Q: What would you call an elf who just has won the lottery? A: Welfy. Q: Why was Santa’s little helper feeling depressed? A: Because he had low elf-esteem. Q: When Santa is on the beach what do the elves call him? A: Sandy Claus
Macy’s 2016 Christmas slogan was “Believe.” Whatever that may mean, we know the first person who believed at Christmas was Mary. But it wasn’t necessarily easy.
After she is told she will have a son, Mary comes up with an excellent question: “How can this be, I’m still a virgin?” She is told it can be, and then is told her aunt Elizabeth who has never had a child because she’s barren is pregnant. How can this be?
Yeah, well, that’s the whole point. What we think can’t be isn’t story’s end. It can be because God can.
Christmas art depicts Jesus’ family as images (icons) stamped in gold foil, with a calm Mary receiving the tidings of the Annunciation as a kind of benediction. But that is not at all how Luke tells the story.
In Luke’s Gospel, Mary was “greatly troubled” and “afraid” at the angel’s appearance, and when the angel pronounced the sublime words about the Son of the Most High whose kingdom will never end, Mary had something far more mundane on her mind, “But I’m a virgin!”
But Mary didn’t argue with the visitor about all the problems involved in this impossible task. She didn’t talk and talk about how unworthy she was. She didn’t try to say that she was not the best choice. None of us would blame her for this, but something was already going on with her.
The angel’s response to Mary’s question was, “Nothing is impossible for God!” To which Mary simply replied, “Let it happen as you have said.” Mary chose to believe that nothing is impossible with God. Her belief was rewarded when she conceived, and Jesus was born, Immanuel, God with us.
Christmas opens the door to possibility. Choose to believe. Keep faith with angels. Trust that the Lord is working behind the scenes.
God asks you to do impossible things, or at least seemingly impossible things. Sometimes God asks us to do good toward someone who isn’t so good, to be kind to someone who isn’t so kind, generous toward those who aren’t generous.
Sometimes God asks us to do the impossible by asking us to keep faith even when another person isn’t, trusting someone who hasn’t been so trustworthy, accepting someone whose faults are hard to accept, believing in someone when belief is in short supply.
Sometimes God asks us to do the impossible, such as keeping our mouth shut when we want to speak words we shouldn’t, give someone a break who needs it, build up someone who has lost it, pray for someone who doesn’t think he needs it.
Sometimes the greatest miracles are a person’s small acts that must be done repeatedly for someone else with no big reward coming, other than a life lived so someone else prospers.
One grandpa says, “On Wednesday, my 4-year-old granddaughter Jenna dropped her Thomas the Train plate and it broke. She dissolved into tears and was inconsolable. Finally, Nana said that maybe I could glue it. Jenna brightened up and said, “Grandpa can fix it, Nana. Grandpa can do anything.”
Yeah! When I heard that this morning, guess what I did? I fixed the Thomas the Train plate—super-glued it good as new! You can’t let that kind of faith go unrewarded!
Grandpa can do anything! I wish that was true. I can’t…but God can!”
Nothing is impossible with God.
There’s a back-story here. This phrase, “nothing is impossible with God” was a Hebrew saying, was like a proverb, like, “Grandpa can do anything.” It goes all the way back to the first book in the Bible.
God had promised Abraham and Sarah that they would have a baby, but years passed, and she never got pregnant. Then when Sarah was 89 years old and Abe was 99, the Lord told them, “At this time next year, Sarah will give birth.” Sarah laughed out loud, and God asked her, “Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.”
Mary would have known the Sarah story, and she would have known the saying that nothing is too hard for God. She would have connected this saying with the seeming impossibility of Sarah becoming pregnant.
The saying shows up again in Jeremiah. The Babylonian army was besieging Jerusalem, and God had already told Jeremiah that they would capture the city and take the Israelites into captivity in Babylon. But God also promised that the Lord would eventually bring the Israelites back home.
And so, God told Jeremiah to buy his uncle’s field and have the deed transferred before witnesses. It was an act of faith that God would fulfill the promise to bring them home—but it looked impossible.
Then Jeremiah prayed, “Ah, sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.” And God answered, “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” God affirmed what Jeremiah said. Nothing is too hard for God!
Mary would have known these verses as well, and knew that, God had brought the Israelites home from Babylon, even though it seemed impossible.
Jesus used a version of this saying when after telling his disciples that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. The disciples were astonished. They believed that wealth was a sign of God’s favor. If the rich, who are God’s favorites can’t be saved, “Who then can be saved?” they asked.
“With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God,” Jesus asserted.
In our lives, we face circumstances that look impossible. A broken marriage after years of trying to make it work. A hurting child you’ve prayed for and worried about without ceasing for years, if not decades. A rising mountain of bills and a shrinking or empty bank account. All the physical evidence may suggest that no solution is forthcoming. The hurts are too deep, the loss too great, the debt too high. Maybe you’re convinced that time has passed you by.
We think “I can’t figure it out” but God says, “I will direct your steps.” We believe “I’m too tired.” The Lord says, “I will give you rest.” We think it’s impossible, but God tell us all things are possible.
We feel as though nobody loves me. God whispers, “But I love you.” We can’t forgive ourselves, but the Lord forgives us. I don’t think it’s worth it, but God declares it’ll be worth it.
Somehow, we tell ourselves we’re not smart enough, but the Lord will give us wisdom. We say, “I’m not able.” But God says, “I’m able.” We can’t go on, but God will supply all our needs. I may be afraid, but the Lord has given me a spirit of courage. You feel alone but God hasn’t left you.
What seems impossible isn’t.
I don’t know how much you noticed something else that happens in our story. It’s before Mary has even heard what’s going to happen, and before she trusts, before she proves she’s a good girl.
Before Mary can say “yes” and “let it be with me according to your word”… and, in fact, even before she can raise the question “How can this be?”, the angel declares something about her. “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” This isn’t nothing.
Before she can say “yes,” Mary’s already blessed. Blessed comes before yes. Whatever Mary imagined herself to be, and whatever she imagined herself capable of, the Lord said you’re favored. Before her response, God had faith in her. Before she wondered how, God had loved her.
Look, when we think of the Christmas star, the star that shone over Jesus’ manger, we think of it being in front of us. The wise men were led by following the star forward until they reached the spot where it shone down. This is how it should be.
But this isn’t the only light we should be aware of. This is not the only way we should recognize God’s connection to us. God’s love is a light that comes from behind. It’s already upon you. It isn’t out in front of you, almost in your reach. You don’t have to search for it from afar. You don’t have to travel any distance to stand under its light.
God’s favor falls upon you where you are. The Lord loves you as you are.
Now I know for some people this sounds too easy. There’s no work involved. Anybody can be loved by God then. There’s no choosing between who deserves it and who doesn’t. There’s no reward for doing better than someone else. There’s nothing here saying that if I do x, y, z, and someone else doesn’t that God will lift me higher than that person.
You’re right, there isn’t. Now what?
Well let me put it to you this way. There are only two ways of going about religion: either it’s something you get that you deserve, or it comes as a gift, whether you worked hard enough or were good enough. On this question, God decided awhile back, favoring the second one.
God’s love is a gift. God’s liberation is a gift. God’s law is a gift. God’s teaching is a gift. Mary’s baby, the Word of God, our Savior, wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger is a gift.
Before you said yes, before you were naughty or nice, before anything, there is God’s gift, favoring you in love, seeking you by hope, watching over you with peace, embracing you with joy.
It’s up to you to open God’s gift.
Can the church say Amen.