In this life, we deal a lot with the seemingly impossible. For instance, if you own a vehicle, I’m guessing you’ve spent a fair amount of money to make sure that driving that vehicle is safe and reliable, and yet even new vehicles come with some sort of kit or tire in case the “impossible” happens and get a flat. You also likely have car insurance, not just because it’s illegal to drive without it, but because you know the “impossible” might happen and you want to be protected. We do this with all sorts of things. We go to great extremes, we save up, we plan ahead, we put redundant safe-guards in place all to protect ourselves from what is likely impossible, but could still happen.
On the other hand, in this life, we also often seek out the impossible. Usually, we do this in entertainment. We seek out things that defy reality, that seem too incredible to be true. Maybe it’s a movie with superheroes and death-defying stunts, or maybe it’s a sporting event where we hope to see an impossible comeback, or an impossible play. You see this? In real life, we avoid the impossible by planning for every possibility. In entertainment, we seek out the impossible, seeing it as an escape from the routine of everyday life.
And then you and I come here, to this place, to church. And hear we listen to God’s Word. We sing hymns. We give to support the sharing of Jesus, our Savior, and to provide an education through our school. But have you ever thought about this, that every week in this church we are confronted with truly impossible things that are presented without hesitation as historical fact?
For instance, go back to creation, God spoke – and the universe came to be. Jump ahead to Abraham and Sarah, they had a son even when they were old and infertile. How about Moses? He reached out with his staff – and a highway appeared in the middle of a sea. Joshua – remember him? – he prayed, and the sun stood still. So many impossible things, and I’m sure you could list plenty more. But, as impossible as those things may seem, they pale in comparison to the impossibilities that Luke presents to us today in our lesson.
In our lesson, we are introduced to some backwoods town called Nazareth. And, in this quiet little country village stood a house, and in that house was a young woman, named Mary, and in this house an angel – an angel!! – appeared to her and said: “greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Imagine that moment: Mary standing there as an angel comes unexpectedly into her home and then greets her in this way. That would be strange. Luke tells us that Mary was perplexed, she was confused, and I don’t blame her. This doesn’t normally happen to, well, anyone.
And, notice, Mary was confused before Gabriel even got to the point of his visit. When he did, he dropped this bombshell: “Do not be afraid, 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.” So, let’s just quicky review a few things here: An angel shows up, speaks to Mary, and tells her that she’s gonna have a child. Does this sound at all possible to you? Mary had her doubts. Look what she says, verse 34, “How can this be, since I’m a virgin.” Excellent question, Mary! How is a young woman – a virgin no less – going to have a child? It’s impossible.
And the angel, Gabriel, tries to explain the impossible with even more impossibilities. Look what he says to Mary in verse 35, “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 holy; he will be called Son of God.” Not only will Mary conceive this child in an impossible way, but this child will also be God’s son, which means he will be God (mind blown). Impossible, right? And yet this is the story we celebrate each year, and this is the story I’m presenting without hesitation to you as historical fact! Now, we often call God becoming a man the incarnation. C.S. Lewis once wrote that the Christian story, the story of the Bible, has been about one “Grand Miracle” from the very start…this one: God taking on human flesh.
And you know why this is so important, that God would do this, that he would step into this world? Well, this teaches us just how serious our sin is. That you and I are more sinful than we ever could imagine. Where do we see that? Well, think about gifts and gift giving this time of year. You’ve maybe heard me use this illustration before, but if, say, today or tomorrow you opened up your gifts and the first gift you opened was some Rogaine. “Well, okay, that’s an interesting gift.” And then you opened your next gift, and it was a membership to the local gym. “Alright.” And then you opened your third gift and it’s this big family size pack of deodorant. Now, if you received those gifts and you turned and said “thank you” to the givers, what are you admitting? That I’m losing my hair, I need to exercise more, and apparently, I stink. There is no way to accept certain gifts without admitting something about yourself. You see this?
