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December 21, 2008

Wesley United Methodist Church

LUKE 1:26-38

“I’m going to have a baby?” Mary exclaimed. “Impossible! I’m a virgin!” The angel Gabriel responded, 1.37, “Nothing will be impossible with God.” Sure enough, Mary became pregnant, won the support of her fiancé Joseph, and proceeded to Bethlehem where she delivered a son she named Jesus. 1.32-33, “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” What a promise! Quite a responsibility for a young girl who was probably twelve or thirteen years old. Impossible? But, “nothing will be impossible with God.”

The key that unlocks the miraculous action of God in Mary's life is believing. It takes a listening ear to hear the good news of God. It takes a believing heart to receive and trust the good news of God.

Believing is not the simple intellectual acceptance of a creed, but the joyous receiving of God’s promises. Mary did not say, "Well, this all sounds pretty far fetched to me – but we’ll see what happens – seeing is believing." It was exactly the other way around with Mary. Believing is seeingBelieve, and then you will see the fulfillmentBelieve that prayer will be answered; then you will see the fulfillment. Impossible? “Nothing will be impossible with God.”

The angel continued, "Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God." What kind of favor was this? It was not superficial happiness. Our culture thinks that God's favor is ease, pleasure and prosperity. Sometimes it is, but God's favor is often experienced when life is difficult. Mary found that God gave her the ability to handle the difficulties.

Mary and Joseph were homeless when they reached Bethlehem. They had no place to stay, no place to have a baby. There were no vacancies. Mary and Joseph were lonely, cold, and frightened. Where could they stay? Where could Mary deliver her baby? In the street? Impossible! But, an innkeeper offered his stable. The Lord provided. “Nothing will be impossible with God.” 

The angel said, “You have found favor with God,” but her baby would grow into a man who lived a life of danger. The more powerful people regarded him with hatred. One day her son would be taken by the priests and rulers of his own nation, accused before a Roman governor, led to a hilltop amongst a jeering crowd, and there hang on a cross. That was God's favor?

God's favor may come through a collision with the evil forces of this world, which will batter and bruise us and almost destroy our hope.

God's favor for us may be experienced, not in easy times, but in great challenges, when our real faith is put to a test.

Abraham and Sarah were told they would become parents at an age that was well past retirement. Indeed, Abraham was at that "mandatory withdrawal" age for his IRAs. Become parents? Impossible! But, Isaac, their baby was born. “Nothing will be impossible with God.”

The Hebrew slaves found themselves between the rock of Pharaoh's army and the hard place of the Red Sea. Moses told them they were going to cross the sea, that God would miraculously part the water. Impossible! But, the sea parted and they crossed over, while Pharaoh’s army drowned. “Nothing will be impossible with God.”

I don't know if our nation is in a recession or depression; but one story after another of how bad it is confronts us daily. Some folks are frightened, angered, depressed, crushed and in despair.

Perhaps you’ve been there. Too much month left at the end of your check; worried about your job security, your pension, your children or grandchildren. Or, too much to do at work and you haven’t seen the kids this week. You know the Bible tells you to love your neighbor as yourself, but your neighbor has this dog that barks right outside your bedroom window every night from about 10:00 p.m. until midnight.

People may think that they are fortunate if they have never been called upon to face great difficulty, but they may have nothing to show but emptiness. It is those who have been given something great to do and to bear, even though they have been bruised in the process, who truly know the favor of God. The good news is that God is in the difficulty with us, helping us to develop previously unknown reserves of courage, faith and endurance. Impossible? “Nothing will be impossible with God.”

Two artists were commissioned to paint their conception of peace. The winner would get a rich commission. When they finished their paintings, distinguished judges assembled to view their work.

The first artist unveiled his painting, and there was a beautiful, magnificent pastoral scene, with a farmer coming in after a hard day in the fields. His wife was cooking, his children were playing around the hearth, and all was at peace in this tranquil and beautiful farm.

"That's it," said the judges, "but we'll look at the other painting anyway." Instead of a tranquil, pastoral scene, there was a raging waterfall producing a mist which communicated hostility. But over on the side of the waterfall was a tiny branch of a tree growing out of a rock, and on the end of the branch was a bird's nest. And on the edge of the nest was a mother bird, singing her heart out in the midst of the turbulence around her. The judges deliberated and then said, "This is peace---tranquility and celebration in the midst of turmoil." Impossible? “Nothing will be impossible with God.”

An American couple spent Christmas Eve in Paris. Everything had gone wrong when they checked into their hotel on Christmas Eve; there was no Christmas spirit in their hearts. It was raining and cold when they went out to eat. They found a drab, little restaurant, shoddily decorated for the holiday. Only five tables were occupied---two German couples, two French families, and an American sailor by himself. In the corner a piano player listlessly played Christmas music.

The American couple noticed that the patrons were eating in stony silence. The only person who seemed happy was the American sailor. He was writing a letter, and a half-smile lighted his face. At one table, the father slapped one of his children, and the boy began to cry. At another table, a wife began berating her husband.

Suddenly, they were all interrupted by an unpleasant blast of cold air. Through the front door came an old flower woman. She wore a dripping, battered overcoat, and shuffled in on wet, rundown shoes. She went from one table to the other. "Flowers, monsieur? Only one franc." No one purchased a flower. Wearily the old woman sat down at a table. To the waiter she said, "A bowl of soup for my Christmas Eve dinner. I haven’t sold a flower all afternoon."

The young sailor finished his meal and got up to leave. Putting on his coat, he walked over to the flower woman’s table. "Happy Christmas," he said, smiling and picking up two corsages. "How much are they?" "Two francs, monsieur." Pressing one of the small corsages flat, he put it into the letter he had written, then handed the woman a 20-franc note. "I don’t have change," she said. "I’ll get some from the waiter." "No, ma’am," said the sailor, leaning over and kissing the ancient cheek. "This is my Christmas present to you." Then he came to the American couple and said to the man, "May I have permission to present these flowers to your beautiful daughter?" In one quick motion he gave the corsage to the man’s wife, wished everyone a Merry Christmas, and left.

Everyone had stopped eating. Everyone had been watching the sailor. Everyone was silent. Then, Christmas exploded with talking, laughter, hugs, hope and joy.

May Christmas explode in our church! May Christmas explode in your home! May Christmas explode in you! May Christmas explode in this dark, needy world! Impossible? Believing is seeing. “Nothing will be impossible with God.”

© 2008 Douglas I. Norris