sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us.

“The price of our salvation is offered to you.  We shall be set free at once if you consent.  In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die.  In your brief response, we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life.

“Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise.  Abraham begs it.  David begs it.  All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death.  This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet.  It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.

“Answer quickly, O Virgin.  Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord.  Answer with a word, receive the Word of God.  Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word.  Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.

“Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving.”

“Behold the handmaid of the Lord,” she says.  “Be it done to me according to Your word.”

It’s been said that there’s something wonderfully subversive about Christmas.  To subvert means to overthrow.  The prefix, sub, means, “from below.”  “Vert,” comes from the Latin, “to turn.”  So to subvert something is to turn it from below.  It’s not a frontal assault.  It’s a stealth campaign.

Think about one of the most famous Christmas stories of all, A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.  The rich and powerful Scrooge is brought to his knees by Christmas ghosts, while the poor and lowly Bob Cratchit rises above his circumstances to find true joy.

Think of Rudolph.  The poor, little, red-nosed reindeer can’t even join in any reindeer games, let alone hope to have a place on Santa’s team.  But an unexpected storm turns him into a hero.

How about the folks down in Whoville?  The Grinch thinks he’s ruined their Christmas by stealing their stockings and stuffing.  But they wake up singing anyway.  Next thing you know, the Grinch is carving the roast beast.

And think about good old Charlie Brown.  Everyone tells him he has to have a big, beautiful, flashy tree.  But he buys the saddest one that money can buy and, with a little help from Linus and Luke chapter 2, he discovers the true meaning of Christmas.

There’s something wonderfully subversive about Christmas.  It turns things upside down.

So it was in that little town called Nazareth.  Gabriel didn’t come to someone in power, to a priest or a politician.  He came to a peasant.  And not even to a man, for that matter, but to a woman.

Even more, remember that, at the time, the Jews were an oppressed people, and they had been for a very long time.  Their land was occupied by Roman soldiers, and they were ruled by Roman-appointed governors and officials.  They weren’t slaves, exactly.  But they were, in effect, held hostage by Rome.  They could practice their religion just as long as they paid their taxes and bowed to Rome’s authority.

When suddenly, behind closed doors, an angel comes with news of a Deliverer, a throne, and a kingdom that will never end.

And in nine short months, this Child, born of Mary, will sleep, swaddled in cloth, in a manger.  And the only ones aware of His arrival are a handful of poor, lowly shepherds.

As a Man, He taught the people, saying, “Blessed are the poor in the spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  He ate with tax collectors and “sinners.”  Those who followed Him were fishermen.

And when His work was done, He commanded them to make disciples of all nations, to change the world, to change us.  

And that’s the wonder and the beauty of Christmas.

 

We thank You, dear Father, for the wonder and the mystery of Christmas, God in human flesh, come to save us from our sin.  Help us to know and to believe this good news, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen

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