Sermon / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Forth Sunday in Advent / Sunday December 24th 2017 - / Luke 1: 26 - 38 / "Christmas Fears? - Fear Not"
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday December 24th 2017: Advent / Luke 1: 26 - 38 "Christmas Fears? - Fear Not"
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 favoured 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 favour 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 Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “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 behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. When something unexpected happens around Christmas we sometimes say, “It’s a Christmas Miracle!” often we say this sort of thing when something small but unexpectedly good happens, there’s a reason for that. The reason is that Christmas is built on an honest to goodness miracle. God in the flesh, conceived by the Holy Spirit! Born of the Virgin Mary! A promise fulfilled unlike any other. Think of the best surprise you’ve ever had and multiply it by a billion. But surprises are just that, even if you’d been waiting for it, when a surprise hits it can be a real shock!
We started off the Divine Service this morning with the Hymn: The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came, the hymn paints a picture of shock and awe … in it we sing of how the angle came to Mary, “With wings as drifted snow, with eyes as flame:” Our Gospel tells us that “the angel said to [Mary], ‘Do not be afraid,’” Why would the angel Gabriel say these words: Well quite simply the angle said this because the young Virgin Mary was afraid.
Likewise later today, tonight on this Christmas Eve, we’ll hear how it was, about nine months later, when an angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds watching their flocks by night to tell them the Good News of Jesus’ birth, and how the glory of the Lord shone around the shepherds, and how, as St. Luke the evangelist says, the men were, “filled with fear” and the angel said to them, “Fear not.”
Angels don’t just scare young teenage girls, no they scare grown men too; grown men whose jobs involve fending off thieves and robbers, whose job required that they fight wolves and bears and lions. And back then they did not have shot guns and rifles – they still had slings and stones like King David had had hundreds of years earlier when he too was a shepherd guarding his sheep as a boy.
If you were to see an angel right now you’d likely need the angel to say those words, “do not be afraid,” “fear not.”
In the darkness of winter there can be many fears; if the road conditions are bad, if the way is icy, if visibility is low because of a blizzard, one fear might be the fear of a car accident or the fear of being stranded in the cold. For any of you who have had the misfortune of being in a car accident you may have noticed this: That moment when, if you start to see it coming, you know what’s about to happen but you can’t do much of anything to stop it. That horrible moment is filled with fear. Now it might not be a car accident, it could be something else, but you likely know that feeling of sudden dread and fear.
The arrival of the angel Gabriel, the arrival of an angle of the Lord, and latter the arrival of the heavenly hosts to the shepherds are unexpected occurrences, and like I said, and like you know, when something is unexpected it comes as a surprise, a startling surprise. Yes, the arrival of a dreadful, and powerful, mighty angel sent from God makes the strongest of men and the meekest of women stop dead in their tracks with fear. But, the grace of God from the lips of the angle, says, “Do not be afraid,” “fear not.” And so the Virgin Mary started to set aside her fear and listened.
"For know a blessed Mother thou shalt be,
all generations laud and honour thee,
thy Son shall be Emmanuel, by seers foretold,
most highly favoured lady," Gloria!
Your Son shall be Emmanuel [which means, "God with us"]; “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour 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.”
There’s this thought out there that those of us who have long attended church and celebrated Advent and the Christmas seasons have so often heard this story that the true gravity, the true wonder of it has worn off. Is that true? What do you think? It is the most wonderful news … a surprise when first it was proclaimed, a surprise to Mary. But even if it doesn’t come as a surprise to you today remember your own life and moments of surprise you have experienced and you will start to have a feeling for the shock that Mary would have felt that day; think back, there must have been some moment when you were minding your own business and you received news that changed everything in your life in an instant: an unexpected death, a terminal prognosis, being fired from a job when you didn’t see it coming. These are all horrible examples but think about it; what the angel said could easily bring fear to Mary, Mary was a virgin, she was not yet married, sex outside of marriage had consequences and if you were pregnant you could not easily hide the fact that this had happened, and who would believe that an angel came with such news. From where Mary stood the words of Gabriel pointed to the very real possibility her own death by stoning. In those days that’s what they did with women and men who were caught in adultery, which is any and all sex outside of marriage. She was engaged to Joseph but they weren’t married just yet. What would happen?
While Mary would have had real pragmatic concerns based on what the angle said, at the same time this angelic message proclaims something that overrides these worries the eminent fulfilment of the promised messiah; the Saviour so long expected. This would have been truly unexpected for Mary as a person, as an individual. Her Son Jesus was to be full of unexpectedness; He would not fit the mould, this was to be no average child, no average son, no average man – what was it about this Jesus that made Him so different? What makes His mom so special?
Of her, Emmanuel, the Christ, was born
in Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn,
and Christian folk throughout the world will ever say--
"Most highly favoured lady," Gloria!
And why have Christian folk throughout the world said that Mary is a most highly favoured lady? Because her son is the Christ whom the shepherds praised and of whom the angels sing; He is the one who saves: His path lead from the manger, to the cross, to the tomb, to heaven: Birth, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension. He lives, in fact He is the Life, and this life of His brings forgiveness, and hope to us, and to all people through the shedding of His precious blood. Saint Paul in Romans chapter six spells out just how important this is for the Christian when he writes, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with [Jesus] by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ [Jesus] was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with [Jesus] in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with [Jesus] in a resurrection like His.” What a tremendous gift this is, and what a blessing it is today to see it given to Ben and Lacey, Farrah and Noah and Cole. What a tremendous gift to remember on Christmas Eve. You can think back on your baptism and the gift Jesus gave you that day, the gift of His love, His righteousness, which is yours every day of the year, all the rest of the days of your life. And like any gift the one who receives it needs to cherish it, guard it, and protect it from being damaged or destroyed, from being neglected or misused or lost. We work together in this way, we have Godparents and sponsors, brothers and sisters in the faith who, we pray by the help of God, will guide us ever back to the waters of our baptism and the gift we received there Jesus Christ, the babe of Bethlehem, the first born child of the Virgin Mary, the one proclaimed by angles.
The angel Gabriel came to the Virgin Mary with a word of promise, the words He spoke to her she believed, and as Saint Paul says, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Down through the years, Jesus - God’s own Word incarnate - the things He said, the things He did, have been passed from one set of lips to the ears of men and women and children from generation to generation to generation: Unexpected and wonderful words that give the gift of Jesus Himself to those who hear them. This Word of God does impossible things, it changes hearts, it changes lives, it binds up the broken hearted and give us peace. The angel said to Mary and God’s Word today says to you, “nothing will be impossible with God.” If Mary a virgin by the power of the Holy Spirit can bring forth this Christ Child, then God can rescue you from sin, death and the devil by this very same Christ Jesus.
Jesus entered into Mary’s life unexpectedly and while Jesus also enters into our lives unexpectedly we need not fear Him, this Baby born in Bethlehem who we celebrate with the angels has become, in faith, our brother. He is ours in Baptism and we are His in Baptism. Now it is my prayer for you today and for the rest of this year, and the next, and the next after that, that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Do not be surprised at what God has done for you in Christ Jesus, He has done it out of love, and He will, “bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” And what does Jesus offer you as a gift? Does He offer you fear? No Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” So in a world filled with fears - fear of today and fear of the future - trust in Christ Jesus. He is yours, and no matter how surprising and unexpected this might be to you remember in Him you do not need to be afraid. Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 Romans 6:3–5
 Romans 10:17
 Luke 1:37
 Philippians 4:7
 Philippians 1:6
 John 14:27