Back to the Future
"Back to the Future" is a movie from the 80s that plays with the concept of time travel and how going back can change your future. We won't time travel, but we will travel through time as we look at the event without which there would be no Christmas: The Virgin Birth.
Go back 100 years to the beginning of the modern era. The question was asked that Mary asks in our text, "How can this be?" How can it be that a virgin conceive? 100 years ago the modern era answered. It can't be. It was in response to the widespread denial of the Virgin Birth and other points of Christian doctrine that 90 essays were written from 1910-1915. They were referred to as The Fundamentals. The first essay was on the Virgin Birth.
The denial itself was nothing new. What happened 100 years ago was that people claiming to be Christians were denying it. The modern era of science overtook the centuries old faith. Science and empirical experience supported the answer "It can't be" to the question "How can a virgin conceive?" But wait a minute. If there is an all powerful God not bound by His creation who can make the sun stand still or go backward, make fire not burn, iron not sink, and a donkey talk, why couldn't He make a virgin conceive? What at all would be impossible for such a God as this? Well, Gabriel answered that question 2000 years ago, "Nothing is impossible with God." A being who can only do what is possible couldn't be "God."
"Science" itself believes what is scientifically impossible. Something is scientifically impossible if has anywhere from a 1 in 1050 to 1 in 1082 chance of happening. Two evolutionists calculate the odds of the chance formation of life on earth to be 1 in 1040,000. British astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle said this is comparable to the chance "'a tornado sweeping through a junkyard would assemble a Boeing 747.'" Other evolutionists calculate the probability of life arising spontaneously anywhere in universe as 1 in a Nonillion (Creation and the Modern Christian, 160-1). That's one with 30 zeros.
Science simply counters with, "Well it did happen. Look around you." I say look at other things "science" says today, and ask who is asking whom to believe the impossible? After landing on the comet, "science" has given up the possibility that water got to our planet by comets. Now they think asteroids brought it. And don't think they have abandoned the concept of something superhuman out there. Carl Sagan in the documentary "Chariots of the Gods" said he believed there is other life in the universe and that it was "nice to think that there is someone out there than can help us." You think that's a scientific belief? It goes against what we empirically know about life. He thinks there are beings out there not as debauched as us and they would be interested in helping us (Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, 313).
Back 100 years ago some in the "church" answered Mary's question "How can this be?" with "It can't be." Go back 20 years ago and that question was answered by the postmodern with "Let it be." Yes, a Beetles song 20 years before that gave the 90s the answer. Whatever happened in the past, whatever might happen in the future, whatever is happening now, just "let it be." The modern denied the fact of the Virgin Birth the postmodern says "whatever" let it be.
That, according to Beetle Paul McCartney, was his mother Mary's answer to whatever troubled him. This is not the answer of Mary the Mother of our Lord. Mary's answer is, "Let it be according to thy Word." The translation doesn't help here. Gabriel quotes the Lord's Word to Sara about conceiving Isaac after it was scientifically, empirically impossible. He doesn't say as the insert has it, "For nothing is impossible with God," but no spoken Word from God is impossible." Mary takes up that same phrase and says, "Let it be according to thy spoken Word."
This is liturgy; this is vesicle and response; this is saying back to God what He has first said to us. On Sunday I remind you that God said, "Our help is in the name of the Lord," and you respond with God's own words, "Who made heaven and earth." I say what God told me to say, "In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you" and you say, "Amen." I give you His Body and Blood saying what Jesus did, "Take eat; take drink for the forgiveness of sins" and you say, "Yes, yes, it shall be so."
You think it's impossible for an all-powerful God to make a virgin conceive; I think to the very marrow of my bones that it's impossible for a Holy God to really forgive me for every sin I not only did and said but thought. But let it be according to His Word. His Word says though my sins are as red as crimson He has made them white as snow. His Word says I'm dead in my trespasses and sins but risen with Christ in Baptism. Let His Sacraments be according to His Word not our eyes. Let Baptism be a Water of life not just plain Water. Let Absolution be words that actually send sins away not just a wish. Let Bread be His Body and Wine be His Blood according to His Word and not a symbol according to your science.
