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The Impossible Birth - Luke 1

A service plan from the Apostles' Creed focused on the virgin-birth of Christ, affirming that he was "conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary" in a series on the Apostles' Creed as explained in the Heidelberg Catechism.

Worship Service
The Apostles' Creed

Theme of the Service

The first four sermons on the material of the Heidelberg Catechism dealt with the Trinity and God the Father. Last week we began our focus on the identity and work of God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, through a consideration of his names.

Now the Catechism asks about his birth, and affirms that he was "conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary." This service will focus on that affirmation.

Though this subject is usually reserved for the Advent and Christmas season, we encourage you not to limit it to that season, nor to feel awkward about including it now. Sometimes it is easier to take an objective look at a critical doctrine when it does not have all the surroundings of a special season. Addressing the virgin birth in June makes its own statement about the importance of this Christian doctrine.


Prelude: "New Songs of Celebration Render" [see <href="#music" >music notes]

Introit: "New Songs of Celebration Render" [see <href="#music" >music notes]

The Call to Worship

*Song of Gathering: "Sing a New Song" SNC 1, RN 21

*Our Declaration of Trust and God's Greeting
Congregation of Jesus Christ, in whom are you trusting?
Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

*Song of Response: "Magnify the Lord" PsH 622, RN 131


The Call to Confession

Our Sung Confession: "Remember Not, O God" (st. 1-3) PsH 254, TH 488

The Assurance of God's Pardon: 2 Corinthians 5:17-19

God's Call to Grateful Obedience: Matthew 22:37-40 and Colossians 3:12-17

The Children's Moment

*Our Song of Gratitude: "Hail to the Lord's Anointed" PsH 72 [see <href="#music" >music notes]


The Reading of the Catechism

What does it mean that he
"was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary"?

That the eternal Son of God,
who is and remains
true and eternal God,
took to himself,
through the working of the Holy Spirit,
from the flesh and blood of the virgin Mary,
a truly human nature
so that he might become David's true descendant,
like his brothers in every way
except for sin.

How does the holy conception and birth of Christ
benefit you?

He is our mediator,
and with his innocence and perfect holiness
he removes from God's sight
my sin-mine since I was conceived.
(Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Day 14)

The Prayer for Illumination

The Reading of Scripture: Luke 1:26-38
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

*Song of Faith: "You, Lord, Are Both Lamb and Shepherd" SNC 182 [see <href="#music" >music notes]

Sermon: "The Impossible Birth" (The Apostles' Creed - #5)
Text: Luke 1:34-35

The Prayer of Application


*Our Affirmation of Faith: The Apostles' Creed

*Song of Faith: "Meekness and Majesty" RN 158, SNC 109

The Prayers of the People

The Offertory
The Offering of Music: "You, Lord, Are Both Lamb and Shepherd" [see <href="#music" >music notes]
The Offering of our Gifts


*Song: "Man of Sorrows-What a Name" PsH 482, TH 246, TWC 226, UMH 165

*The Benediction with Congregational Amen!

*A Moment of Meditation

Postlude: "Prelude and Fugue in B-flat Major," J.S. Bach [see <href="#music" >music notes]

* you are invited to stand

Sermon Notes:

1. It will be important to step over the sense of awkwardness to treat this subject on a Sunday that is not part of the Advent season. Perhaps expressing that at the outset will help both the preacher and the hearers. A good starting point for this sermon might be Mary, instead of Jesus. Pointing out the difference between the veneration of Mary within Catholicism and the confusion of what to do with Mary among many Protestants lays a good foundation for a consideration of the virgin birth. We may not want to worship her, but we must gratefully acknowledge that God designed a very central role for her.

2. The virgin birth is, no doubt, a huge mystery. Compare Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:20-21 and Luke 1:34-35 and summarize the information we are given. It comes down to "can God do the impossible?" (see Luke 1:37).

3. Because this is a sermon within the series on the Apostles' Creed, putting this material in the context of the entire creed is important. We've spoken about the Father; we've examined the names of the Son; now we ask about his origin. Does it matter how he was conceived and born? Why is the Catechism so careful to spell out that he remained "true and eternal God," took on human flesh and blood, and had a truly human nature? And why were these necessary for him to be our Mediator? (See Q&A 36 of the Catechism.)

4. Though it certainly defies any explanation from a laboratory or in a classroom, immersing ourselves in the conversation between Mary and Gabriel in Luke 1 will be insightful. Of course, behind this study must be the conviction that it is a real conversation, with a real angel, sent from God, relaying valid and reliable information. The facts are that Mary has been chosen for a special role, she will soon be pregnant, the child will be a son, and he will be called the "Son of the Most High" (Luke 1:28-33). Mary's response is the same as ours would be: "How can this be? I am a virgin" (v. 34). The answer is threefold: the Holy Spirit will be involved, the power of God will be instrumental, the resultant child will be "holy" and "Son of God" (v. 35). Mary's response is not only remarkable, but stirring (v. 38).

5. Two questions underlie many of these thoughts. Are we able to accept and embrace a divine miracle? Will the postmodern mind be willing to consider this? And how should we give the honor to Mary that she deserves?

Music Notes:

Glossary of Hymnal Abbreviations:
PH The Presbyterian Hymnal (Presbyterian Church USA; Westminster/John Knox Press)
PsH The Psalter Hymnal (Christian Reformed Church; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
RL Rejoice in the Lord (Reformed Church in America; W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)
RN Renew! (Hope Publishing Company)
SFL Songs for LiFE (children's songbook; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
SNC Sing! A New Creation (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Christian Reformed Church,
Reformed Church in America; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
TH Trinity Hymnal (Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church in America; Great
Commission Publications)
TWC The Worshiping Church (Hope Publishing Company)
UMH The United Methodist Hymnal (United Methodist Publishing House)
WOV With One Voice (Augsburg Fortress)

1. The suggestions for prelude are based on the hymn tune GENEVAN 98/118/RENDEZ Á DIEU ("New Songs of Celebration Render") and can be found in the following resources:

  • Biery, James. Rendez a Dieu. Augsburg 11-11007 [1999] (M).
  • Burkhardt, Michael. Praise and Thanksgiving, set 6. Morningstar MSM-10-763 [2002] (E-M).
  • Dahl, David P. Hymn Interpretations. Augsburg 11-10972 [1999] (E-M).
  • Farlee, Robert Buckley. Many and Great. Augsburg 11-11033 [2000] (E-M).
  • Hamersma, John. Composers Workshop, series 1. Calvin College (M).
  • McKay, George Frederick. Suite on Sixteenth Hymn Tunes. H.W. Grey [1950] (E-M).

2. Settings of the introit, "New Songs of Celebration Render," can be found in the following:

  • Ferguson, John. New Songs of Celebration Render. Hope 215 (E-M, SATB with hand drum and soprano recorder.
  • Grotenhuis, Dale. New Songs of Celebration Render. Selah 241-098 (E-M, SATB with organ, brass quartet, and congregation).

3. A concertato setting of "Hail to the Lord's Anointed" (ES FLOG EIN KLEINS WALDVOGELEIN) arranged by Roy Hopp is available from Selah Publishing 241-072 (E-M, SATB with brass quartet and congregation).

4. Alternative harmonizations for "You, Lord, Are Both Lamb and Shepherd" can be found in the following:

Alternative Harmonization for Organ:

  • Burkhardt, Michael. As Though the Whole Creation Cried. Morningstar MSM-10-555 [2001].

Alternative Harmonization for Piano:

  • Carlson, J. Bert. Let It Rip! At the Piano. Augsburg 11-11045 [2000].

5. Suggestions for the offertory music, based on PICARDY ("You, Lord, Are Both Lamb and Shepherd"), can be found in the following resources:

  • Burkhardt Michael. Four Hymn Improvisations for Holy Week. Morningstar MSM-10-318 [1995] (E-M).
  • Callahan, Charles. Five Improvisations on Communion Hymns. Concordia 97-6126 [1991] (E-M).
  • Kosche, Kenneth T. Four Organ Preludes for Advent. Morningstar MSM-10-020 [2004] (E-M).
  • Rowley, Alec. A Book of Hymn Tune Voluntaries. Oxford ISBN 0-19-375115-1 [1950] (E-M).
  • Schack, David (1980). Augsburg Organ Library - Autumn. Augsburg ISBN 0-8006-7579-7 [2003] (E-M).
  • Travis, Albert L. Prelude on Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence. Morningstar MSM-10-821 [1991] (E-M).
  • Warner, Richard. Organ Music for the Communion Service. Concordia 97-1395 [1956] (E-M).

6. The suggestion for the postlude, one of Bach's Eight Little Preludes and Fugues, can be found in many editions.

Liturgy Notes:

1. We suggest that the opening of the service focus on praise to God and confession of our sins, so that the theme of the service (the virgin birth) enters a little later.

2. The children's moment is located where it is so that the worship leader has a convenient location in which to speak to the children about some aspect of God's forgiveness, what forgiveness means, how we practice it with each other, what a gift it is from God, or the thankfulness we ought to live with.

3. The Response to the Word should be developed so that worshipers can give adequate expressions of their faith to the miraculous gift of God's Son-in a profession of the Apostles' Creed, prayer, song, and other ways you may plan.