+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Luke 1:42
Theme: Blessed To Be A Blessing
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
The Lord works in mysterious ways. An obscure First Century Judean woman was chosen to be the mother of God. She wasn’t the daughter of a king. She wasn’t part of the royal establishment. She had no special notoriety. And why endure gestation and childhood anyway? Why not just rend the heavens and appear as a mature man? Yet the mystery of the incarnation is the means of our salvation. The virgin birth is not an optional part of Christian truth. It’s not coincidentally mentioned in the historic creeds. The Man who is “begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God”, was also “incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary.” 1
When Mary greeted Elizabeth the Bible says, “the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.”2 We’d be hard-pressed to find a Scripture verse more relevant to the sanctity of life than this one. John the Baptist is blessed by Jesus in utero. He responds with a gymnastic expression of faith. It’s a fantastic reminder that human life begins at conception, a truth that advancements in science are continually making clearer. The presence of the Emmanuel is just as vital to the newly conceived as it is to mature saints on their deathbed.
Mary’s response, also known as the Magnificat, understandably found its place in the liturgical life of the Christian church. The words are lyrical, and it’s quite possible Mary herself sung them. They express profound gratitude for the mercy of God. The Messiah, through the Holy Spirit, will become incarnate in her womb. “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me- holy is His name.”3
The enormity of the matter defies description. The entire biblical witness is dedicated to understanding it. How could the incomprehensible deity, the One who is eternal, omniscient, and almighty be contained in this small human form? The Creator of the universe takes up residency in the flesh and blood of the man Jesus. As the Scripture says, “For in Christ all the fulness of the Deity lives in bodily form.”4 Christmas is a celebration of the divine mystery of the incarnation. But the purpose of the incarnation wasn’t just to give humans something to marvel at. Jesus Christ came in the flesh to tackle the crisis of sin.
Christ came to judge, but for the purpose of restoration. Jesus did not come to destroy life; He came to redeem it. He did not come to abolish those made in the divine image but to affirm them. He didn’t come to publicly wash His hands as Pilate did, but to openly immerse Himself into the sinful milieu of fallen humanity- to embrace it and to redeem it.
You’ve probably heard it said, “God hates the sin but loves the sinner.” It’s worth considering whether the claim holds up to biblical scrutiny. Separating the sin from the sinner is an impossible task for humans. All attempts are doomed to fail from the start. Efforts at impartiality are impossible due to the total depravity of sin. The blind cannot argue about the clarity of what they see. The deaf cannot debate the quality of sound. The dead cannot discuss the conditions of life. Those who are in the eye of the hurricane cannot assist others in avoiding the storm.
So, the task must be left to Him who is immortal and undefiled. But, if it’s our hope that God will judge our sin and not ourselves as sinners, we’d better stop and think about what that really means. There is no sin apart from the sinner. Sin is not a self-existing reality. It does not have independent existence. It does not have a life of its own. Sin is transgression of God’s holy will. It is disobedience, lawlessness. It is both the condition (like a disease) and the act of self-assertion against God’s rule.
But doesn’t God forgive our sin? Absolutely! But more to the point, He forgives repentant sinners. Baptism, like absolution, doesn’t is set sin aside, ignore it or leave it unaccounted for. It means the guilt and punishment is removed from the eternal experience of the sinner. The Bible says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”5 The punishment for the sins of believers is remitted in the next life. That is very, very, good news. It is rightly the central cause for our joy. It is the foundation of our conviction. It is secured by the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Whether or not the punishment for sin is remitted in this life is another matter. God must discipline as He sees fit. Our sanctification does not happen accidentally or haphazardly. The Holy Spirit attends to us according to the specifics of our circumstance. The Spirit condemns and convicts as well as comforts. That means our sins have consequences that may involve punishment. Repentance, no matter how heartfelt, does not eliminate this reality. So, if it’s your plan to plea-bargain with God in order to avoid being chastised, whether it involves embarrassment, shame, or dealing with the fall-out from the tangled web you weave, you should understand that God doesn’t work that way. He may choose to punish your sin. But that doesn’t mean you’re not forgiven. God disciplines those He loves6.
Advent reminds us to throw ourselves on the mercy of God. He will not forsake you. The repentant person can never fall so hard or so quickly as to not land on Christ. Christmas assures you that you won’t be landing on a theoretical concept or a philosophical idea, you’ll be landing in the strong arms of Him who was born in Bethlehem and stretched out those arms on the cross. The angels sang of Him. The shepherds worshipped Him. The Magi presented Him with royal gifts. Later, skeptics jeered Him, and all of our sins pinned Him to the cross. Still, the miracle of Christmas did not come to naught because the Lord of life triumphed on Easter morning.
When the shepherds knelt at the manger did, they know they were kneeling on the threshold of heaven? When we kneel at the altar we intrude upon the easement of Christ’s kingdom. But believers are not trespassing. We are honoured guests. We are His baptized. Mary was an ordinary woman of her time and place. Yet God graced her with a matchless privilege. Through those events He honours us, ordinary people, and makes us extraordinary members of His kingdom. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Fourth Sunday of Advent
23 December 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 The Nicene Creed
2 Luke 1:41
3 Luke 1:46-49
4 Colossians 1:9
5 Romans 8:1
6 See Hebrews 12:7