To say the birth of this boy was a big deal would be a ridiculous understatement. This is not merely because of the virgin birth; that was unprecedented, of course. His birth was incredible and earth-shaking, especially for Mary and Joseph. Luther (following Bernard of Clairvaux) was right to say the biggest miracle in the text is that Mary actually believed the angel’s message. But miraculous as was her faith and as extraordinary as was the manner of His conception, it is the identity and work of the boy which makes Him so significant, especially for your hearers.
Who is this miracle child? What has He done, and what does He continue to do?
In his announcement to Mary in this text, Gabriel describes the boy in three different ways. Each of them highlights something unique about His identity or work. They all have significance for your hearers. A sermon on this text could be divided into three parts. You might even break the sermon into three separate reflections and couple each part with a corresponding verse of a Christmas hymn (If you have been singing mostly Advent hymns this month, this is a way to get in a few more Christmas favorites). I will make a hymn verse suggestion below for each part of the sermon. If you follow this suggestion and reflect on these titles of Jesus, make sure you do not only talk about Jesus in these ways. Instead, use these titles to proclaim the specific promises of God in Christ associated with each of them.
#1: “You shall call His name Jesus” (verse 31).
Unlike his announcement to Joseph (Matt 1:21), Gabriel did not explain to Mary what this name means, but you should. It is not done as a source of trivia, and not to drag details from Matthew into a sermon on Luke. Instead, reflect on His name as a means to proclaim what Jesus does. The name is simple. It means “he saves,” and not only from sin. This son of Mary saves from everything which makes life in this world such an unbearable mess. This includes sin, but it also includes much more. Today is Christmas Eve, a day that should be filled with family unity and joy. But so much works against this. Death. Division. Debilitating loneliness. Most (if not all) of your hearers know these more intimately than they wish. Without betraying any confidence or putting anyone on the spot, spend some time sharing a few of the things your specific hearers need to be saved from. Then proclaim the promise of Jesus as the one who saves us all from that.
Hymn Verse: “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” (verse 2).
Oh, that birth forever blessed,
When the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bore the Savior of our race.
And the babe the world’s redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face.
Evermore and evermore.
This son of Mary saves from everything which makes life in this world such an unbearable mess.
#2: “He will be called the Son of the Most High” (verse 32a).
The “most high” (Ὑψίστου; hypsistou) is not a common name for the Father. Isaiah is among the few who speak this way (refer to Isaiah 57:15). Not only does such a name for God stand in sharp contrast to every other so-called god or lord, but it also contrasts starkly with the lowliness of Jesus’ incarnation, the humiliation, and the passion. This son is unlike the sons (and daughters) of the most high who eat with silver spoons and enjoy a life of privilege. Despite His lofty pedigree, humility is this child’s defining characteristic. We preach Christ crucified, after all. This son sets aside His authority and His position for the sake of the lowliest. Mary’s song, later in this chapter, captures this well. The Most High God cares for and exalts the lowly and humble. First, His Son. Second, all those who humble themselves before Him.
Hymn: “What Child Is This” (verse 2).
Why lies He in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spears, shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail, the Word made flesh,
The babe, the son of Mary.
#3: “The Lord God will give to Him the throne of David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever” (verse 32b-33).
Even those with the most basic familiarity with God’s chosen people will recognize these two fathers in the faith. Their roles as the king after God’s own heart and father of the twelve tribes brings with them the entire Old Testament story. This child will receive the throne of David. He will reign over the house of Jacob. He fulfills the promises of God to His people throughout the generations by reigning over all, not only the people of God, but every people, every nation, and all creation. The good news for your hearers is that He reigns over them, too. His reign is merciful and good, for He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love for all who fear Him.
Hymn: “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” (verse 1).
Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn king;
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.
"Joyful, all you nations, rise;
Join the triumph of the skies;
With angelic hosts proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn king!”
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Luke 1:26-38.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Luke 1:26-38.
Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Arthur Just of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Luke 1:26-38.