Monday, December 24, 2012

Sermon: Luke 1:37 The God of the Impossible

Have you ever thought about how unlikely the Christmas story is? We’re so familiar with the story; we’ve heard it all before; we know what it’s all about. But step back for a moment, think through the details of what happened, and ask yourself - is it really possible?

Are we dealing with a fairytale story, made up to tell the children to make Christmas seem special? Could it really have happened? It all seems impossible:

I mean, ladies, to find not only one wise man, but three - and all at the same time! Just think of some of the other improbables: details of the birth written down seven hundred years before they happened. The town of birth on the birth certificate was to be Bethlehem, even though the mother and her betrothed lived in Nazareth.

The birth being announced by stars and angels, bringing strange visitors - shepherds and wise men.

The baby king lying in a manger - a feeding trough for the animals, wrapped up in strips of cloth.

When you put it all together, you might be tempted to think it’s all a bit far-fetched. If it was a novel, you’d think it too unbelievable. The book wouldn’t get published.

But sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction. The gospel writers tell us what happened, reminding us that the people involved found some bits hard to believe as well. After all, the wise men turned up at Herod’s palace looking for the baby king. They didn’t expect to go on to Bethlehem.

The shepherds were terrified when the angels appeared to them, bringing the good news.

But the prime example of how improbable it all appears came when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, to tell her that she’s going to have a baby - a son to be named Jesus, who will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High (that is, he is God), who will reign over the kingdom forever.

We like to think that we’re more sophisticated, more intelligent than people back then. We’ve come through the enlightenment; we’re scientific people. We know that babies aren’t born by virgins.

But Mary knows that too! It’s just as difficult for her to take in and believe as it is for us. Mary asks: ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’ How will this be? Gabriel, how can all this possibly happen? It’s just impossible.

How does Gabriel reply? He points to Mary’s elderly relative, Elizabeth, who has swapped her seniors’ lunches for ante-natal classes. She was old, and barren, but now she is six months pregnant. It can only be God’s doing. It’s truly a miracle. Here’s what he says: ‘Nothing is impossible with God.’

We think too little of God; we impose false limits on him, and imagine that he is bound by our weaknesses. But Gabriel’s words sound out loud and clear at that first Christmas: ‘Nothing is impossible with God.’

The God who inspired the human authors of the Scriptures to write down the location, circumstances and details of the birth so long in advance is the same God who sent the angels and star to bring along the most unlikely of visitors to the maternity stable - ragtag outcast unclean shepherds, and foreign, pagan magi. The God who caused the virgin to be with child is the same God who lies in the manger, come to dwell with us and rescue us by entering our world and dying for our sins.

We might think it difficult, or improbable, but nothing is impossible with God. CS Lewis calls this ‘the Grand Miracle’. Everything else that Jesus said or did, as he taught, as he healed, as he raised the dead; as he himself was raised from the dead - it all flows from this Grand Miracle, that God became Man through the virgin birth.

As we come to this Christmas, look again in the manger, and see the face of God. His beauty and purity and glory shines out. You might ask yourself how could you ever go to heaven? Just like Mary, you know it’s not possible for you by your own efforts.

And hear again those words of Gabriel, indeed, the words of Jesus: ‘Nothing is impossible with God.’ As God came, and gave himself, so we can be sure of salvation, as we trust in him: the God who can work mighty miracles; the God of the impossible.

This sermon was preached at the Carols by Candlelight service in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 23rd December 2012.

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