Now, how wonderful it is that God gave us his son. We love Christmas time. It’s a season of joy and goodwill, there’s peace, there’s music, but don’t you see? God became a baby. God emptied himself of power, and eventually life. That’s his gift to us – but what does this gift mean? Have you ever thought about it? It means that we are so bad off, so sinful, so helpless, that nothing less than the sacrifice of the Son of God could save us. When you look at the wonderful gift at Christmas that God has given to you – his Son – you have to see the reason that gift was given it’s because I’m a sinner, and I needed a Savior.
I mean, if you think about it, God wrapping himself in flesh and blood, if that didn’t happen, then all of this, what we do here, why we’re here, our faith, means nothing. But, if it is true, nothing matters more in human history than this baby named Jesus. The birth of Jesus, which starts here with an angel talking to Mary, is the pivotal point of everything we believe. Everything else Christianity claims – that Jesus death would pay for our sins, that no grave could hold him, that heaven is opened to us through him – all that is only possible if we believe the impossible and get this one question right: who was that child promised to Mary? This was the very Son of God. The incarnation then is the gospel. It is the message of the Bible. It tells us how great our God is, how sinful we are, and finally it shows us the fullness of God’s love.
There was a writer in the early 1900s, a Christian writer, her name was Dorothy Sayers. And she had this to say about the incarnation. “The incarnation means that for whatever reason God chose to allow us to be limited and to suffer and to subject to sorrows and death, he has nevertheless had the honesty and the courage to take his own medicine. He can ask nothing from us that he hasn’t experienced himself. He has himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life, from the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worse horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair and death. He was born in poverty, he died in disgrace, he suffered infinite pain all for us, and he thought it well worth his while.”
I like that last phrase she adds at the end, that Jesus thought it was “well worth his while” to come here, that what he got out of his sacrifice on the cross, he believed was well worth the cost. And what did he get? You and me. We’re worth it to him. You are worth everything to him. That’s why God did all of this. And this might all sound impossible, but here we are, and we don’t just hope this is true, we know it’s true. We believe it. Why? Why do we believe the impossible? Well, why did Mary?
Listen to Mary’s words at the end of our lesson. She said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” Think about what Mary was saying here. Though she didn’t understand what was going on, though she was perplexed by why an angel was in her home, and though she knew what being a pregnant unwed young woman meant for her in the eyes of her society and in the eyes of Joseph, her betrothed – facing all of this – she trusted. She trusted God’s plan. How was this possible? It’s not, which makes it a miracle.
Mary’s faith was a miracle. And notice she didn’t sit there and just blindly trust that angel. She had questions, lots of questions. She also wasn’t jumping for joy at this news. She wasn’t expecting this. No, her joy came later when she ran into her Aunt Elizabeth, and she began to see more fully what she was carrying in her womb. And even after she gave birth, there was still the pondering and the wondering. Yet, she believed. And her faith took her finally to the cross, and there she saw it, her son dying for her…this was God’s plan for her salvation.
Look at the cross. See it too. God may not answer all your questions in life; a lot of what he does may not make sense. And you can ask him about it in prayer, you can search the Scriptures and grow in your knowledge of him and his will and his ways. In fact, I encourage you to do that, but always do this: come back here. See how God worked out the impossible, so that he could save you. Marvel at how through the water of baptism and through the Word he worked a miracle in your heart and brought you to faith. Rejoice at his table where through yet another miracle he allows you to taste and see that forgiveness he won for you.
And, yeah, it sounds impossible, but that’s what makes it a miracle – something only God can do! And as the angel said, “Nothing is impossible with God.” And know that you are proof of this. For in Christ Jesus, God took on human flesh and saved you. So today, right now, stand here with Mary. Take it all in, the angel’s announcement, what this would mean, and where this would lead. Then come back here tonight and tomorrow, see that promised child – born for you – ponder what he will do, what he did to, and know that all of this is the story of how God saved you from your sin, how he did what none of us could do, the impossible. Let us praise him, now and evermore. Amen