Nothing Is Impossible with God
Luke 1:26-38, Advent Week 4: Love
Christmas draws nearer, and we’re compelled to get on with it. Bring on the Christmas tree, light the birthday candles, and break out the presents. Happy birthday, Jesus! But not so fast. Christmas is a 12-day feast beginning December 25, and we need to pace ourselves. Today, the Fourth Sunday in Advent, sounds an expectant note in something of a strange key, a kind of prelude to Christmas. A virgin girl conceives, and the Son she carries in her womb is the Son of the Most High God. Impossible, you say? No, nothing is impossible with God.
Luke is a good historian. The incarnation of God happened in time and place. This is no legend of the “divine child,” no myth of things long ago in a land far away. It happened in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. You remember Elizabeth—old enough to be your grandmother, now pregnant out to here with a little boy soon to be named John. And you remember the boy’s father, Zechariah, the old priest who was serving at the incense altar when the angel Gabriel popped in with the impossible news that he and Elizabeth would conceive for the first time in their lives. He hasn’t spoken a word for the last six months because the angel struck him speechless for asking questions that were out of line and not believing that anything is possible with God.
Perhaps it will spin your head, but I’ll risk your dizziness, and tell you that Luke probably has something big in mind by telling us, twice, that it’s the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. In nine more months, Jesus will be born, and 40 days after his birth, Mary and Joseph will bring him to the temple for the first time. If you add all these months and days up, it comes to 490 days or 70 weeks from the time that Gabriel appeared to Zechariah in the temple to the time Jesus made his first appearance in the temple. That’s precisely the timetable the angel Gabriel gave the prophet Daniel hundreds of years before. “Seventy sevens are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to stone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophesy and to anoint the most holy.” Impossible, you say? No, nothing is impossible with God.
The place is Nazareth in Galilee, a nonplace in the no place of the land of Zebulun. Nazareth is never mentioned in the Old Testament. Galilee is, though. It’s the “circle of nations” where the prophet Isaiah said the light of Christ would first dawn in the darkness (Is 9:1–2). It’s not the place you’d expect a respectable messiah, or even his mother, to come from. The people of Judea despised Nazareth. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Nathanael once snorted. You bet it can. Nothing is impossible with God.
The angel Gabriel came to Nazareth in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy to pay a visit on a young girl named Mary, who was picking out invitations for her wedding day. “Hail, O favored one,” the angel said. “The Lord is with you.” Mary was troubled. It’s troubling enough to see an angel. But what sort of greeting was this? “Hail” is fine. “The Lord is wit you,”—they said that all the time to each other. We hear it in church. But “favored one”? What did that mean? The angel explained. “You’ve found favor with God. You’re going to conceive and give birth to a Son and give him the name Jesus. He will be great and 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.” So this is what it means to be favored by God! You become pregnant before your wedding day, and the baby is God’s Son. Not only that, but he’s the fulfillment of every promise God has ever made—from the Promised Seed of the woman (Gen 3:15) to the promised successor to David (2 Sam 7:16) to the virgin who conceives and bears “Immanuel” (Is 7:14). A virgin mother? An eternal King? The Son of the Most High God in human flesh? Impossible! But with God, nothing is impossible.
“How will this happen, since I’m a virgin?” Mary asks. Good question. Virgins don’t conceive, as a rule. Our sexually cynical world laughs or even dismisses Mary’s virginity. That’s impossible. We’re too scientific, too sophisticated, too street-smart to believe a tall tale like that. We may even squirm a bit in our pews. All this talk seems so “unspiritual.” But it’s at the heart of what we believe, that Jesus is true God, begotten of his Father from eternity and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary. This is the sinless Son of God become human. He is like us in every way, embracing every aspect of our humanity, from the cradle to the grave, from the womb to the tomb. He’s the second Adam, the new head of humanity, embracing all including the unborn. All this hinges on Mary’s virginity, so don’t take it lightly.
This Child of Mary is your Substitute, the world’s Redeemer, who makes his entry into place and time quietly, subversively. In no-name Nazareth, conceived in a virgin mother. Is this any way for a God to act? Not if we ran the show, but we don’t. This is the God who hides strength under weakness, life in death, the fullness of his divinity in the humility of a servant. Think of it: the infinite, almighty God takes up comfortable residence in the womb of his human mother. The Fullness of God dwells among us bodily. If they’d had ultrasound back then, you couldn’t tell his picture from any other baby boy. No halo around his head, no divine glow. Just a baby boy—the virgin’s Son, God’s Son.
Here we must trust our ears instead of our eyes. Trust the Word. It’s a good preparation for Christmas. There won’t be much more for us to see then. A baby in swaddling cloths lying in an animal’s feedbox. Today, a pregnant virgin. But today you are invited, urged, exhorted to close your eyes and open your ears. “A virgin will conceive and bear a son.” It happened, just as God had said. David’s greater Son sits on David’s throne forever, even now as we speak, King of kings and Lord of lords, holding your humanity perfectly before the Father, just as God had said.
Our eyes see a splash of water, a preacher, a bit of bread and a little wine. But the Word speaks what we cannot see. That water is Baptism, a life-giving water full of grace, a water of rebirth and renewal. That preacher speaks real forgiveness, Christ’s forgiveness. That bread is the body of Jesus, conceived and born of Mary, given into death on the cross. That wine ishis blood, poured out for you. A virgin conceives the Son of God. Sinners the likes of you and me are forgiven in Jesus. The dead are raised in Jesus. You are favored by God in Jesus. The Lord is with you. Nothing is impossible with God.