This sermon was preached by Rev. Esko Murto in the seminary’s Martin Lutheran Chapel for the divine service on the occasion of the Feast of the Annunciation, 25 March 2019.
Immanuel, ‘God With Us’ is not only the name of the Son of God in Isaiah’s prophecy, but also the current state of things for us. God is with us in Christ.
Last weekend I served the churches in the Maritimes, and the family that hosted me on Prince Edward Island told that Lucy Montgomery, the author who wrote Anne of Green Gables was buried very close to their house. Apparently every summer busloads after busloads of tourists come all the way from China and Japan to see the place. I found it funny, but I guess that’s the way we people are; we put little bronze plaques on the houses where some famous men have lived at some point, some go and visit ancient battle sites even though now there is no longer nothing more than grass (and maybe a marble monument), people pay great sums of money to own a pen that was used to sign an important contract or an instrument that was once played by a great artist.
What is any of that compared to the miracle of Immanuel, the miracle that God himself comes into this world in Jesus Christ? Incarnation ennobles and glorifies the entire creation. From the very beginning, even when everything was “very good” in God’s eyes, there had always been that strict, real, uncrossable line between the Creator and the Creation. Like the resident of the house does not in any way become part of that house, like the artist does not become his instrument, so likewise God, even though being in the midst of his Creation, never ever in any sense was a part of it.
That is, until Immanuel. In the incarnation of the Son of God something immense takes place. The border is crossed. God not only enters his creation, but he becomes part of his creation. After all, the church father’s were quite strong on this point: Jesus did not bring with himself some kind of divine flesh from heaven, he got his human nature from Virgin Mary. We confess that he is “God of God”, but also that he not only appeared, but “for us men and for our salvation….was made man” and all that “from the virgin Mary”.
As the human and divine natures of Christ are inseparable, we can with full reason call Mary Theotokos, the Mother of God because the child she gave birth to is God himself – Immanuel. And likewise “the Son of Mary” is not just describing one segment of our saviour, but applies to whole Jesus Christ. The Son of God is the creator of the entire world, and yet in the incarnation he becomes a creature as well. He does not do this just for a brief period of his Earthly ministry, but for all eternity – incarnation is not cancelled in his ascension. So if we wanted, we could attach to every tree, every animal, every rock a bronze plaque saying: “This is the World in which the Son of God lives.” And to each human we could inscribe: “Blood relatives of God.” And to each of you here, who through baptism and faith are enjoined with him in spiritual manner as well: “Here is Jesus.”
For indeed, although we dare not trivialize the uniqueness of the Mother of God, nonetheless the “power of the Most High” that overshadowed her is the very same “power from on high” (Luke 24:49) which Jesus promised would come to clothe the believers when the Holy Spirit was poured out on them. Mary carried Jesus physically inside her body, yet each believer is spiritually a Christophoros, Christ-bearer, and the church of Christ continues to bear Jesus into this world through his Word and his holy sacraments.
But God’s grace comes in the midst of suffering, and his glory is hidden in humility. Angle’s joyful message is soon followed by shame with the villagers and almost a break up with Joseph. The adoration of the magi is followed by fight to Egypt. This child may be the “Jesu joy of Man’s Desiring”, but he will also be “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief”. Mary’s spirit will rejoice in God her saviour, but also through her soul a sword shall pierce: she loses her son during the paschal feast in Jerusalem, then comes the breakup with the family when they think Jesus has become insane, and on that last week she witnesses her son’s whipping, humiliation, beating, crucifixion and death. Medieval hymn did not imagine things when they sang: Stabat mater dolorósa juxta Crucem lacrimósa,dum pendébat Fílius – the mournful, weeping Mother stood at the cross, next to her son. It is fitting that we celebrate Annunciation in the midst of the penitent Lent season. Immanuel – God is with us meant also that we are with God. The disciple is not greater than his teacher, a mother was not untouched when her son was killed. The example of Mary shows to us how God’s great saints have to go through suffering in this world, because their Lord himself suffers and dies – not because God loves suffering, but because God loves the world suffering under the burden of sin, and therefore enters their suffering in order to open a way out of it. In the midst of joy there is a seed of suffering sowed as long as this sinful world waits for its final redemption. And because of that, likewise, in the midst of every suffering a true joy is hidden in Jesus Christ. He is Immanuel, God with us in times of glory and joy, but also in the time of suffering and death.
This day there is Immanuel in a visible, touchable, edible form on this altar. Jesus gives his true body and blood in these created elements of bread and wine. If you are joyful, come and celebrate with the joy of Mary his coming into human flesh by eating and drinking his body and blood. If you are sorrowful, join with the sorrow of the Mother of God and find comforter and strength and hope in him. Let it be our response and let it be inscribed to the plaques of our hearts time and time again: “let it be to me according to your word”, and you will indeed eat and drink grace, and be, ‘full of grace’.