Texts: Judges 13:2–7; Luke 1:26–38
It was an impossible situation. For forty years, Israel had been suffering under the cruel boot of the Philistines, with the Philistines looting their cities and ravaging their countryside. Severely oppressed and enslaved, Israel was in a dark and hopeless time. So often, though, dark and hopeless times give birth to new or renewed faith in God. God heard the Israelites’ repentant groans and did for them what was humanly impossible: He rescued them from the Philistines.
But God’s rescue plan did not commence with gathering an underground rebel army or smuggling weapons. His plan centered on one man. One man who would single-handedly rescue Israel without touching a conventional weapon of war. What is more, God’s rescue plan also commenced with circumstances no one was expecting: an angel speaking to a barren woman, the wife of Manoah. “Behold, you shall conceive and bear a son,” the angel proclaimed. The Lord had done great things through the barren wombs of Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel, and He would yet again do great things through the wombs of Hannah and Elizabeth. The wife of Manoah would join their ranks by bearing an important son. His name was Samson.
God’s Spirit gave Samson incredible strength. He single-handedly accomplished jaw-dropping feats that became the stuff of legend. Once, while in a vineyard, he was attacked by a vicious lion. Samson tore the lion to pieces with his bare hands, as though the creature were cotton candy. In another setting, Samson killed one thousand Philistines with a makeshift weapon—the jawbone of a donkey. When the Philistines thought they had trapped Samson in Gaza, he went out at midnight, tore the city gates from the walls, and carried the gates on his back to the top of a hill. His final feat was his greatest. Blinded, weakened, and mocked by his enemies, Samson was placed between two pillars in a large building where thousands of Philistines were worshipping their god Dagon. Samson pushed his arms outward against the pillars. Even though it would cause his own death, Samson prayed that God would let him have strength once more to be able to pull the building down on all of those Philistines. Three thousand of Israel’s enemies died through Samson’s final act. God’s Spirit did great things through Samson.
However, Samson’s life was supposed to be distinguished not only by his single-handed feats of strength but also by his single-minded devotion to the Lord. Even before he was conceived, he was set apart to live as a Nazirite, forbidden from eating anything unclean, drinking wine or any strong drink, and cutting his hair. He was to be different, to be holy, meaning “set apart for God’s purposes.” He was to live a life dedicated to the Lord. But while Samson may have wowed us with his strength, he didn’t wow anyone with his dedication to the Lord; again and again, he failed to live up to his Nazirite calling.
In Baptism, we, too, have been called to be holy, to think and live differently than the world around us that opposes God. God’s Word says to us, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). But to our shame, we are like Samson—we have not wowed anyone with our holiness. We’ve been undisciplined and self-indulgent. We’ve compromised and have too often blended in with the world. We’ve been much more devoted to our sports teams than to the Lord and His Church. We’ve been much more dedicated to our impulses and desires than to the Lord. We’ve been much more committed to our own way than to the Lord’s. Our dedication to living a holy life has not wowed God, and we stand guilty before Him. We find ourselves in an impossible situation from which we cannot rescue ourselves.
But the Lord can. And He has. Rejoice that the Lord is more dedicated to you than you are to Him. He has done for you what you could never do yourself. In the fullness of time, at a time of great oppression, the same God who acted for Israel through Samson acted for the world. He acted for you. With single-minded devotion, He rescued you from your sins and from the devil you chose to obey. He has single-handedly done what is humanly impossible. He has rescued you by the greatest rescue plan. Rejoice. “For nothing will be impossible with God.”
Six times in Scripture God did wondrous things through the wombs of unlikely women. But in the Gospel today, He does an even more wonderful thing through the womb of the most unlikely seventh. He speaks His word through the angel Gabriel, and a faithful virgin named Mary conceives the greatest Deliverer. God outdoes Himself; the rescue plan for the world begins not through a barren womb, but through a new one. “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,” the angel said. Mary’s womb would bear not a sinful, imperfect child like Samson, but rather the sinless, perfect Child—Jesus. No wonder Gabriel said, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. . . . Of His kingdom there will be no end. . . . The child to be born will be called holy.” What Child Is This? This Child is God in the flesh, Jesus Christ.
The Child conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary was the Greater Samson. His life was also set apart. But He did not waver from His calling and the purpose of His life. Also unlike Samson, Jesus’ greatness was not found in His single-handed feats of strength. Instead, His greatness was in setting aside His divine strength to single-handedly do everything necessary for your salvation. He had the strength to easily rip apart the lion, Satan. Yet for your sake, He placed Himself inside Satan’s jaws, suffering God’s righteous judgment in your place. He could have used the jawbone of a donkey to wipe out a world of people who have sinned against Him. But instead, He went willingly to the Place of a Skull, Golgotha, to suffer death in your place. He could have destroyed all those who have rebelled against Him; but instead, He lifted all rebellion onto His back and took it up a hill to atone for it. He could have stretched out His arms and crushed His enemies at any time. But instead, for your sake, He let Himself be blindfolded, beaten, and mocked so that He might stretch out His limp, dying arms on a cross and let hell’s punishment do its worst against Him and not against you.
And yet the greatest act this Child ever did was rise from the dead on the third day. He single-handedly won the ultimate victory for you while bringing eternal judgment on His foes.
From a new womb to a new tomb, this Child’s whole life was dedicated to making you new—a new creation, filled with the same Holy Spirit that empowered Samson. The same Holy Spirit that overshadowed Mary. You now can say with Mary, “Let it be to me, Lord, according to Your word.” When the Lord sends trials, we can say, “Let it be, Lord; for what You ordain is always good.” If the cancer comes back, still we can say, “Let it be, Lord; for Your will is always best.” In impossible situations, in times of deep discouragement and depression, we can still say, “Let it be, Lord; You know best when to end it.” For our Lord is great. His mercy is great. And His victory is great. In the name of Jesus, the Great Deliverer. Amen.