In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
“Why? Why? Why?” Ah the seemingly broken record of the mind of a young child. While I’m sure children will ask “why” on purpose to annoy their parents, the question usually comes from an inquisitive mind that desires to learn and grow. Nearly as popular is the question “how?” Being bombarded by questions, you eventually run out of answers or get tired of answering and simply say, “Because I said so.” or “That’s just how God did it and we don’t know why.” But that rarely quenches their curiosity.
Very similarly, we have a lot of “why’s” and “how’s” when it comes to God’s Word no matter the age. Today as we look at the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary, we find ourselves asking “How?” along with Mary. Although Mary only asks “How?” once in our text we might find ourselves asking “How?” like a little child over and over again as we again look at this amazing event.
Mary was living in Nazareth, a little backwater town in south-central Galilee. Like Zechariah, there was no warning or expectation that an angel of the Lord was about to visit. She was going about her daily business when suddenly an angel appears and says, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Luke then tells us that Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But Gabriel calms Mary saying, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.”
Twice now Luke has used the word “favor,” which brings us to our first “How?”—How had she found favor?
Sadly, there are many in this world who would answer this question incorrectly. Many believe that Mary had found favor in God’s eyes because of a goodness she had within herself, even saying that she was holy. But we know this is not true. Mary was a sinful human being just like you and me.
So, how had she found favor? It would do us well to note that the word translated here as “favor” is the same word for “grace”—which is God’s undeserved love for us. Knowing that, it is clear to see that she found favor, or, grace with God because God was the one who had been and continued to be gracious to her. Already through her short life the Lord had worked great faith in her heart. She loved his Word and looked forward to the day when the Lord would fulfill his ancient promise of a Savior.
Then Gabriel told her how the Lord was going to continue showing his grace by making her a recipient of unparalleled favor. “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.” And just in his name we begin to have an answer to our second “How?”—How special will this child be? Well, the name “Jesus” means “the Lord is Salvation.” Gabriel elaborates: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
How special is this child? As special as they come! “The Son of the Most High” isn’t just some honorary title that will be given to him, but it is his title because this is who he is! This child that was to be born of this young woman is the very Son of God! He is the Alpha and the Omega! He is the one Isaiah said would be called Immanuel (Is. 7:14), “which means ‘God with us’!” (Mt. 1:23)
Before the fall into sin, mankind had lived with God in perfect harmony. God walked and talked with Adam and Eve in perfect communion. They could rightly say, “God is with us!” But when Adam and Eve sinned, they left God’s loving presence. They became his enemies and allies of the devil. They had died spiritually and not only them, but all their offspring would share in this sinful nature.
Mary belonged to this same lineage, just as you and I do. Adam and Eve trusted in God’s promise to send a Son who would conquer sin, and so did Mary. On the day Gabriel came, Mary was the first to know that finally the Lord had kept his promise! “The Lord is Salvation” had come to save his people through a cross and establish an eternal kingdom!
This child will indeed be special, but we might still wonder along with Mary, “How will this be since I am a virgin?” Notice that Mary’s question is different than Zechariah’s. Mary’s comes from faith, and Zechariah’s from doubt. Zechariah basically asked, “How can this be?” To him it was an impossibility. Mary asks, “How will this be...?” Her question doesn’t doubt that it will happen. Her question just asks how this will happen since she is still a virgin.
While you can say that all pregnancies are miracles of God, Mary’s pregnancy would be a miracle unlike any other. Gabriel announced “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”
The Holy Spirit would not be playing the role of a human father. The Holy Spirit would create this life in a completely supernatural way. And really, that is the only answer that can be given to answer this question of “How?” because Scripture says nothing more than, “…no word from God will ever fail.” In other words, Because God Promised!
As amazing and unbelievable this all was, Mary simply says, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” And she could say this simply Because God Promised!
If we were the ones running the show, I think we would have picked an older woman to be the mother of God. Remember, Mary was probably the age of a high schooler! You would think God the Father would have wanted someone with more life experience to be the mother of his Son! But therein lies God’s wisdom. Perhaps one of the reasons why the Lord chose such a young girl to be the one to bear the Savior was because she hadn’t been jaded by the experiences of life that so often make us pessimistic and doubt. Even though Zechariah was an extremely devout and faithful believer, he still doubted Gabriel’s message to him. It seems Mary still retained that child-like faith that enabled her to say, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”
Friends, Mary sets a fine example for us to grow back into a child-like faith so that we might give our “Amen” to everything our God has said in his Word, no matter how unbelievable it may be simply Because God Promised! And as we learn to say “Amen” to God’s Word we also learn to say “Amen” to whatever the Lord allows to happen in our lives, knowing that he will work out all things for our eternal good. And so as we hear and study God’s Word and are filled with “Hows?” may we never turn to our own wisdom but listen quietly to what the Lord says just as Mary listened to the Lord’s message of promise that she would be the mother of our Savior. May we always give our “Amen” simply Because God Promised! Amen.
Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent by Pastor Ben Enstad
Copyright © 2023, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Green Bay, WI 54301
Bible text, NIV © Biblia, 2011