The Last Mystery of Advent
Text: Luke 1:26-38
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There’s a certain glee that comes with the Advent season—and I mean actually celebrating Advent rather than jumping to Christmas with both feet starting sometime in mid-November. There’s a secret joy, I think, that comes with holding off our full Christmas celebration until the moment is finally arrived. That includes observing the fourth and final official Sunday in Advent this morning, rather than moving right into Christmas Eve and skipping these last hours of the season. When we hold off, when we really savor Advent for what it is, we get one last glimpse into something that the Church has that the rest of the world doesn’t. They’re already itching to take down the Christmas trees and wreaths, but we’re getting a last peek into the deeper things of the season, knowing that this will only enrich our own celebrations tonight, tomorrow, and for the next twelve days. Indeed, today, in these last hours of Advent, we get not only a deeper look at the season, but a deeper look at the hidden truth of the universe, of all creation. Or, as Paul said it so eloquently, “the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages.”
That truth is this: God’s power and glory is hidden in the weak and humble. This is how it always has been, from the beginning. God has always hidden the great and glorious things He’s doing under their opposite. He hides these things so that they may only be given, as gifts, to those He desires to give them to; so that they may not be claimed by the strongest or the fastest to reach them—so that they may be given to His people in His good and perfect time.
Look at the calling of David to be the great king of Israel. Through the prophet Nathan, the Lord told David, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.” The Lord took David, the youngest of his brothers—not the oldest, as other birthrights went—a shepherd, more suited to the field than to throne rooms, and the Lord made David king over His people. He took the lowest and made him the highest. Yet even then, after David had been anointed king, he still lived a life on the run, living in caves, fighting for his very survival, while King Saul, the king chosen by men because of his impressive outward appearance, hunted him like an animal. And then, when David had been established as king and his enemies were all vanquished, when David presumed that now he would return the favor and build a house for the Lord, the Lord told David, “The Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” This was fulfilled in the first and simplest way with Solomon, David’s son, who did rule over a golden age in Israel and built the holy temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. But God still had some more mysteries and wonders to hide.
So we come to the annunciation to the virgin Mary. The angel Gabriel is sent to Nazareth—not Jerusalem, not Athens, not Rome—but lowly Nazareth, built in the caves of cliffs, to announce to a girl betrothed to a carpenter that she will carry hidden in her womb the Son of the Most High. The Lord will give to Him, this virgin girl’s son, the throne of His ancestor David and He will be the one to reign over the house of Jacob forever, the greater fulfillment of all God had promised to King David a thousand years before. So this girl of no estate, no wealthy dowry, no powerful connections, this girl who calls herself a servant and handmaiden, will hide the almighty Word made flesh, the God who made heaven and earth, in her womb.
The Lord does not find His delight in doing what the world has always done, walking down all the same dusty, predictable trails—survival of the fittest, might makes right, the rich exploiting the poor, the strong overpowering the weak. Rather, He hides His glory and might under their opposites. So when it’s time to establish the lineage of the Messiah, the Lord chooses an old man, far too past his prime to start anything, and he sends Abraham on the journey of his lifetime, even giving him and his wife Sarah a son. Then from those descendants, He chooses the youngest, the weakest, the ugliest, the least impressive, to carry on that line. He chooses David, a shepherd, littlest brother to everyone. And when the fullness of time comes, the Lord does not announce that a queen will give birth to His Son, but a young girl of no social status.
This is important for us to remember. For when the advertisers and corporate sales teams are done with us on December 25, we know that there’s more than mere glitz and gold. When the radio decides that the time for vaguely wintery types songs on the airwaves is over and that it’s time to go back to the same old top 40 songs, we still sing of what Christmas is actually about for 12 more days. When the presents wear out or break, or when we get bored with what we’ve bought, or when the cold drudgery of January presses on us, we still have this secret mystery kept for long ages, now disclosed and made known through the prophetic Scripture, according to the command of the eternal God. The Lord has hidden His best things and He’s told us where to find them.
So we seek them there. We look in the manger, where the world will only see another baby born into poverty, but we see the Son of God contained in human flesh, the Son of the Most High among the most lowly. We look at the Communion rail, in simple bread and wine, for that is where He has hidden His body and blood, forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. We look to the most basic element of water in the baptismal font, for that’s where He has hidden grace, faith, joy, His beloved family. We seek Him in prayer and hymns, words uttered and written and breathed and sung by humans, but expressing eternal truth that our minds can scarcely comprehend. We look for life hidden under the death of His cross, life in an empty grave. We look for Him in these lowly, humble places, because this is where He’s closest to us, the people He has come to save. In the name of Jesus, who is coming to you. Amen.