Text: Luke 1:26-38
Fourth Sunday in Advent; Series B
When I was a doctoral student at The Union Theological Seminary in New York City, I avoided getting into arguments about theology and the Bible with my classmates or professors as much as possible. I got the impression that I was the only student there who believed that the miracles reported in the Bible actually happened. I was at that school in order to learn about the history of Christianity, not to try to make “converts” to my beliefs or the position of my church.
However, there was one day at lunch in the cafeteria, that a student–whose name I don’t remember–decided he would make a fool out of me. He said that I was a “fundamentalist,” a “dinosaur from the middle ages,” and an “avowed enemy of science and rational thought.” He said this because I believed in the reports of miracles in the Bible–which I do. My response was something like, “Why can’t God do whatever he wants on this earth?” His reply was, “Because miracles are contrary to natural law, as everyone knows.”
I had read about a similar argument from the 18th century in my Philosophy of Religion class. So my response was something like this, “The empiricist David Hume defined a miracle as ‘a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent’ (1748, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding [Section 10]; cf. Wikipedia, David Hume, “Problem of Miracles). In other words, Hume argued that God was sinning by violating laws of nature. But this is a fallacy. The notion of ‘laws’ presumes a Creator who created those laws by his own mandate. If he created those ‘laws,’ he can also alter or transcend them without sinning, when and where he wants to. He would be a poor God if he could not do that. On the other hand, if there is no God, there are only ‘regularities,’ not ‘laws,’ and regularities do not exclude exceptions.” I don’t think I convinced that student, but he didn’t bother me again either.
Our Gospel lesson this morning introduces us to a period where there were more miracles “contrary to a law of nature” than any other in human history. This period was the lifetime of Jesus, from about 4 B.C. to about 30 A.D. The first miracle in that period is the subject of our text–Mary’s conception of a child without a human father. The miracle is not the matter of the fact of her conception, but in the claim of the Evangelists Luke, Matthew (1:18), Mark (1:1), and John (1:14) that Jesus was literally the son of God–and thus without a biological human father.
Mary was a smart young woman. She knew the basic “law of nature” that mothers cannot conceive or give birth without a biological father, so she asked the angel Gabriel “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Gabriel pointed to the work of the Holy Spirit and “the power of the Most High” as the causes of her promised pregnancy, with the result that “the child to be born will be called holy–the Son of God” (verse 35).
That God would come down to earth, not only in the form of a human being, but also take up that human nature permanently into one person for all eternity–that is the miracle to beat all miracles! It means that the unchangeable God, without addition, subtraction, or variation of the divine nature (Formula of Concord SD VIII, 49; Tappert, 600)–stooped down to our level in the cosmos in order to accomplish your salvation. His incarnation makes the human race special, even above the angels (Heb 1:5-14).
Jesus, the Son of God, could have come down to earth in other ways. He could have suddenly appeared, full grown in human form, out of the desert. He could have then done and said everything that is reported of him in the Gospel. He could have healed all who were brought to him, and preached about the kingdom of heaven. He could have opposed the religious authorities, been arrested, tortured, crucified, died, raised from the dead, and ascended into heaven. Not one thing would have been different, except . . .
Except, he would not be part of the human race. He would not be part of a genealogy, as is reported by both Matthew (1:1-17) and Luke (3:23-37). He would not have as his ancestors these famous people: King Solomon, King David, Ruth, Judah, Jacob, Isaac, Abraham, Shem, Noah, Methusaleh, Enoch, Seth, and Adam. He would not have been an Israelite by genetics, or a Jew according to the Law of Moses. He would not be your distant relative, tracing back to Noah and his family. He would have been like human beings, but not truly one of us, who are Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve. But the Scriptures say that Jesus is your brother (Hebrews 2:11).
Why is Jesus’ genealogy important? Why was it vital that he be born into the human race, as one of your very own relatives? The writer to the Hebrews states:
Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. . . . Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity, so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil–and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:11-17).
Here it is clear that Jesus took on your human nature, and became part of the human race, so that he could destroy the devil, exercise his priestly function of interceding for you, and pay for your sins on the cross. The incarnation through the virgin Mary was thus absolutely essential for your salvation and reconciliation to God.
The Formula of Concord, Article VIII also explains why Jesus had to become part of our human race:
St. Peter testifies with clear words that even we, in whom Christ dwells only by grace, have in Christ because of this exalted mystery “become partakers of the divine nature” (II Peter 1:4) . . . Scripture testifies clearly (John 5:21, 27; 6:39, 40) that the power to make the dead alive and to execute judgment has been given to Christ because he is the Son of Man and inasmuch as he has flesh and blood. . . Scripture not only speaks in general terms of the person of the Son of Man, but expressly points to his assumed human nature when it states “The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7). This does not refer only to the merit that was once achieved on the cross. John is saying in this passage that in the work or matter of our justification not only the divine nature in Christ, but also his blood actually cleanses us from all sins. Likewise, John 6:48-58 says that Christ’s flesh is a life-giving food, and accordingly the Council of Ephesus decreed that the flesh of Christ has the power to give life. (FC SD VIII, 34, 58-59; Tappert, 597, 602).
Here it is clear that Jesus took on your human nature, and became part of the human race, so that he could raise the dead on the Last Day and execute Judgment. It also is clear that because of that human nature, Jesus’ blood cleanses you from all sin and His body gives you life–both in the Sacrament of the Altar. The incarnation through the virgin Mary was thus absolutely essential for your resurrection, justification, and the benefits you receive of forgiveness and eternal life in the Sacrament.
With God, nothing is impossible; and in Christ, all things necessary for your salvation have already been accomplished. So “let our gladness have no end! Alleluia!” In the name of Jesus, our dear brother and Savior. Amen.