Several years ago at a coffee shop and I overheard a discussion about religion between two women. I’m not much of an eavesdropper but in this case I couldn’t help it. Religion came up and a woman began to explain that she was Lutheran. She didn’t say faith alone, Christ alone, Scripture alone or anything like that to explain what being a Lutheran is all about. All she said is that she was a Lutheran. To explain herself further she simply said to her friend, and I quote “Lutherans don’t believe in the Virgin Mary.”
To be fair, maybe she didn’t mean that. Perhaps she meant to say that Lutherans don’t worship Mary or pray to her or something like that. But she didn’t say that. She said Lutherans don’t believe in the Virgin Mary.
Maybe not all Lutherans are that confused. But we Lutherans can be funny people. It’s like saying Lutherans don’t chant or make the sign of the cross even though these things are indicated and suggested in every single catechism, altar book, and every Lutheran hymnal in existence for the last 500 years.
But tonight we observe the historic Lutheran tradition of indeed believing in the Virgin Mary on the feast of the Annunciation. Because if we don’t believe in Mary you can’t really believe in God either. Or more simply put, if Mary and the church is not your mother than you can’t have God as your Father either.
Tonight the angel Gabriel comes to Mary, a virgin, in a small town much like Wittenberg, named Nazareth. The angel sings to her, saying “Greetings, Mary, O highly favored lady, the Lord is with you…The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the most high will overshadow you; the child will be called holy…you shall call his name Joshua” – which is to say his name shall be called Jesus.
The same Spirit who hovered over the waters at the dawn of creation will now hover over the waters of Mary’s womb to bring forth the creation’s Redeemer. And the very Son of God is born. A manger becomes the royal throne - a feed trough from which cattle eat is laid the heavenly bread. All so that He might provide men who live like the beasts of the earth with true spiritual food (Gregory Thaumaturgus). Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabbaoth. Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
The book of Revelation in chapter twelve describes the Virgin Mary in the following way “And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” Clearly God has a special place for Mary in heaven and perhaps we should make a special place for her as well. She did after all give birth to the creator of the heavens and earth. She is the mother of God, as our Lutheran Book of Concord says. She changed his dirty diapers – comforted him when he cried. And for that we should be very thankful.
Tonight the angel comes to Mary with good news for all of us. In the beginning God had said be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and as the saying goes, if you want the job done right then just do it yourself. So God did just that. When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
God Himself would be fruitful and multiply in the womb of Mary, who is the new Eve and Bride – an image of the church herself. She is married to Christ – the Bridegroom - the new and greater Adam – to become fruitful and multiply and fill the earth – giving birth to, well, Christians, like you, children of God. Children of Christ – son and daughters of the church.
From the life-giving womb of our church – our baptismal font – the promises of God in paradise actually become true. Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. And so it was that you have been borne, not by flesh and blood but by the will of God.
Although Mary was the first to carry Christ, have his blood mingled with hers and his flesh becomes hers – it’s much greater tonight for you. Her heart was pierced when she saw her son bleed for the sins of the world. He was wrapped and laid in a grave. Weeping may tarry for the night but joy cometh in the morning. Because death could not hold him. He walked out of the cave into the morning light - to destroy sin, death, and the grave forever.
In the beginning, on the third day of creation, God made the trees sprout up from the earth but now on the third day of the new creation, the tree of life is again seen by all. The Holy Cross has made a bridge between the heavens and earth – and you can safely pass through on dry ground – through the Red Sea of His holy blood. The cherubim and seraphim and angel hosts which guarded paradise have swung the doors wide open – even tonight!
Joshua, Jesus, Immanuel, it all means that same thing. God is with us. Bread from heaven – water from the Rock – and blood from His side. The Gospel is fulfilled tonight. In the manger of your hearts and in the womb of your souls. Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. You shall be called a Christian because you belong to God.
Like Mary, the angels have a message for you too. Because you also bear Christ. His flesh is mingled with yours and his blood becomes your own. The Holy Spirit has overshadowed you and your sins are all forgiven. You are reconciled with God by the blood of His Son – and therefore you are reconciled with one another. It’s good to be a part of the holy family, to sit at the same table with the whole family of God. With Mary, Joseph, St. Peter, and St. John. With St. Paul, Augustine, Martin Luther and our sainted parents and friends who have gone ahead.
But greatest of all is that you commune with Christ your brother, Mary your mother, and God as your Father. And what could be more Lutheran than that? In the name of Jesus. Amen.