St. John of Damascus linked the Virgin Birth with the Real Presence. He said that it is no more of a miracle for God to put Himself in the womb of a virgin than it is for God to put His Blood in Wine and His Body in Bread. He said that both these things "are beyond description and understanding" (ACC, III, 19). Modern man 100 years ago said what is beyond description and understanding can't be true. Postmodern man 20 years ago said, "Let it be;" let it be true for you but untrue for someone else. The Christian of 100 years ago, of 20 years ago, or of today says it is true according to God's Word. That's what the Church of all times and places has always said.
We now go back to the ancient faith to see our future. There has been a break between God and Man. All in and outside the Church see this. Things are not as they should be. Something is wrong, terribly so. There are poisonous plants, thistles and thorns. The sun that should warm us burns us. Rain falls in torrents some places and not at all in others. The earth quakes and buildings fall and tsunamis wash away hundreds of thousands.
When someone asks, "How could God do or let this happen?" he is admitting there is break, a hostility here. When anyone uses tragedy or disaster as proof that God can't exist, he too is admitting that he sees something is not right, not as it should be, and he shows a latent belief in a good God. I mean if there is no good God why should he expect that there would be any goodness, any order, any meaning to life? Why does he feel betrayed? All men have seen the breach between God and Man and they have tried to bridge it with their mind, heart, or body.
They try to get back to the garden, to Eden, where God and Man were one. They try thinking their way back to God, but if you can see that a 3 year old can't think his way back to his 30 year old father, you can see the impossibility of separated man thinking his way back to God. Separated man tries to feel his way back to God. Think positive, loving thoughts, and you do get a peaceful easy feeling toward God until you run into blatant evil in the world, into war followed by famine, followed by disease, into loveless tornadoes, earthquakes, and floods.
Last, separated man tries to use his body to get back to God. He uses his hands to do good works. He does all he can for others to close the gap between God and him. And ultimately he has even sacrificed a body in an attempt to bridge the gulf between him and God. The fact that evidence for human sacrifice is found in ancient history on every single continent shows man knew there was a gap between God and him and that the chasm had to be crossed.
They used the wrong body to do it. Hebrews 10:5 says, "Therefore, when Christ came into the world, He said: Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for Me.'" In order to bridge any gap, you have to reach both sides. Man has tried since the fall to bridge the distance from his side only by his thinking, feeling, or doing, and he has built some impressive structures, but they all have fallen short of the glory of God and into the canyon of death and eternal judgment men have tumbled.
God sent His Son into the womb of the Virgin Mary through the Holy Spirit coming upon her and right there at that spot the two sides met. From the body of Mary God the Son took on a body and became a Son of Mary too. In His Person, Jesus spanned the gap, but in order for you to cross over on Him, He had to open the bridge. God's own Law required the toll of His Commandments being kept perfectly and every sin, fault, failing being punished without mercy. The Son of Man and Son of God did both. Every commandment you have ever felt hanging over you head Jesus kept and swept out of the way. Every judgment, penalty, pain you know your sins deserve, Jesus bore in your place. The chasm has been bridged and the bridge is open today.
This is the ancient faith of the Church both Old and New Testaments and it will take you to the only future worth living. Jesus, the God-Man, has purchased a kingdom where Man can dwell safely with God. He couldn't have done this if He wasn't truly God for His life couldn't have been perfect enough or His death holy enough to pay for all sinful mankind, and if He wasn't truly Man He couldn't have lived our life or died our death in our place.
Think it's impossible that a virgin conceived? According to evolution it's impossible for life to have arisen on earth if water and organic life weren't brought here from somewhere else. Why can people hear things like comets bearing life and asteroids bearing water happened to strike this one rock in space, and not think that's impossible? But it's impossible for the all powerful God to bridge the gap between Himself and man by causing a virgin to conceive? If you ask me, it's pick your miracle. Let it be the one that takes us back to God's Word for that is our future. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fourth Sunday in Advent (20141221); Luke 1: 26-38