Believing the Impossible – December 4, 2022, Second Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 7:10-14, Luke 1:26-38
December 4. 2022
Let’s be honest. There are parts of our faith that seem impossible. Aren’t there? Think about the stories of miraculous healing in the Bible, the casting out of demons. Think about Lazarus, a dead man who come back to life after four days! And he was raised from the dead by a man who himself would come back to life after three days! We can think of Old Testament stories of things like the Exodus, and the parting of the Red Sea. They too are things that are hard to believe. And then there’s perhaps the most impossible sounding thing of all, that a great, eternal, creator God loves each one of us!
If we’re honest with ourselves there are times that some of the things we have heard from our childhood have been too impossible sounding to believe. And along the line, there have been times our belief has wavered, and we’ve found ourselves thinking like the man who said to Jesus, “Lord, I believe! Help thou my unbelief!” And believe me, I include myself in this. I have my times when doubts arise. We pastors aren’t vaccinated against skepticism as part of our ordination! And that’s a great prayer, isn’t it! “Lord, I believe! Help thou my unbelief!”
These are the things that came to mind for me this week as I’ve been thinking about this story of Mary. She was presented with some things that sounded impossible to believe. And she said that to this spiritual messenger, the angel Gabriel. Which is kind of ironic, if you think about it. Here she was standing before a powerful, heavenly being, something many would think was impossible to believe, and she was questioning what he said. It was sort of like, “ok, I guess I can believe in you, but I can’t believe what you’re saying!”
On the other hand, it could be that she was simply thinking along a basic, practical line. It may be that she wasn’t so much doubting the things Gabriel was telling her about this baby being a great and powerful king. She may simply have been doubting what he said about her having a baby in the first place! After all, she hadn’t done the “requisite things” one must do in order for that to happen. Isn’t that the same with us? We can believe the big things, but the little, practical, impossible things are another story.
“How shall this be, since I have no husband?” That was her reaction. And that was a pretty practical sounding question, wasn’t it? What the angel said seemed impossible to her! And it’s ironic that that question has persisted even in our time. “How can you believe in the virgin birth?” Some would ask that. That’s still a real sticking point for many people. And frankly, some people have chosen not to believe it. In fact, some people pick and choose about what they are willing to believe in their faith. “I’m ok with the healing miracles, and maybe even the resurrection, but I don’t believe that whole ‘virgin birth thing.’” Maybe you know someone like that. Maybe that’s the way you feel about it, too.
Well, that’s the story we’re presented with this morning. We’re talking about this seemingly impossible thing. And I love Gabriel’s response to Mary’s question. He tells her how it’s going to happen. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” We know those words. We read them every Christmas. And they’re great words! Then he told her that her kinswoman, Elizabeth, who, in her old age had conceived a son. And then he gives Mary this iconic statement, “For with God, nothing will be impossible.”
If you remember, that’s a whole different response than the one he gave Zechariah. Do you remember that? Zechariah was Elizabeth’s husband, and earlier in this chapter Gabriel told him that his wife would have a son. And Zechariah asked the same question. “How can this be?” “After all,” he said, “I am an old man, and my wife is ‘advanced in years?’” And I think that’s one of the most diplomatic ways of saying that that I’ve ever heard! “I am old. But she is ‘advanced in years!’” Remember that one, men!
Well, even though Zechariah was also being practical, even though he was being “nice” about this, Gabriel’s response wasn’t nice! “I am Gabriel!” he said! “I stand before the very throne of God himself!” And he struck Zechariah dumb, unable to speak at all until the baby was born! And I’m not going anywhere near a joke for you ladies about your husbands not being able to speak for nine months!
Instead, let’s go back to Gabriel’s iconic statement to Mary. “For with God, nothing will be impossible.” Do we believe that? Think about all the miraculous things we believe in our faith. Think about the miraculous things we may have seen in our lives. We almost saw one in the World Series, didn’t we!
Our faith is about “believing the impossible.” Isn’t it? And it’s not my goal here today to prove to you that all those impossible things happened. It’s not even my goal this morning to convince of you of the virgin birth. It is my goal to have all of us understand that, “with God, nothing is impossible.” That’s what Gabriel said. (And you don’t want to doubt him, by the way!)
That’s what Christmas is about! It’s about the miracle of God taking on human form – that which we call “The Incarnation.” And of course, many people have been unsure about that one over the years, too! And too many people don’t even think about it. They’d rather think of Christmas as just a nice holiday, and not give any thought to the miracle!
I want us to think of the miracle. I want us to consider what it means when we say we believe. And while we do, I want us to recognize that, for some people, it’s not so much a matter of being unable to believe, as it is refusing to believe! “Don’t give me your evidence! Don’t try to convince me! I refuse to believe!” And too often that’s a matter of, “I don’t want to believe in God, because I don’t want any eternal spiritual being telling me what to do and what not to do!” I’m more convinced all the time that’s what a lot of unbelief is about!
For some people, believing anything about the faith is impossible. Jesus alluded to that in his “Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.” Do you remember that one? The rich man ‘had it made’ in this life, but when he died and was in torment, he pleaded with God to send somebody to warn his brothers. And what did Jesus say was God’s response? “If they didn’t believe Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced, even if someone comes back from the dead!” And of course that statement contains a hint of his own mission on this earth.
Some people are that dead set against believing the impossible. And for many reasons, I’m sure. So, what about us? Advent is a time for us to think about these things. It’s a time to consider the miracle, to think about what we believe.
Could we ever see ourselves standing before an angel of God, and saying, “Sorry, but I don’t believe what you’re saying?” And if we find ourselves in that position – and maybe we do from time to time – may we hear again his words to Mary once again. And may we believe them. “For with God, nothing is impossible.”
Eternal God, may we see glimpses of the miraculous this Advent season. May we believe your great power, and remember all that you have done for all of us through your son Jesus. May our faith grow throughout this season of the year, that we may see the true joy of what we celebrate. For we pray in our Savior’s name, Amen.