the Nativity of Our Lord, Christmas eve

December 24, 2018

Luke 2. 1-14
Christ is the gift conceived in us all!

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.  Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.  Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”

I have to admit, that’s the first time I’ve ever said those words in a sermon.  And back at the beginning, when I was just starting out, if someone would have told me that I’d be saying it on Christmas Eve?  Well, I would’ve told them, “Prob’ly not.”  You see, I’m a Lutheran, born and bred.  Baptized.  Confirmed.  And I was raised with all the pride – and prejudice – of the reformers!  And we just don’t say things like that, especially at times like this.

But when you look at it, that prayer has a lot to do with Christmas.  “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.”  That’s what the angel said when Mary was told that she’d conceive and bear a son!  Luke, chapter one, verse twenty-eight.  And that second line?  “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb?”  That’s what the baptist’s mother – Elizabeth – said to Mary when she – Mary – came to visit!  Luke, one, forty-two. 

But, most of the time, when Mary comes us, we protestants – Lutheran or not – flinch and look the other way.  Hoping she’ll just go away.  “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.  Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.”  But, it’s Christmas Eve.  And it’s difficult – if not impossible – to pretend she doesn’t exist.  Tonight is Jesus’ night!  Jesus’ and Mary’s!  They share the same story.  They share the same songs.  And it sounds right.  It feels good.  “All is calm, all is bright round yon virgin mother and child.” 

So, over the past few years, like Mary, I’ve been doing some pondering of my own.  Thinking about her.  Mulling her over.  And I’ve begun to realize a few things.  First of all, she’s more than just a supporting character.  Someone we unwrap, dust off, and put on display, a few days each year.  Only to box her back up and hide her away in the attic, until we need her again.  And second, we need her as more than just the object of our prayers.  An intercessor, intermediary.  You see, we need Mary – especially on this night – to remind us of who, of what, we are!  Of whom and of what we are as the church!  Of whom and of what we are as god’s very own!  Looking at Mary, we see ourselves as we are!

It’s like in the carol.  “O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.”  We’re asking that god do in us what god did in Mary!  That’s what the virgin conception is all about!  Christ being conceived, Christ being born, in us!  Without our help!  Without our choice!  Without our asking!  Without our permission!  Without our cooperation!  God does it all!  From start to finish!  From beginning to end!  And Mary’s question: “How can this be?“  It isn’t, so much, question of biology, as it is a theological one!

It’s god who inspires!  It’s god who encourages!  It’s god who stirs us up!  God who arouses us!  God who influences and impels!  I don’t know how many sermons I’ve listened to on Christmas Eve where the preacher wonders out loud how many other girls the hangel went to before finding Mary who takes god at god’s word.  But that’s not how it works!  Especially on Christmas Eve!  God speaks and the word creates believing!  God speaks and faith is begotten, not made!  It’s a virgin conception, not just for Mary, but for us all! 

The angel speaks to us at our baptism and Christ is conceived within us!  The angels speaks to us in the Supper, and our life becomes pregnant with possibilities!  Sermon after sermon!  Forgiveness upon forgiveness!  And Christ develops and grows!  And then, one night, when we have arrived at our own Bethlehem, in our own stable, Christ is born again!  Born again and again and again and again!  God’s life, god’s love, enters us!  And we, like Mary, become the vessel!  The vessel from which a whole new world emerges!

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.

The Lord is with you!  And the Lord is with us, as well!  Blessed are you!  And blessed are we!  We and the fruit we, too, bear with you!  Love begetting love!  Grace giving rise to grace!  It’s something that happens not to Mary alone, but to all god’s people!    That’s the magic of this night!  Love comes not in extraordinary ways, but in very, very ordinary ones.  Life appears not in claps of thunder and bolts of lightning, but softly and tenderly, unseen and unnoticed.  A young girl conceives and bears a son and the kingdom comes.  Not in power.  Not in glory.  But in lowliness, among shadows.  Not blazing across the heavens or displayed on a mountaintop.  But drawing its first breath in a stable and sleeping quietly on the straw.  That’s the sign!  The signal!  We believe in Jesus Christ, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary!

But that’s the way it’s always been.  In Mary.  In us.  This is the night when love comes to us!  The night life appears, one more time!  But my friends, this night is far from the exception.  This is the always and forever!  This is how Christ came to us, long, long ago.  And this is the way Christ comes to us, still!  Conceived by the spirit and born of a virgin.  Full of grace!  Close at hand!

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.

It’s not a prayer we Lutherans say all that often.  To be honest, it’s not a prayer most of us say, at all!  But here. . .  now. . .  it’s our right. . .  and our duty. . .  and our joy!  Tonight, the gospel is proclaimed, again!  Tonight, the good news is administered, one more time!  The Holy Spirit comes upon us!  The power of god overshadows us!  And we, like Mary before us, we say, “Amen!  This is most certainly true.”