The Joy That the Incarnation Brings


Westminster Tower Ecumenical Service

Luke 1: 39-45

Dc. Larry Brockman

Great Controversy.  Yes, the Gospel we just read led to great controversy.  Because Elizabeth’s words imply that the Baby in Mary’s womb is God.  Listen again to the words:  “How does this happen that the Mother of my Lord should come to me.”  You see, this one line speaks to two beliefs central to Christianity.  First, that Jesus is the Lord, the almighty God.  And second, that Mary is the Mother of God.  Both of these truths were challenged over the first four centuries after Jesus’ birth.  But by about 400 AD, the mainline Church had made some important decisions:  First, that Jesus was indeed the Lord, and that he was both fully human and fully divine; and second, that Mary was indeed the Mother of God.   

Now you might ask:  Yes, but what does that mean to me?  Well, if you really think about it, it should bring you great joy.  You see, God is viewed by most religions, whatever they are, as transcendent, meaning far above us, on another plane entirely from us.  And certainly there is truth to that.  No matter how intelligent one of us may be; no matter how strong or capable one of us may be; no matter how powerful one of us may be, all of that is nothing compared to the wisdom and strength and power of God.  God is so far above all of us that we cannot think or do on the same level as God.  The separation is basically infinite.  That is what it means for God to be transcendent.   

But Christianity doesn’t stop there.  Because Christianity also teaches that Jesus is both God and man.  And that means that God has been made immanent to us.  God sent His only Son, Jesus, a divine person of the trinity, down to earth, born of a woman.  And Jesus became one of us, living amongst us and living as one of us.  He breathed, ate, drank, slept, laughed, walked, ran and played.  He grew up, wanted, worked, got angry, was sad, suffered, and grieved.  He experienced human life as we experience it.  And because He was both God and man, that means that God shared with us how he intended us to live, because he lived as one of us and showed us the pattern of life he desires us to follow.  And so, that’s what we mean when we say that God became immanent to us.   

But only Christians believe that God became man.  All other religions still view their God as strictly transcendent, and they strive in vain to find that transcendent truth.  While many Christian mystics have attempted to find the transcendent God, not all of us have the luxury of living a mystic’s life.  Most of us, like you and I, are thrown into the humdrum of daily life.  And the example that Jesus shows us is much more practical because all of us have the same human limitations that Jesus had as a fully human person.  We have the Gospels that describe part of his life.  They show us how human he was; they show us the way.   

Now one of the most important things we learn from Jesus is the importance of seeking and doing God’s will for us.  The Gospels chronicle the story of how Jesus, once grown up, was baptized by John, and then went off to find who God wanted Him to be.  Jesus sought, and then lived, God’s will for Him.  And then we have the example of Mary.  Mary was confirmed by the early church as the “God Bearer”.  The Church confirmed the belief that Mary was, as Elizabeth is quoted as saying in the Gospel, the Mother of God.  That is important, because a perfect person, Jesus, was born as a human.   

Ask yourself this:  What kind of person would God choose to be His mother in human form?  Would she be a sinner?  I think not.  Wouldn’t she be as close to perfection in God’s eyes as a human person could be?  Our lens for perfection is not the same as God’s, but clearly, God’s is the lens that we need to understand.  And so, Mary serves as a second example of a pleasing human being to God.   

What was the essence of Mary’s perfection?  Well, the angel came to her and told her that she found favor with God.  But that wasn’t enough.  Her efforts to live her own life, but within the rules of the Jewish tradition, were simply not enough because the angel challenged her to do more.  He challenged her to do the will of God.   

Put yourself in Mary’s situation for a moment.  You are young woman engaged to be married.  This, as was the custom at the time, was the primary vocation for a young Jewish girl.  Can you imagine what you would do if someone came to you claiming to be an angel and told you that God wanted you to bear His son?  And even though you complained that you had not been with a man, the angel went on to say that you would become pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Wouldn’t you say- who is this guy; what do I tell my parents; what do I tell my fiancée?  What are my friends going to think?  Won’t I be stoned to death as an adulteress?  Would you say yes in the face of all of that?  But Mary did say yes.   

Indeed, as in the case of both Jesus and Mary, the will of God for them was hard to swallow.  But, and here is the critical point: both of them recognized the real message of God’s will for them, and both of them said yes.  They went on to live the lives God had chosen for them; not the lives that they might have chosen for themselves.   

We are in the middle of Advent, a season of the Church year that calls us to reflect on our lives in preparation for the coming of the Lord.  Most of us get drawn into a joyful anticipation of a secular Christmas.  It appears to be focused on the coming of the baby Jesus.  But it is a Christmas filled with gifts and parties and cookies and family celebrations.  But that’s not what Advent really means.  Advent is the time to reflect not just on the coming of the Christ Child, but also on the second coming of Christ.  The second coming will bring with it judgment for what we have done.  And that is what we need to be prepared for- judgment of our lives.  Elizabeth finishes the Gospel today by saying:  “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled”.  Yes, indeed, Mary reflected, believed, and acted on it in her life.  We are being called during Advent to do the same- to reflect on where we are today, and to recognize and believe in the Lord’s will for us, and then to act on it. 

Now all of us are at some stage in our lives.  We cannot change what happened before.  That’s all in the past.  But we can reflect on and change what happens in the future.  We are being called right here and now by God to a certain kind of life from now on.  It may not be the life we want for ourselves, but it is what God has called us to.  Some are called to certain kinds of work; others to bear with limitations and illness; still others to a life of service to others. 

As you reflect on your life, listen to whatever you hear the Lord calling you to be and do, and then accept it.  Then, the joy of knowing that the Lord is coming will be yours- the overwhelming joy of knowing that God loved us so much, that he came amongst us to show the way. 

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