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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Luke 1:26-38 Advent 4 December 21, 2008
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, "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. 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 ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" The angel said to 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 holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God." Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.


This past week I was invited to speak at a middle school Christian group after school. It was their Christmas party. Forty, maybe fifty kids were there, excited and boisterous. Only a few more days left until Christmas Break. The student leader tried to get things to come to order and it was tough. I mean, they were seriously excited. She tried a couple of things, none of which worked particularly well.

We Lutherans know what it takes to silence a room.
Five simple words.
The Lord be with you!
(And also with you).

That response is practically encoded on our DNA isn’t it? And we know that when we hear those words, what follows that briefest of exchanges, will be something that we need to hear. We anticipate it. We grow silent. We pay attention.

The Lord be with you....the world just stops...something important is about to be prayed or said or maybe the food is ready, who knows? But the expectation rises. We know that whatever follows needs to be heard. Must be heard.

The Lord be with you. (And also with you)……………. We wait. And we wait.

Excruciating, isn’t it? The waiting? The expectation.
Now imagine if nothing follows. Nothing. “The Lord be with you and the reply comes “And also with you and then…nothing. Silence. Deafening silence. How long would we wait? How long until the excruciating silence frees our lips to begin talking again. False alarm we tell ourselves. First the murmurs and then the volumes rises until we’ve forgotten that something important was about to happen.

And the truth is that important words were just spoken. Very important words. And we’ve missed it. We were expecting something else and we just plain missed it.

The truth is…The Lord is with us.
Five words, none longer than a single syllable, and you and I, we’ve received the transforming power of the Gospel.

Listen again to the Gospel:
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’

Like Mary we, too, are favored by God.
Like Mary the Lord is also with us.
True, we are not going to become pregnant virgins and give birth to Jesus.
(Sorry if that disappoints some of you.)
The Immaculate Conception is for Mary, the Mother of our Lord alone.
But we are favored all the same.

The Lord is with us!
These words are not just bread crust.
Not just curled parsley on top of the steak of our life.
They are not Styrofoam packaging.

The words wash over us in waves of profound truth. Of hope realized. Of Joy confirmed. The Lord is with us.

Scriptures tells us that before we were born, while we were still in our Mother’s womb, the Lord knew us. Knew us then, knows us now, and will know us forever.

At Christmas we celebrate the incarnation, God made flesh in Christ Jesus. God did not come down because God was bored, or because God could, or because God was curious. Scriptures tell us that God came down and became incarnate from the virgin Mary because as we read in John 3:16 God so loved the world.
God favored us. God loved us. Loved us enough not to leave us to our own futile existence, stuck in our own sin. Broken, lost and wandering in an unfulfilled search for truth.

No. God favored us. Not because we deserved it, but because God loved us. Loved us enough to die for us, to die upon the cross so that the sin that separates us from God could be atoned for, our debt of sin paid in full, its power destroyed.
That baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in the manger is our Emmanuel.
Our "God with us."
Imagine that!
One of the very names for our Lord and Savior Jesus is "God with us."
Emmanuel.

Mary can hardly believe that give the circumstances of her life (she is just a young women betrothed to the local carpenter) that the Lord would find favor with her. That the Lord is with her. Why should the Lord care about her?

And given the circumstances of our life, we might believe the same. Maybe it is something that we have done. Maybe it is our faith which we may find wanting at times, weak at times. Perhaps it is because we believe ourselves to be nobody special.

The Lord be with you!
What a tremendous blessing to be spoken.
The Lord…be…with… you
The Lord who saves, who loves, who gives who strengthens, that Lord , the Lord, be with you.
And the only thing we can do when such a blessing is bestowed upon us is to share it “And also with you,” we say. Because what else can we give in the face of such a blessing except that same blessing back?
The Lord be with you!
What did you just hear?
Just now as you received those words of blessing what does your heart say to you?
In your joy and your frustration, in your stress and relief, as you look into the eyes of your children and grand children, your wife, your husband, as you look at yourself - the Lord is with you. God favors you. Emmanuel is with you. Always!

A baby cries out in Bethlehem like the cry that will later pierce the afternoon at Golgotha.
God in and through Christ Jesus declares us favored, worthy, and righteousness.
It is a truth, a declaration, a promise that we need to hear again and again and again until our very heart sings at its utterance.
The Lord Be With You!
(And also with you!) Amen!

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