Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 19-20, 2020
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Do you realize that there are certain things that you say just about every Sunday that are really quite impossible? You, and I, say this, “[He was] born of the virgin Mary.” Born from a virgin? Those two things, virgin and birth, don’t go together. And Mary knew that. When the angel Gabriel came to Mary he startled her and then upset her, “Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:30-33) But Mary had just one question about this. It was actually quite an important one. “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)
I hope you know that every time you speak those words in the Creed, “Born of the virgin Mary”, you are saying that God did the impossible. When Mary asked the question about the probability of her being pregnant though she had not had sex with anyone this was the answer that Gabriel gave to her, “For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37) The literal translation of that phrase is, “It is not possible for any word of God to fail.” You might remember that this was not the first time that a son was born without a father. Adam had no father. So when Jesus comes He is called the “second Adam”. The God of the impossible was doing His work, again.
The God who does what is truly impossible didn’t stop doing the impossible once Jesus was born. Listen to this word about eternal salvation – “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and said, ‘Who then can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” (Matthew 19:23-26)
God has no limitations. None. The Bible is filled with God doing the impossible. He does miracles – things that we can’t explain, or duplicate. Jesus walks on water. You ever try that? The creation of the world is described as a work that the one who does the impossible alone can do, “By faith we understand that that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” (Hebrews 11:3)
Some people really struggle with the virgin birth or with the creation of the world. I don’t. As impossible as those things are, I believe that God does even greater things. What happened to your sins? You know the things that are your secrets – those things that no one knows, except you – the stupidity of your actions when you were 19, the grudge that you still hold even after all these years, the thoughts of lust or the actions that followed. Where are they? If you confessed them and you repented of them, they all went to Jesus when He died on the cross. Isn’t that a miracle? Forgiveness of sins is a miracle. Our sins are gone. God forgets them. He erases them. Instead of calling us dirty and sinful He calls us righteous and holy. This is what the God who can do the truly impossible says, “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” (Hebrews 10:17) “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12)
What is going to happen to you when you die? Dead is dead, right? You get one life and that’s it, right? No. I believe in the impossible. I believe in eternity and heaven. I believe in the resurrection of these sickly bodies. I believe in what is truly impossible. Why should I do that? Do I believe that just so I can feel better at a funeral? I believe it because Jesus told me that such belief is real. Jesus said to Mary and Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26) Can you imagine that? You and I are immortal. We are never going to die. We will go from a mortal life to an immortal life when the last second arrives. Impossible? No. Possible. Sure. Certain. How else do we understand this word of Scripture – “For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’” (I Corinthians 15:53-54)
Do you know what was truly impossible in the birth of Jesus? The reaction of Mary and Joseph is miraculous. The news of the birth of Jesus was not welcome news to either of them. This pregnancy, though God’s miracle, put them both in a very tough spot. After Mary got the news that this child was the Son of God, she packed up and went to see Elizabeth, her relative, who was 6 months pregnant with John the Baptist. She stayed with Elizabeth until John was born. When she got back to Nazareth, she had a ‘baby bump’, you know the wonderful sign that a woman is pregnant. What kind of reaction would she get from her neighbors and friends? What type of looks from others? Would she be the conversation of some gossip? Yet, when she was told that she was going to have this child, her reaction was this, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38) “Thy will be done.” Have you ever thought about the miracle of acceptance that God worked in this young lady?
Joseph was even a harder sell into this “impossible” stuff. In Matthew 1 we read, “His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘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. 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 1:18-21) What did Joseph do? Did he throw up his hands and say, “I’m not up to this.” “This is just crazy talk.” “I’m just going to start over in life somewhere else.” No. “When Joseph woke, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” (Matthew 1:24)
It is a miracle what God does. And it is a miracle how we can react to His deeds. Mary and Joseph took God at His word. They trusted what He said. “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” Paul would say of this, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (II Corinthians 4:18) Later he would say, “We live by faith, not by sight.” (II Corinthians 5:7)
What do you face that is simply impossible right now? A marriage that through this pandemic has become hard and unforgiving? Do you find yourself emotionally struggling with the distance you have from others? Has life simply become impossible because you do not feel close to God right now? Do you have more bills then you have money and paying down that debt has become impossible? Has happiness disappeared and sadness settled in? Sometimes life has too many impossibles.
What do we do? We trust in a God for whom nothing is impossible. The miracle of Jesus being born to virgin Mary should tell us that great things were going to come by His life. And they did. And His miracles come daily to us. We’re God’s children, we are a brand new creation, we are in the hand of Jesus forever. We, too, in humble faith can say, “Let it be to me as you have said.”
This is Christmas. This is the time for the truly impossible. Amen!!