Conception: The First Step Towards The Cross

Text: Luke 1:26-38
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
In today’s Gospel reading we hear that the Angel Gabriel came to Mary in order to foretell the coming of the Messiah.  Yes, the Angel Gabriel comes bearing a message for this no-name insignificant peasant girl, who is living in a dumpy town called Nazareth.  He comes to this young virgin who is probably not much older than 14-16 years old; he comes to her with a profound message that she is favored by God, for God will work through her to bring forth the Messiah of the whole entire world. 
Needless to say, Mary becomes greatly perplexed from the message and the messenger.  Yes, she becomes agitated, troubled, and confused.  This is completely understandable, sense this is a very common response of people who come into contact with mighty angels.  Would we not also experience the same rush of confusion, agitation, and anxiety, if we were visited from such a powerful messenger of God? 
To intensify things a bit more, as if encountering an angel of God was not already extreme enough; the Angel Gabriel tells Mary that the Holy Spirit will work an absolute miracle in her to bring forth the Messiah. He basically tells her that the Holy Spirit will provide the DNA that is necessary for one of her reproductive eggs.  That is to say,  the Holy Spirit will deliver the DNA that was missing from Mary’s egg, thus a cell would form; not just any cell, but a holy and great physical life; not just any life, but the eternal Son of God will come down from heaven to take up bodily residency in the womb of the Virgin Mary. 
Now, with all of this stated thus far, there is a pretty good chance that you are familiar with this story.  In fact, we talk about this each and every Sunday when we confess in the Apostle’s Creed and Nicene Creed that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.  This scriptural story is also celebrated every March 25th in the church as the Feast of the Annunciation.   
Considering that the story may be somewhat familiar, we must be careful not to rush over the message from the Angel Gabriel and we mustn’t yawn at the passages of our Gospel reading saying, “I’ve heard the story of Mary conceiving a child a hundred times!”  The reason why this is so, is because this is where the grand salvation plan of the Old Testament Scriptures actually comes to fruition; it is where the salvation plan of the Old Testament begins to be executed—executed for you and for me. 
Permit me to explain.
At the very beginning of things, our first mother, Eve, was confronted by an angel as well.  This angel though was not a messenger of God like Gabriel, but an evil messenger of twisted lies and hellish deceit, a fallen angel who had rebelled against God.  This angel’s name was Lucifer, also known as Satan.  To get back to the point, this evil, fallen, and pathetic angel of deceit spewed forth lies about God in that Garden of Eden, thus introducing temptation to Adam and Eve.   In response to the message of the evil angel, Adam and Eve distrusted God’s Word and aspired to be God themselves, thus conceiving not a child within Eve, but conceiving sin in themselves which gave birth to sin, sin that infected and tainted every aspect of life as we know it.  Tragically, temptation was planted by the evil one; evil desires formed in Adam and Eve. Once the evil desires were conceived, they gave birth to sin thus wreaking havoc on everything.[1]  
All was not lost though, for God gave a promise to Adam and Eve that there would be a seed, a child, who would come in the future.  This seed—this child—would crush the head of the ol’ serpent.  Indeed, God did not promise an impersonal force; He did not promise some sort of intelligent spiritualized battle plans communicated to us through spiritual radio frequencies; He did not promise a waiflike or dainty savior; and He did not promise an airy insubstantial energy to deal with the evil one and the sins of the world.  No, God promised flesh and blood; He promised that a child would be born.  The physical, bodily, and fleshly person who was promised from long ago is none other than Jesus Christ, the seed that was conceived in Mary’s womb.  Yes, the child that was conceived in the womb of Mary was conceived so that He could crush the head of Satan, pay for sins, and redeem you and me.  He is the promised seed, the promised child, the promised flesh and blood that would save and make things right.
