Fourth Sunday in Advent [b] December 20, 2020
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 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, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 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. 36 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. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 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.
In the Name of Jesus.
Such kind words we are given to speak to one another, such encouraging and comforting words from one Christian to another: “The Lord is with you.”
More than just a thin statement of wish that things would go better, more than a hopeful declaration that the Lord will somehow make things better, but, much more, a statement of fact that the Lord is, indeed, with you.
In your doubt, in your fear, the Lord is with you. In your despair, in your loss of hope, he has united himself with you.
In Baptism and in his Body and Blood he binds himself to you in such a way that he suffers along with you; in your affliction, he is afflicted. He is not standing far off observing, but is dwelling with you in such a way that your life is taken up into his. You are, as the Apostle Paul puts in, in Christ. [Romans 8:1; 1 Corinthians 1:30]
What of you doesn’t belong to him? With his own blood he ransomed you. He purchased you out of sin and death; he transferred you from the kingdom of darkness into his marvelous light. Of all your problems and fears, all your doubts and failings, what does he not suffer along with you?
“The Lord is with you,” such kind words of encouragement given to one Christian to speak to another.
It’s in his Name. “Behold, the Virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel,” said the prophet Isaiah. Immanuel means, God with us.
Now the angel comes to Mary,
“Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you.”
“The Lord is with you”—that’s Immanuel. That’s the promise Isaiah gave. Mary will call him “Jesus,” which in the Hebrew means “Yahweh saves,” or, in our translations, “the Lord saves.”
The Lord who saves is the Lord who is with you, your Immanuel.
Or flip it around: the Lord who is with you, your Immanuel, is Jesus, the Lord saving you.
So the kindness of that angelic word: “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you.”
He is with Mary in such a way as he is with no other. With her in her lowly estate, bringing to her the gift of conceiving a child, so that she is now to be known as the mother of God-in-the-flesh, Immanuel.
It is you, Mary, upon whom the Holy Spirit will come, and you will find yourself under the shadow of the power of the Most High God.
It comes down to Mary.
All the history of the promise given to Adam and Eve of a Redeemer to come from Eve’s lineage to crush the head of Satan and save the sinner.
And the history of the promise to Abraham that from his lineage would come a greater Son to give the sacrifice to cleanse all nations, and the promise to Israel that from David’s lineage God would raise up a greater Son to be the Savior for every sinner.
It all comes down to Mary. The Lord is with you, said the angel, and you will call him Jesus.
Once God comes in the flesh as Mary’s Son, once she is named as Mother-of-God, most honored among women, it comes down to Mary.
For no one will know God, no one will be able to find God in his grace and salvation, except that they know the Son who came forth from Mary’s womb as the flesh-and-blood little baby to be with those of flesh and blood. (Any other god spoken of on Earth, any other place we turn to find rescue from sin, is not real but an impostor, like laying a plastic doll up next to a real flesh-and-blood baby.)
And now it comes to you and me. Maybe it seems unlikely, maybe even a bit presumptuous, but it comes down to you and me.
For Jesus came to be with the sinner.
He dwelled with Mary for a time, in her womb, and in her arms as a child—she stands as most blessed among women.
He then dwelled with sinners throughout Capernaum and Galilee, touching the skin of lepers, eating and drinking with tax-collectors and drunks, always walking into the darkest corners of an unclean world to be with sinners in their darkest times, dwelling with them and bringing them out of darkness into the light of the forgiveness of all sin.
He lived with sinners. As the dwelling of God among men, he set himself for the cross, willingly letting sinful men judge him as he was bearing their sins.
And now, to you and me. He dwells with us. The Lord is with you.
When we’re not thinking about it, we may take the phrase lightly. But what could be a more comforting pronouncement from one Christian to another: “The Lord is with you”?
For God to say, “Behold, I am with you,” is for God to have consigned himself over to death.
“Behold, I am with you,” says your Lord. With you in your sin, your fear, in your deepest despair, you worst darkness, even in your death—I am with you, cleansing you, comforting you, bringing you into my life.
“I am with you”—Will God really die for this little phrase?
Yes. On the cross hangs Immanuel—God with us. True God and true Man, God-having-taken-our-sin-upon-himself, God humiliated for us—God-with-us.
So it comes down to you and me, to our children and families. He is God-with-us, Immanuel, Jesus, the Lord who saves.
He is the Son of God giving us to be baptized and to baptize our children in the Name of the Father and the Son and Holy Spirit. For, in that Baptism, in that bestowal of the holy Name, he says, Behold, I am with you, even unto the end of the ages. [Matthew 28]
He is Mary’s Son, having come in the flesh. He will not deny his birth from Mary; he will not be known apart from the flesh. He now comes to us, “My Body,” he says; “My Blood.” There, in that Body and Blood, he is with us, binding himself to us, forgiving our sins.
It comes down to you and me, to our children and families.
We who are with our world and its sicknesses and pathologies, who are bound to our fellowman in his despair, who are of one piece with the sin of our world, we now hear the word of our Lord: I am with you.
Your life, your pain, your doubts or despair, in all of it, his word stands: I am with you. There is nothing of us that he does not cleanse, does not forgive, nothing of us that he has not redeemed.
Mary knew her Son was God-with-us. She pondered these things in her heart.
Our hearts, too, ponder. Along with Mary, we can say to this Immanuel, God-with-us, to Jesus, this Holy One who makes us his people—along with Mary we can say, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
And to one other we speak those words of comfort: The Lord is with you.
In the Name of Jesus.