Annunciation of Our Lord
March 25, 2015
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Look, the virgin will conceive and have a son, and His name will be Immanuel.
The Annunciation of Our Lord is one of the chief festivals of Christ in the Church’s year of grace and is rightly celebrated with the full gift of God in Word and Sacrament. It almost always falls during Lent (the moveable nature of Easter makes it possible to have Easter as early as March 22, though that rarely happens). Because of the other special services like Good Friday, Maundy Thursday, and Easter Sunday, the festival of the Annunciation usually takes a back seat unless it shows up on one of the earlier Sundays, or on a Wednesday. Tonight it takes front stage.
Now, why would the powers that be who scheduled all of these holy days stick the Annunciation right in the middle of such a busy season, and why would they drop a Christmas celebration right in the middle of Lent? First of all, the historic Church year wasn’t devised by any individual or committee; it came about organically over time. Each generation contributes a little bit here and there in order to best tell the story of the person and work of Christ, and the Trinity’s ongoing work in the Church.
Second, the date for the Annunciation falls on March 25th for a very specific reason. In ancient times, people didn’t record births like we do today. And even today some cultures don’t have air-tight records of birth. But they did keep a record of deaths. In fact, nearly every saint that is recognized in the Church is recognized on the date of his or her death because tradition passes those down—especially the deaths of martyrs for the faith. For the saints, this is called a “heavenly birthday.” And there was a convention in those days that a person died on the same date in which he was conceived. Not terribly scientific, but a good way to remember a person’s entry into the world along with his exit. It is also a reminder that life begins before birth; even in the womb God knits together His people.
The festival of the Annunciation is the festival of Mary’s conception of Jesus. She conceived in an unnatural way—by the Word and promise of God proclaimed by the angel—and so remained a virgin. And so to commemorate this mighty act of God entering into human history, the Church began to observe the Annunciation on March 25th, which is the traditional date on which Jesus was crucified. The day of His death is also remembered as the day of His crucifixion. Incidentally, if you decided you wanted to celebrate Jesus’ birth as well, you would probably just count ahead nine months from the festival of the Annunciation—March 25: April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December 25th. And that’s why Christmas is celebrated on December 25th (not because Christians adopted pagan winter rituals like the History Channel wants you to think).
The festival of the Annunciation links the two great acts of God in Christ—the two scandals of the faith—Jesus’ incarnation and His crucifixion. These are the two things that no other false God has ever done in the imagined religions of man. Only the real God would dare to actually become man, and only the real God could allow Himself to be stricken, smitten, afflicted, and crucified.
This Lent we’ve meditated on the Servant Songs of Isaiah—on His righteousness, His salvation, His resurrection, and His suffering. Jesus is the Suffering Servant. But before the Servant Songs comes the Servant’s birth. Isaiah is the Evangelist of the Old Testament, and He tells of the entire life of Jesus in His prophecy.
Centuries before the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and that she would conceive and bear a Son, God Himself announced this holy conception. It begins with King Ahaz. The armies of Syria joined with the army of northern Israel to march against Judah. They planned to terrorize Judah and start a coup in order to set up their own king.
But God won’t let it happen. He tells Ahaz that He will give Him a sign—any sign He wants—but Ahaz is recalcitrant. He won’t ask for a thing. He doesn’t want to take God up on His promise. So God Himself announces a sign. Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Look, the virgin will conceive and have a son, and His name will be Immanuel.
It’s an odd sign for military action. And what follows this promise is even more obscure, an unusual story of curds and honey and flies and locusts and thorns and razors. King Ahaz probably didn’t know how to make heads or tails of this promise. Is there a young woman who will give birth to a fierce warrior, or a cunning diplomat? Or the prophet Isaiah! He has a child following this promise; perhaps he will be a deliverer like Moses or the judges of old. But none of these women fit the bill.
The people of the Old Testament looked at the promises of God as if they were looking in a cloudy mirror. They saw the general contours and impression of God’s purpose, but the complete picture was obscured by virtue of human limitations. Some, like the prophets, may have had a keener vision of God’s work by way of revelation, but still only saw in part. It’s not until the actual fulfillment that we see in HD 1080p crystal clarity. This is not just any old virgin who consummates her marriage and conceives a child. This is a virgin who conceives by the Holy Spirit, and maintains her virginity. There is no earthly father; only a heavenly Father.
When Gabriel comes into Mary’s house and announces that she will be the Mother of God, there is no doubt that Mary recalled this promise in Isaiah. And by faith in this promise and the Word of God proclaimed by the angel, the promise was fulfilled in her. I am the Lord’s servant, says the virgin, and she becomes the mother of the Lord’s Servant.
But God’s annunciation to Ahaz wasn’t the first time He announced this virgin birth. In the beginning, He announced to Satan that the Seed of the woman would crush his head, defeating him and his corrupt works. This was God’s intention from the foundation of the world, to unite Himself with His creation in such a way, knowing full well that it would mean His death at the hands of His creation.
Yet He announces anyway. Again and again. To Eve. To Ahaz. To Mary. And to you. God’s way is the way of announcing. He speaks and He acts. He accomplishes what He promises. His Word of condemnation reveals the reality of your condition. Like Ahaz you stand helpless and hopeless as the world and your spiritual enemies close in on you, intent on making you join them and setting before you a false king. God Himself announces this to you, as He announced to Ahaz by way of the Prophet.
But He offers you a sign of His grace and His protection. It’s the annunciation that the eternal Son of God carried out the promise of the ages, the promise to become flesh. Like you. The virgin’s Son is born to do battle, but not with a sword and spear and armor. He does battle with His annunciation. He speaks, and He acts. He puts Himself in between you and your enemies. He strikes a crushing blow to the old, evil foe, even as he strikes at His heel with an iron nail. The One who was born of a virgin also allows Himself to be borne by a cross. And from that cross, His annunciations continue. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Into Your hands, I commit My Spirit. It is finished.
The mother who heard the angel’s message, who bore Him and nursed Him and taught Him and raised Him, now stands at the foot of the cross on a March 25th, nearly 2,000 years ago and watches Him die. Because that’s the reason He was born.
But the annunciation doesn’t end when He breathes His last breath. He speaks again. Do not weep. Put your finger into My Hands. Feed My sheep. Receive the Holy Spirit, if you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness it is withheld. Preach the Gospel to all creatures. Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe whatever I have commanded you. Lo, I am with you always to the end of the age.
God’s way is the way of annunciation. He speaks and He acts. And He gives you another sign, a pledge. How do you know [that Christ died for you and shed His blood for you for the forgiveness of sins]? From the holy Gospel and from the words of the Sacrament, and by His body and blood given me as a pledge in the Sacrament. The body and blood of Christ, once borne by a virgin, is now borne by bread and wine. God Himself gives you this sign. He speaks, and He acts. He bears your sins away, and in so doing, He begins a good work, a new creation in you.
Behold, the Virgin Conceived and Bore a Son to Bear Your Sins
In the name of +Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard