Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 23, 2018
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Tomorrow we will begin the time of the miraculous – Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The miraculous for some, maybe you, is that everything will get done by those days! Presents still have to be bought, the house still needs to be cleaned and the pies have yet to be made! And some stuff will simply not get done!
But just consider the miraculous in the lives of Mary, Joseph, The Shepherds and the Magi. As they experienced the events in their life they certainly were amazed at what God was doing. God indeed was doing the impossible!
Look at Mary. But first I’ve got to tell you a story. In Sunday School the teacher had just finished telling her kids the Christmas story, how Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem and how Jesus was born there. So the teacher asked, “Who do you think the most important woman in the Bible is?” Naturally the teacher was expecting someone to say, “Mary”. But instead, a little boy raised his hand and said, “Eve.” So the teacher asked him why he thought Eve was the most important. And the little boy said, “Well, they named two days in the year after Eve. You know Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.” Oh, boy!
The most important woman in the Bible is Mary. Virgin Mary. When Mary was told that she was going to have a child she was the most puzzled of all. She had heard about the birds and the bees and she knew that she was neither! Upon hearing that she was going to have a child she asked an important question, “How will this be since I am a virgin!” (Luke 1:34) And she was told that this was God’s doing. “For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37) We believe in something that cannot happen. We believe in the Christmas account of a virgin birth. We believe in God doing the impossible. We believe in Christmas miracles.
When Joseph finds out about this pregnancy of Mary it was not the greatest news that he had ever heard. “But before they came together she was found to be with child.” (Matthew 1:18) Maybe she started to show. But Joseph is ready to leave the scene. Maybe he goes to the next town and starts a new life without this person who was pregnant. Back then many marriages were arranged by parents, maybe this one was, and Joseph wondered if this was not the right arrangement. He knew she was pregnant and he knew he was not the father. But God did the miraculous, he sent an angel and assured him, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:20) Impossible. That is unless you enter the great hand of God into this picture. A Christmas miracle.
It is the same for the shepherds and the wise men. Shepherds see one angel at that first Christmas Eve speaking to them, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town a David a Savior has been born to you: He is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 1:10-11) And hundreds, (thousands?) joined him in the message of joy. That is a Christmas miracle. And how far did the star lead the wise men? The Christmas star brought the magi in a period of one to two years to the place where Jesus lived. Miracle after miracle. What was impossible happened.
Some people actually want to do away with the miraculous at Christmas time. But the impossible occurring is not just a Christmas phenomena. Ask the lepers who were healed or Lazarus who was raised to life or Peter who was forgiven and restored and used for God’s great purpose. The impossible happened.
We hold to that which is not logical when we say that God died when Jesus breathed His last on Good Friday. Jesus who was sinless became sin-filled. Impossible, but it happened. Thank God that it did. It is impossible to be dead for three days and to come back to life, showing yourself to hundreds of people and promising all believers that they shall come back to life to live eternally. Not one of the things that I shared with you could ever happen. Unless. Unless, God enters the great story of life. Mary is baffled and asks the question, “How will this be?” And the angel puts it all in order, “For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)
But maybe the greatest miracle we find in all of these accounts is the reaction of Mary. When she is told about what God is going to do she says, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38) This is the miracle of faith, of trust, of placing everything into the hands of God. I wonder what lay ahead for Mary when her parents noticed that she was pregnant? Before they could hear her great account what fear could have been in her heart? And undoubtedly she had to endure small town gossip. Whispers, heads turning and conversations with her at the center of the story would be her life. But she had the greatest miracle of Christmas, the miracle of faith in God.
Can this be a season of the impossible happening in you? Can He bring peace into our hearts that doesn’t quickly leave? Can he put the joy that the shepherds had into our souls? Can the awe and the wonder of the magi also be ours? Can He bring to families and individuals whose lives are falling apart and need some glue, some direction, some miracle, and all that they need? Can He make us new? Can He make us strong? Can we be filled with faith so that we too can say, “Lord, I am your servant. May it be to me as You have said!” Is there still a Christmas miracle left?
This is the season of the impossible happening. Certainly then, but also now! I pity the person who rejects the miraculous that God can do. An old four-panel comic strip from cartoonist Tim Downs shows a man on Christmas Eve asking a little girl if she is going to wait up for Santa. The girl says she is not, because she does not believe in Santa Claus. The man is startled, and asks why not. “Because in Sunday school they taught us that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday,” the little girl said, “and we give each other gifts to celebrate it.”
The last panel shows the man walking away thinking, “It’s a shame to see such a little girl with nothing to believe in.”
I’m asking you to trust in the God who does the impossible. Isaiah the Prophet says, “To us a child is born, to us a son is given.” (Isaiah 9:6a) Find yourself in the Christmas story. Realize that the gift of this child was so that you have life and peace and strength. Jesus came for you. There is no place too dark, too small, or too ordinary, no life too troubled, no life too insignificant where the Lord cannot come. What is your situation? Where are your hurts? What are your struggles? For you the Son was born and for you the Child was given.
Believe that this child is the Savior. You cannot see the cradle without seeing the cross and seeing the crown. Bethlehem leads to Calvary, which leads to the empty tomb. When the angel speaks to Joseph he gives these words, “She will give birth to a Son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) Every sin and foolish choice that would bring us pain and cause us to be far away from God has been forgiven by this baby Jesus. He rescues us from our sins that would destroy our life. It is a Christmas miracle that God would wash us clean and make us ready for eternity in heaven.
We have seen the phrase of the angel, “For nothing is impossible with God”, concerning the virgin birth and all the other miracles of Christmas. But it is also found in relation to a question about who can enter heaven. Matthew 19 has the apostles asking the question, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” (Matthew 19:25-26) The miracle of Christmas is that we are saved. God has done the impossible for us!
The Christmas miracle is that God transforms cold and hard hearts and makes them alive and right and holy. The Church of the Nativity is in Bethlehem. William Barclay tells about a man named Morton who made the visit to the Church. “He came to a great wall, and in the wall there was a door so low that he had to stoop to enter it; and through the door, on the other side of the wall, there was the church. Beneath the high altar of the church is the cave, and when the pilgrim descends into it he finds a little cavern about fourteen yards long and four yards wide, lit by silver lamps. In the floor there is a star, and round it a Latin inscription: ‘Here Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary.’”
“When the Lord of Glory came to earth, he was born in a cave where men sheltered the beasts. This cave may or may not have been the place of His birth but there is something beautiful in the symbolism that the church where the cave is has a door so low that all must stoop to enter. It is right that everyone approach the infant Jesus with humility and on bended knee. The Christmas miracle is that in the place of pride and arrogance we come with humility asking God to change us now and in the New Year.”
And one more thing that God does that is impossible. Christmas is celebrated yearly and forever. This year a number of our Ascension members and friends have died. The Christmas miracle would be no miracle if the last one they got to celebrate was the one last year. The God who does the impossible has allowed them to open the greatest of presents this year. They celebrate eternal life with our great God in heaven.
Look at the Christmas stories again. They are impossible, aren’t they? Look at life. It can be the same – impossible. How good that God has told us that with Him nothing is impossible. This is the Christmas miracle we celebrate anew this year. Amen
(Today’s sermon was also preached on December 23, 2007)