“Annunciation” March 25—Nine Months Before Christmas
Among the lessons of the Annunciation is that process is as important as outcomes. It is true in the spiritual life and in the church. If you have the right goal but use improper means, you are not succeeding. If you can sing like an angel but act like a demon, that is not good. If you can preach like John the Baptist but act like Pontius Pilate, that doesn’t work either.
In case of the Annunciation, Gabriel’s announcement of the conception of Jesus, we have the ultimate goal of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The fact that God used the process of conception, fetal development, childhood, and youth as preparation is significant and provides the model for understanding human development.
March 25, the date of the annunciation, has been important in the church for centuries. It would be among the top 14 days in the life of the church as indicated by the church’s art, iconography, and annual service emphasis.
Luke Gospel begins with two amazing stories of life within the womb. First there was John the Baptist born to Zach and Beth. Luke 1:13-15 says it like this: Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.
John the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament Prophets even though he appears in the transition of the New Testament. He was remarkable in many ways but for our purpose here today we note that he was filled with the Holy Spirit while he was still in his mother’s womb. Mothers can brag a lot about their children but I don’t know anyone who can top that.
Then there was Mary and that famous announcement. (Luke 1:26-33) “In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
Luke introduced us to these remarkable two boys. Then he introduced us to the pregnant mothers and what happened when they met. (Luke 1:39-45) “At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”
Every woman who has carried a child knows the baby can respond to external stimuli. But this account goes to a whole new level. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s woman. It seems the Holy Spirit in John was responsive to the presence of the Holy Spirit within Mary womb.
If we step back a bit, the first impression is that God was clearly up to something big. Gabriel, the most important archangel of heaven made the announcement. He is the captain of the A team. (A beautiful mosaic, “Gabriel walking in the Garden,” hangs in the Groom’s Room of the Chapel of the Resurrection.) If Gabriel is the messenger, the message is of first importance.
From the rest of the Bible we know this was the beginning of the mission that would lead to the cross and the resurrection. For us, nothing is more important than that. Without this we are all lost; our sins are not forgiven, our home is not in heaven. But with this, the journey of salvation has begun with the possibility of us being saved. That’s big!
The tremendous place this event has been given in Christianity history has few equals. As the centuries have passed, none of the original significance has diminished but new significance has emerged. In more recent decades the question of when life begins has been asked. This passage gives important answers.
It is clear that Jesus was Jesus from the moment of conception, not just the moment of birth. This kind of a day helps us to understand the development of Jesus and to consider what all that means. He is the prototype of humanity. He was fully human, illustrating our own lives. If Jesus was Jesus from the moment of conception, then you were you from conception forward.
I was Joe Fuiten from the moment of conception. They hadn’t yet given me my name, but it was still me. In fact, for a while neither my father nor my mother knew I existed. Nobody knew. I had all my own DNA and it was different from my mother and father but they still didn’t know who I was. My father didn’t even want another child. He said, “We have eeny, meeny, and miny, and don’t want no moe.” As it turned out, moe was Joe. With a start like that you can have more empathy and understanding of the problems I have.
You can see that the prototype of Jesus has implications for us. In recent decades Americans have tended to emphasize the choice of the mother with regard to the child within her rather than who the child actually is. But the more we let the Bible inform our values the more we will recognize this still unnamed person as a person. You don’t have to have to be named before you become a person.
Part of why I have a service like this every year is because we want young people growing up to understand what is true. If they know what is true hopefully it will influence their decisions down the road. These 137 pairs of baby shoes on the platform represent the number of children lost to abortion every hour since laws against it were struck down by the Supreme Court in 1973.
I know this makes some people uncomfortable including some here who have had abortions. People do what makes sense to them at the time. But I would hope, with new and more accurate information, you would make a different decision now or would do differently if you had it to do over again. God’s grace will certainly cover all our sins including that of abortion. We have no interest in condemning anyone and we don’t condemn people. We do have a lot of interest in helping people find a better pathway, a pathway of God’s truth.
We also want to speak up for those who are small or who have no voice. Years ago we were just introducing this topic on a Wednesday night. I will never forget a lady who came up and spoke. In a church like this, not everything is scripted and planned. We sometimes make room for immediate response. She had had a difficult life, and that would be euphemistic. She even swore during her commentary. But she was alive and she knew the Lord. In the midst of all those troubles there was the potential to know the Lord and to enjoy him. In that, she found purpose for herself.
What makes us valuable is that we are created in the image of God with a spiritual capacity to know God and to enjoy him forever. Our principal value is not on this planet. It is our eternal ability. We do not judge the value of people by their productivity or by the concept of “quality of life.” Arguments about “quality of life” are deceptions and misunderstandings about human value.
There are a lot of broken people in this world who have been through ongoing pain. You may be going through a difficult moment right now either in your health, finances, or a relationship. Even in such a circumstance, when you probably feel very small, you can still know Jesus and have a home in heaven. You may never fully shake the pain of this life until you see eternity but you can see eternity. You have a spirit and your spirit can know the Lord and be with him forever.
The Apostle Paul connected our physical body with the Spirit of God as the essential human distinction. He said, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own. You were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians. 6:19-20).