4th Sunday in Advent – B LW #’s 24, 18, 309, 31
Text – Luke 1:38 TLH #’s 73, 60, 613, 62
Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel left her.
THEN THE ANGEL LEFT HER
The Christmas season is a time for family get-togethers, so in the next week or two there’ll be many people traveling. There’ll be parties, happy reunions & emotional times all over the country. But when the vacations end, when the time arrives to go home, there’ll also be a lot of sad good-byes as people return to their lives & leave friends & family behind.
I’ve been through that scenario so many times in my life, I’ve lost count. And in spite of all the practice, it’s become more & more difficult as the years go by. For that reason I wonder how it was with Mary on the night Gabriel came, delivered his message, & then left?
After hearing such an incredible announcement, did pangs of loneliness touch her heart when the angel left her? Did she feel abandoned? Did a hundred more questions pop into her mind as soon as Gabriel was gone? What was it like to have been told she would be the mother of God? Who would you share that with? Who would believe you? PAUSE
As close as we can figure from the Greek language, & from the culture of that day, it was likely that Mary was only 12 to 14 years old. Imagine the burden she’d be carrying. It seems only natural to call after the angel, “Don’t go! Don’t leave me! I need your help.” But Gabriel left.
Being left behind isn’t easy, even if it’s on friendly terms like often occur at Christmas.
On those terms you’re left with a quiet, somber house where only a few hours before there was laughter & joy. But if you’ve been left behind under hostile terms, not only is there the
absence of laughter & joy, but in their place are left confusion, doubt, guilt, fear, bitterness.
In the hands of Satan those emotions are powerful tools for destruction. The damage can seep down to the very core of your soul. What’s left is a terrible sense of being something less than whole, of being torn & fragmented. Decisions that used to be simple & easily taken for granted, have become impossibly complicated.
To make matters worse, those decisions can end up revealing the hopelessness that has come to color everything in your life. Activities that used to bring pleasure now bring only bitter regret for what’s missing. They bring back the raw emotions of having been left behind, rejected & forgotten.
And then the guilt sets in, & the second-guessing. If only I had done this, or tried that. Maybe I should have said something. Maybe I am at fault. Maybe I am worthless. Satan gladly uses the bitterness & the guilt to change your very personality.
One of my seminary professors, who’d been practicing psychology for 20 years, believed that suppressed feelings of guilt are the cause for 90% of all mental disorders. That ties in very well with what I read in a book titled, “Magic Trees of the Mind.” Research suggests that guilt & bitterness will alter the physical structure of your brain.
Information like that may cause you to become a pessimist. It brings to light the inherent dangers in our sinful world, dangers that for the most part go unseen, & unaccounted for, in our day to day choices. Denial is one of our mind’s strongest defense mechanisms. However, it gets out of control if we live our lives with our heads stuck in the sand.
Ignoring and denying our failures & the guilt of our decisions, only allows their damage to perpetuate. Denial of our sins will allow them to spread & to grow. They’ll contaminate everything in our lives, & everyone else they come into contact with. Sin can change the physical structure of our brain, so if you’ve ever had someone leave you behind, all that may help in your understanding of what goes on. It may help explain some of the things you’ve experienced, like the depression, the feeling that you’re not yourself, the loss of memory & so forth. The wages of sin is death, but that death is not simply a one-time event at the end of our earthly lives.
The death that comes as a result of sin is a continuous process that takes place from the moment we are conceived. From that moment on, for the rest of our lives, we are corrupted, twisted & altered by our sinful nature. We cannot run from it, we cannot hide from it; & try as we might, we cannot make it go away through denial.
That’s why, in last week’s gospel reading, God sent a man named John to witness to the coming Light. That’s why in this week’s gospel lesson an angel named Gabriel was sent to announce to Mary that she would become the mother of God. That’s why in the upcoming gospel reading for Christmas God will send His sinless Son to save us from our sins.
Denial of our sin does not change the facts. Suppression of our guilt only changes the structure our brain, & for the worse. But a repentant heart, a heart that admits our sin, trusts in God’s love. It then brings those sins out of the darkness of our soul, & gives them over to the light of our Savior. God alone has the power to make our sins go away.
Our Creator has the power to re-create the structure of our brain in a positive way. He has the power to change our soul from darkness to light, from harbinger of death, to harbinger of eternal & perfect life. Unlike the angel Gabriel, our Savior will never leave us. He is always be with us, & it was prophesied that His name would be Immanuel. It means God with us.
In today’s gospel text, the angel Gabriel told Mary: “The Lord is with you.” Shortly after this sermon, we begin our communion liturgy with the Preface. The first words I’ll speak to you are, “The Lord be with you.” It’s a reminder that through the sacrament of Holy Communion, Christ our Lord is truly with us, not just in spirit, but in body & soul. The next words I speak will be, “Lift up your hearts.” That’s asking you to offer you’re dirty, guilty, sin filled heart to the Lord, that He might cleanse it with His body & His blood. It’s through this means of grace that our Father has promised to come to us, to cleanse us, renew us & strengthen us.
Here, Yahweh reverses the effect of the sin in our lives. Here, the Holy Spirit opens your heart to the Light that Christ might enter & live there. It’s here that God strengthens your trust in His promises while removing the confusion & doubt, the fear & bitterness.
If someone has ever left you or betrayed you, you have a right to be hurt & angry, but you cannot remove the bitterness on your own. For that you need your heavenly Father’s help, & He’s offering it to you today, right here in God’s house. Come & receive it. PAUSE
On a typical Sunday, as Lutherans, we confess our Christian faith with the words of the Nicene Creed. In less than one sentence that confession captures the whole of the Christmas season: “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, who was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, & was made man.” That is God with us.
God was made man. That is the ultimate in being with us. He became one of us. From that moment on, the heavenly Father & His children would never be separated. Jesus Christ cannot leave us, because He is one of us. Through the incarnation God has been inseparably united to mankind, & He did that out of love for you & me, even while we were sinners.
He loves us first, in the hope that we might turn back to Him & be saved. God no longer needs a temple, because His dwelling place is now in man, in Christ. It is through the incarnate Son of God that our heavenly Father lives in us. He participates in our very being.
The angel Gabriel left Mary behind, because his presence was only an external one. Jesus Christ has been born a man, that He might live in mankind. His presence in our lives is
internal. He is with us always, even to the end of time. Satan’s temptations can never drive Jesus away from us. No matter how quiet & somber your home may be during portions of this Christmas season the Christ Child is always near. The guilt & shame of your life has been totally erased as far as your Savior is concerned. You are holy in God’s sight.
Through the power of Christ living in our lives, may each of us be able to say along with Mary, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be done to me according to Your word.” Amen.
The peace of God, that surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts & your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet