Delivered at the LCMS Evening Prayer service at the Lutheran Service Association conference in Washington, D.C., April 10. The theme of the conference was Service Speaks.

 


Dear Christian friends, your theme for this conference is Service Speaks. It’s a good one – so long as we get the order right. In the beginning, God speaks. He speaks creation into being: “Let there be light”; “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters”; “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together”; and on and on. God speaks. And the entire purpose of His speaking was love. God created the world from nothing in order to bestow His gifts, His love, His life upon the man. The entire world was given as gift to the man. God serves man, and man as steward loves and serves creation.

It began with a woman. Got brought forth a woman from the man, to be at his side, to be a partner with him in the ongoing work of creation, of service, of love.

God created the world from nothing in order to bestow His gifts, His love, His life upon the man.

They fell. Death entered the world. Not just as something bad that happens at the end of a life, but as a principle. Death now reigns, making us fearful, fearful of the tiniest bugs, fearful of each other, fearful of telling the good news of God and creation, Jesus and resurrection. And each day we die the death a thousand times, as aging eyes beget blurred vision, pollen brings allergies, bones become brittle and break, hands become nervous and shake.

Whether all these harbingers of death plaguing us moment by moment, or the horrific experiences of death suddenly breaking through in violence and war – death is everywhere. As Luther put it, “In the very midst of life, death has us surrounded.”


But nine months before the first Christmas, the Son of God took on human flesh, as an unwed mother experienced an unplanned pregnancy. Our Lord experienced life inside the womb, as a zygote, an embryo, a foetus.

Our Lord experienced life inside the womb, as a zygote, an embryo, a foetus.

Service Speaks. The angel Gabriel came to a young Jewish girl and speaking, upset everything. He upset all of her plans, all of her betrothed husband Joseph’s plans, all of Herod’s plans, and plans have been upset ever since. But the plans that were most upset were the plans of the devil, who first spoke to a woman, “God is lying, you will not surely die, but become as God.”

Service speaks, as God the Lord and Master of all becomes a servant, all by speaking. The angel spoke the Word, and by the Word the blessed virgin conceived. The King of the Universe became a servant in her womb.

annunciation

And how does Mary respond? Today she would be counseled to discard the child. There were people to whom Mary could have gone; the Bible and other early Christian literature calls them “potion-makers.” Drink this potion, and the ‘problem’ is solved.


But just as Christ the Lord came to serve, so now Mary, by this angel’s speaking, by God’s speaking is called to service, to serve the Son that God entrusted to her.

The King of the Universe became a servant in her womb.

Most of her life was spent laboring in obscurity: changing diapers, cooking supper, mending Joseph’s clothes battered from wood-working day after day. They run for their lives, and become immigrants in a strange land, a land where their ancestors were once slaves. Then back again when the coast is clear, then losing this Boy, this strange and wonderful Boy. All the while hearing the echo of that old man in the temple, saying that by this Boy a sword would pierce her heart. Then seeing a spear thrust into His belly as He hung naked and desolate, utterly humiliated – that spear thrust must have been as a sword to her own heart, this unplanned Child, this wonderful Boy, this dead Son, gone, humiliated, serving to the end.

This woman, this most blessed of all women teaches us what service means. It means first of all hearing the Word of God and simply saying “Amen.” For in that Word—and in the Word incarnate in her womb—is the service, the Divine Service, the Lord’s service to you, and me, and all humanity. “Amen,” “Yes, Lord, Your Word is true, Your service is my salvation.”


And then, the blessed Mary speaks as a servant: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” These simple words are the perfect response to the Lord’s Word. She wasn’t planning on being a mother just yet, and certainly not in this way. It wouldn’t be easy to explain, and it would cause great trouble for her. But through this the Lord was working, through this the Lord was serving, and also calling her to service.

So this is what we say to the strange things, the odd people and difficult circumstances the Lord throws at us, upsetting all of our plans and priorities. Service speaks like Mary: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord!”, all as the beautiful response to the service our Lord renders to us, speaking the world into being, speaking forgiveness to us through Jesus, and then at the last, speaking to our graves as once He did to Lazarus: “Come forth!”

God bless you for such service. +INJ+