This means that, “Mary is like a new and better Eve . . . [she] was the “Eve” who bore that promised seed, [the seed] who crushed the power of our ancient foe, even as the venom of death struck that seed in His crucifixion death. Indeed, if any woman should have the name Eve, it should be Mary, for the Hebrew word for Eve means “mother of life.” And such Mary is, for she gives birth to the Savior who is the way, the truth, and the life.”[2]
Here we once again see the tremendous reality that God was at work coming to us.  As we have heard in previous Advent messages, the Lord’s first coming to us some two-thousand years ago was not a coming of condemnation, but a coming of grace and mercy.  But today, we hear more specifically how the Savior came to us two-thousand years ago.  Oh yes, He came in grace and truth.  Oh yes, the heavens were ripped open as Jesus came to us.  However, today we hear more precisely that the Son of God came to us via the womb.  Otherwise stated, our Savior came to us in grace and mercy and did so by being born of a Virgin.  Truly, this promised Messiah did not come to us in a ghostly and unearthly way through a spiritualized portal.  No, He came to us in flesh and blood; born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary.  He was conceived, thus He received a true human body and soul in the Virgin Mary; He took up human flesh inside of Mary’s womb, which was His first step towards the cross.    
Dear Saints, please keep in mind that the miraculous conception of our Lord Jesus Christ in the womb of Mary is not just a finer point of theology that theologians argue about; furthermore, it is not an insignificant doctrine that can be classified as a myth, as some denominations have tragically done; and finally it is not a mere theological hurdle that we need to jump over to get to the Christmas Story on December 25.  No it is none of these things, but rather it is a teaching of tremendous importance for us to believe, teach, and confess.  Christ had to be true man, because our salvation depends on it.  You see if Jesus was not true man, He would not have been able to act in our place under the Law and He would not have been able to fulfill the Law for us.  You who have ears, hear, Jesus Christ being conceived in the womb of Mary is indeed important, for if Jesus did not come to us as true man—if He did not come to the world bodily—He would not have been able to live for us, suffer for us, die for us, and rise for us.  Otherwise stated, the eternal Son of God came to live for you, suffer for you, die for you, and rise for you—He did that by taking up human flesh; He did that by taking up the form of a slave, being born in human likeness; He shared in all things, yet without sin, so that through His death He might destroy the one who has the power of death.
The conception of Jesus Christ in the womb of Mary is a gift to mankind, a gift of a God who can die on a cross for mankind.  A God who is not true man, cannot bleed for His creation.  A God who is not true man, cannot bleed for you.
Yes, we believe, teach, and confess that Jesus is true God and we believe, teach, and confess that He is true man born of the Virgin Mary.  Because He is true God He is able to overcome death and the devil; He is able to fulfill the Law; He is able to resurrect from the dead.  Only God can do these things.  What is more, because He is true man He can be nailed to a cross—for you and for me.  He can suffer for you.  He can bleed for you.  Beware my friends, of people who portray a Jesus Christ and a Christianity that cannot be nailed to the cross; if you can’t nail it to the cross it is not uniquely Christian.[3]  Our savior has a cross; our savior bled and died and rose.    
This week, “we will celebrate the human birth of God in the flesh, Jesus Christ.  We will celebrate the fact that God and man come together in one person - Jesus the Christ—the Son of Mary—the savior of the world.  His conception by the Holy Spirit and His birth of the Virgin are the beginning of His journey to save [you and me].”[4]  Truly, as we enter into the Church’s blessed Christmas Season this week and press forward towards the seasons of Epiphany, Lent and Easter, we will see how the little human in the womb of the Virgin will grow up and live a life without sin.  We will see how He will suffer, die, and be buried.  We will see how He will rise and ascend back to His Father.  We will see how He did all of this for you and for me, so that wrath against sin could be satisfied and so that the Lord could come to you and me with His mercy, grace, and love, not only in the Word and Sacraments today, but also in the great Second Advent where we will be resurrected from the dead and given a new heaven and new earth. 
Baptized Saints, you have favor with the Lord, for Christ was conceived for you.  You have favor with the Lord, for this gift of salvation was set out to be delivered way back in Genesis 3 and arrived at the conception.  You are favored for Christ was conceived so that He could redeem you.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Chad Bird, “Four Reasons Why the Virgin Mary Deserves More Attention in Protestant Churches,” (23 August 2014) (20 December 2014).
[2] Ibid. 
[3] Paraphrase of a Norman Nagel Quote (Source of Quote Unknown).
[4] James T. Batchelor, “Fourth Sunday in Advent Sermon,” (18 December 2011) (20 December 2014).

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