Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Annunciation to St. Mary

Sermon / Homily on Luke 1:26-38

Believing

by John Jewell

The Actions of Christmas

IV. Believing

"This is impossible!"

You have likely said that at one time or another in your life haven't you? Maybe you've said it a lot of times. It might have been, "This is impossible," as in, "I simply can't do this!" Or perhaps is was, "This is impossible," as in, "This shouldn't be happening to me!"

Not to worry. You are not alone when the impossibilities of life wring this cry from your lips.

"This is impossible!"

Abraham and Sarah said it when they were told they would become parents at an age that is well past retirement. Indeed, Abraham was right at that "mandatory withdrawal" age for his IRAs. I would suspect that not many of us would envy Abraham and Sarah at this "impossible" moment.

Israel said it collectively when they found themselves between the rock of Pharaoh's armies and the hard place of the Red Sea.

King Saul of Israel said it when a giant named Goliath marched up and down in front of the armies of Israel demanding a fight to the death for the right to reign.

"Impossible!"

"Never happen!"

"Not in my lifetime!"

You’ve been there. Too much month left at the end of your check. Too much left 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.

And those are the easy ones! There is the grief that will not go away, the love that was lost, or the bitterness that won’t give way to forgiveness.

***

In spite of all the impossible situations you and I have ever faced, I’m thinking the greatest, "Impossible!" of all time has to be the one from our scripture today. Is there anyone who could not identify the person who asked this question:

"How can this be, since I am a virgin?"

If the idea of a child born to Abraham and Sarah was impossible, the idea of a child born to the young woman named Mary in our scripture would require a miracle.

The question Mary asks is so obvious isn't it? Would you not have had the same response as Mary? "How can this be," she says, "Since I am a virgin?" And if you think Mary had a hard time believing this angelic message, Joseph would certainly have none of it. Matthew tells us Joseph’s, "Impossible!" led him right to his lawyer’s office. "Obviously," Joseph is thinking, "She’s been unfaithful." It was clear that divorce was the only option. And being a caring and righteous man, he would accomplish the divorce quietly so as not to bring public disgrace on Mary.

Is there any power on earth that could crack such impossibilities?

It would take a miracle.

To be sure, there have been times in my life and I am sure in your life when you thought a miracle would be required to surmount your circumstances. But, the idea of Mary the virgin having a child takes us into authentic, supernatural miracle territory -- don't you think?

But we have not yet arrived at the central point in this story. The significance for you and me lies beyond the announcement of a miraculous intervention of God in Mary's life.

When the impossible hits – and when the impossible thing has impacted our lives, broken our hearts and shattered our dreams, the message comes to us, "...nothing shall be impossible with God."

***

Can you let these words fall gently on your spirit as the snow flakes fall gently and silently to the ground? And then let them cover your soul as a fresh dusting of snow seems to make the ground new once again. Listen: (Say the words slowly)

"Nothing…
shall be impossible…
with God!

Did you hear that? You probably heard the words in a technical sense, but I am wondering if you heard the message. Please indulge me as I ask you to do something. This message is such an important tool in dealing with our impossible circumstances that I am anxious to really have it touch us deep within.

Would you simply allow yourself to get still and quiet inside. Tell all those nagging little voices to stay quiet and that you will attend to them at another time. Simply take a deep breath and listen once again: (Say the words even slower this time)

"Nothing…
shall be impossible…
with God!

***

There is a process with three steps that occurs in the gospel story today. A process that can help us build our life of faith. We’ve encountered two of these steps so far.

1. First the impossible situation comes. This is where most people give up. Where Joseph calls his lawyer, Saul surrenders the kingdom, and Israel appoints a "Return to Egypt Committee." This is where we throw up our hands in defeat or crash in despair. This is a world without Christmas… a life without Christ.

2. The second step takes place when we hear – really hear – the good news. Which is…(Say it with me)

"Nothing…
shall be impossible…
with God!

Are you with me here? First the impossible thing confronts us and like any normal human being we are frightened, angered, depressed or any number of other emotions that can leave us crushed and in despair. However, if – and this is important, if we stop and listen for the still small voice within, we hear the good news that nothing shall be impossible with God.

Ah! But there is more to this process than simply hearing the news. There is one final step that smashes through the barriers of the impossible. One more thing has to happen. And that one more thing is not something God does, but something we do. Something Abraham and Sarah did or there would have been no Nation of Israel. Something Moses did or there would have been no liberation from Egypt. Something David did or there would have been no sovereignty for Israel.

Something Mary did or there would have been no birth of the Christ child.

Something we need to do or there will be no birth of Christ within us. That is to say… there is something we need to do or there is no authentic Christmas for us.

3. The third step in this process of moving from the impossible to the miraculous is contained in Mary’s response to the news that nothing is impossible with God. Listen carefully once again, for her words ushered in the incredible miracle of incarnation.

"Here I am, the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word."

The key that unlocks the miraculous action of God in Mary's life is believing.

It takes a listening spirit to hear the good news of God.

It takes a believing heart to actually receive the good new of God.

Believing is the thing that makes God's heart glad above all other things. In believing the good news, we not only listen, but we decide to trust the word of God’s good news. "Let it be," Mary says, "According to your word."

Believing is not the simple intellectual acceptance of a creed, but the joyous receiving of God’s promises – God’s word – as though the thing were already accomplished. Mary does 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 seeing!"

***

As we stand at the threshold of Christmas 1999 – ready to begin the twenty first century, the world of Mary and Joseph and angels singing to shepherds seems so very far removed from us in some ways. Yet, the ancient truth that opened the door for the incarnation of the Son of God is the truth that continues to open the door for the entrance of Christ into our lives today.

"Here I am, the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me according to your word."

In a few days, Christmas Eve and Christmas day will come.

And then they will go.

My hope and prayer for all of us is that in the midst of the hustle and bustle of this season, we will take the time to:

1. Stop "Here I am …"
2. Surrender "…the servant of the Lord…"
3. Submit "…let it be with me according to your word."

The heart of Christmas is indeed receiving. Not the receiving of the gifts we give to each other and to our children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, friends and neighbors. Although that kind of giving and these kinds of gifts are significant.

But the central Gift to be received is the Gift God has given to us in Christ.

Though the season of Christmas will retire to the end of the calendar once again, I pray that the heart and the Gift of Christmas will remain. I pray that through believing we will continue receiving the hope, strength and courage that takes us through those times others would call…

"Impossible!"

See Also:

Sermons, Bible Commentaries, Bible Analyses on Annunciation to St. Mary

Malankara World Special on St. Mary

Malankara World Special on Shunoyo of St. Mary

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