Strangely enough, today is the day we traditionally celebrate the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she would give birth to God, the savior of the world, and that she would call him Jesus. Seems a bit out of place, doesn’t it? Is this Christmas in March? What’s going on here? Let’s find out…

God with Us! Guide us today by your Word and your Holy Spirit, so that in your light we might see light, and in your truth, we might find freedom, and in your will, we might truly discover joy and peace through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Hebrews 10:4-10
4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. 5 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; 6 in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.’ 7 Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’ (in the scroll of the book it is written of me).”
8 When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9 then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. 10 And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Luke 1:26-38
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

“There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood” — William Cowper (Lyrics), Aaron Ivey (Music); performed by Austin Stone (YouTube video for in-home worship: Click here for Video)

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains:
Lose all their guilty stains,
Lose all their guilty stains;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.

Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood
Shall never lose its pow’r,
Till all the ransomed Church of God
Be saved, to sin no more:
Be saved, to sin no more,
Be saved, to sin no more;
Till all the ransomed Church of God
Be saved to sin no more.

E’er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die:
And shall be till I die,
And shall be till I die;
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die.

Okay, so maybe you already figured it out. Nine months from now is Christmas Day. It only makes sense, then, that today we celebrate the angel Gabriel’s announcement that Mary would conceive and give birth to the Son of God. But there’s even more to it than that. We are firmly on the cusp of Holy Week. Jesus is preparing to enter Jerusalem for the last time, and as the author of Hebrews reminds us, he knew it was for this that he was born. “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me.”

It would appear that the incarnation and crucifixion are inextricably intertwined. By celebrating the annunciation to Mary in our buildup to Good Friday and Easter, we’re reminded that God became human for a reason, and that reason, as Hebrews 10:10 says, is our sanctification.

Sanctification is a weird word. It literally comes from the same root as “saint.” So, Hebrews 10 is saying that Jesus came to transform us into saints, into holy people who are truly righteous just like God is righteous. Fleming Rutledge, in her wonderful book on the crucifixion, argues that we should understand righteousness as a verbal noun. We don’t just have righteousness. We do righteousness. Our holiness acts, and what we do when we act is we “make right what has been wrong.” We heal the world just as God has been healing us.

How do we do this? Well, for starters, we only do it through God’s power — a power made possible through the incarnation itself. So, what does it look like to heal the world through God’s power? To answer that, let me tell you a story.

When Dietrich Bonhoeffer first came from Germany to teach at New York’s Union Theological Seminary, he probably breathed a sigh of relief. It was 1939, and the outbreak of war looked imminent. Bonhoeffer was one of the lucky ones who had the connections and means to flee. No doubt it felt a bit like salvation. Soon after arriving, however, he had a change of heart. As a recent author of groundbreaking books on both Christian discipleship and community, Bonhoeffer felt conflicted. He confessed to his American hosts, “I have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people.” A few years later, he would be hung, barely a week after Easter and mere days before Allied troops liberated the concentration camp where he was buried.

Bonhoeffer believed deeply that each and every one of us has been called to share in God’s suffering in the world. This is how he interpreted Jesus’ admonition to take up our own crosses. “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.’” (Matthew 16:24-25) Christ did not hide behind church walls, so neither could Bonhoeffer hide an ocean away. He said the real conversion — the real righteousness — is “not thinking first of one’s own needs, questions, sins, and fears but allowing oneself to be pulled into walking the path that Jesus walks.”

That path, however, doesn’t have to look like something extraordinary, like returning home in the middle of a war. In fact, Bonhoeffer insisted that to be Christian — to be sanctified and holy — is to live normal life in a cruciform way, by which he meant always for those around us. After all, the last person Jesus was thinking about hanging up there on that cross was himself. His only thought was for us. 

What this looks like in actual practice is going to change with each situation, but what Bonhoeffer insisted upon was that we must be involved in the very lives of our neighbors. We cannot hide behind anger, boredom, busyness, or even difference. Christ calls us out, out into the world in which we live so that we can, through God’s power, help it live, too. 

Closing Prayer
God Who is One of Us, you created us to be like you, and you became one of us to make it happen. Redeem us, and sustain us. Fill us with your Spirit this week as we prepare to walk with you to the cross. Amen.