by David Petersen
It is fitting that we should pause in our Lenten observance, these nine months before Christmas, and contemplate the joy of the angels announcement to St. Mary that she would bear the Messiah. God’s will for those who are humbled and fatigued by the grief of penitence and who mourn deeply for their sins is that they be consoled by His Word and promise for the Babe conceived in and born of Mary, who takes away the sins of the world.
Thus did angel sent from God comfort Mary with these words: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus” (Luke 1:30–31).
That which comforted her is also given for our comfort. For through the angel, God promised more than a Son to a virgin. In this, He also promised pardon to the guilty, redemption to those bound in sin and a family to those who were alone. He announced the Kingdom of the Son, and unlike the kingdoms of men, citizens of this kingdom share in its rewards and rule. The name Jesus — Yah-weh saves — is the terror of hell and the joy of heaven and our salvation.
Given a Savior
Who, then, does not rejoice, even in his afflictions and sorrow, to think that the Holy Spirit overshadowed our sister and gave us a Savior?
This reality promised to David drove him to pray: “Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life” (Ps. 119:49–50).
David had comfort in his afflictions. How? The promise gave him life. He had only received the word of promise. The Messiah had not yet been born. But in the certitude of his hope, grounded in faith that it was none other than God Himself who had made the promise, he was comforted and had joy. If David was sustained in his mind with the bare hope of this salvation thatwas reserved for us, what joy, what delight should the manifestation of the thing itself cause us!
Who then does not rejoice? Only him who does not believe. If your Lent has been lacking joy, you’re doing it wrong.
From a spiritual point of view, we live in the best of times. The Messiah has come. The written Word of God is readily available to us. Is it not the best of times when there is such plenitude of grace and of all good things? Who has ever, in the history of men, received more of the pure doctrine than we? Or who has had Bible so readily available and cheap? Do we dare to grumble because we have do not more luxuries or because Satan is arrayed against us?
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ: The fullness of the time is come. God has sent forth His Son. He, the Son of Mary, God in our flesh, is the Savior of all men.
Worst of times
I am not completely naïve. I know: We also live in the worst of times. We live in the most decadent and depraved age that the world has ever known. Mental illness is more rampant than ever. The demons may hide themselves from sight, but they are as active as ever. Salvation is announced to the lost, and they despise it. Life is promised to the hopeless, and they neglect it. God comes to men in Word and Sacrament, and they ignore Him. And those who have been handed the pure doctrine of grace, even we ourselves, take it for granted and long for the cucumbers of Egypt.
Who is it then that is gladdened by the word of the angel to Mary? He who has first been humbled by pious grief, grief for his wandering and exile, grief for the chains of death and the perils of hell, grief that mourns every day for the violence and lies and immorality all about him and, most significantly, for his own part in it. Happy for him, and only for him, is the angel’s message to Mary. For he, full of joy in the midst of sadness and uncertainty in the world, full of joy in repentance, he receives the message of the Lord concerning His Son. While he weeps and laments that he is hindered and harassed with so many evils, that he has suffered and caused so much harm by his sins, that he is not as he should be or wants to be, he also hears with gladness of his Liberator: Jesus, Yahweh, come to save. He rejoices in Him who takes away the sins of the world, who puts an end to misery, who bestows endless blessedness on the miserable, on the sick, on the sorrowful.
Blessed, then, are they that mourn, for they, and only they, shall be comforted. Blessed are those whose hearts have been humbled by pious grief, who repent, because they shall be gladdened by this good word: unto us a Savior is born.
Unto us a Savior is born – even in Lent, even in sorrow and despair, even now – unto us a Savior is born.
The Rev. David Petersen is senior pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne, Ind.