The impossible happening is the stuff of Christmas. The 54 inch waistline of Santa fitting the 36 inch chimney. The flying reindeer. The Walton's dad making it home for Christmas. The living snowman. Depending on what you're faced with now, this might be a time of impossibility for you too. Health, family, life, future issues make a Merry Christmas impossible. Rather than being merry, you have the bitter scorn of Longfellow's "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" or the cold resignation of Lennon's "Happy Christmas."
Our text confronts us with bigger impossibilities than being merry at Christmas. It's impossible for a virgin to conceive the Son of God. It's impossible medically, mentally and morally. Medically virgins can't, don't, won't conceive. Mentally it is impossible for the finite womb of the Virgin Mary to hold the infinite God the universe can't contain. Our mind fizzles out at the fact that when Mary kissed her Baby's face she kissed the face of God. Morally it's impossible for Mary, a sinner, to give birth to the Holy One of God. A polluted fountain can't give clean water.
This last one, the moral impossibility of a sinful virgin giving birth to the Holy One, gets us close to the real impossibility of Christmas that makes a merry one so far away. It's impossible for God to be gracious to a sinner. We can see how God could be "gracious" to someone who tries hard, does his best, wants to do better, but God being gracious to a tramp, to a person who doesn't even try let alone try hard, that's impossible! So at Christmas, when we can't make a go of being merry, when we feel so wretched because we're not as happy as everyone else, there is no Christmas grace for us. But what if God is gracious not to pretend sinners but real ones?
His Christmas grace starts with Mary. Mary is no different than you. She didn't sin less than you; she didn't believe more than you. She didn't give off a holy glow. She wasn't always perky. What set Mary apart from other women is God's grace. When the angel says, "You are highly favored," it's literally "graced." When he says, "You have found favor with God," it's literally "grace." The angel says, "God is gracious to you." He doesn't say, "You're better than other women. You're happier than other women. You don't sin as much or try harder not to." No, he says, "You have God's grace."
Don't you see? This is what God says to you too in the Means of Grace? "I am gracious to you. You have My grace. You are highly favored by Me." The Waters of Baptism don't say, "You have My grace because you're in a good mood this Christmas." The Words of Absolution don't say, "You have the grace of My forgiveness because you're doing the best you can." The Body and Blood of Christ in Communion don't say, "You have My grace because you're not as bad as other people."
Stop trying to get your head around how God can be gracious to sinners. It's impossible; it doesn't make sense. Why out of all the virgin's in Judea should Mary be chosen to bear the Christ? If you find any reason like age, health, piety, being upbeat, doing her best, praying more, then you've denied that God was gracious to Mary. You've said, "Mary earned, made, or called forth grace." Nope, grace to remain grace must remain in God's heart and come forth for no earthly reason.
There's no earthly reason for God being gracious to sinners, but there is a heavenly one, God the Son. Here's how Paul defines God's grace in Jesus, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake, He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich." Paul defines God's grace to sinners in Jesus in terms of our text: the incarnation. It's The Prince and the Pauper. God the Son, the Holy Prince of all creation, whom angels wait on hand and foot, descends into the lowly, womb of a virgin. He gives up the full use of His unimaginable riches which He has as true God to live in a humble way on earth in order to redeem you.
The Prince becomes a pauper. He still had the ministry of angels all the time, but He didn't make full use of them. He still had all the riches of heaven, but He didn't use them. Why? Because He's taking our place. He's living as God's Law required humans to live, but He's also suffering as God's Law required sinners to suffer. From the womb on the Prince of Heaven knows the traumas of gestation, labor, and delivery. As He grows Jesus suffers, sighs, bleeds, and dies as a guilty sinner should. The Prince becomes the poorest, most wretched pauper there is, so God might treat you as a prince or princess. This is grace. God doesn't see what you are. He sees Jesus. Just as God saw nothing but a wretched, damned sinner hanging on the cross, so God looks at you and sees nothing but His own dear child.
This is grace and it's impossible in the minds and hearts of men, but it's possible in God's heart and mind for Jesus' sake. God's grace to sinners leads to another impossible thing happening: a sinner becomes a servant of the Lord. What a miracle this is! Mary says, "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said." Mary holds nothing back. All of her is at the Lord's disposal. Her body, her soul, her life, her death, her future, her past, is all at the Lord's service. Don't underestimate this impossible miracle. This is not the half-hearted commitment that you and I live by. "I'll do what I can." "I'll help if you ask me." "I'll serve as long as it doesn't take too much time, too much effort, or get in the way of my plans."
Mary says ayes' not only to an out of wedlock pregnancy, but to ridicule, shame, possible divorce and stoning. She says ayes' to whatever Christmas the Lord will give her. And this is a miracle. This is impossible to us. How can we say ayes' to whatever God brings into our lives be it good days or bad, happy or sad, healthy or sick, trying or soothing? As I sail towards Christmas and the future in general, I keep my hands firmly on the wheel of my life determined that I will have the Christmas and future I want. And you know that's tough sailing. There are so many variables, the wind, the tide, this channel, or that. There are just too many questions, unknowns for a puny mind like mine to take into account. O how I want to be a Mary and be wholly the Lord's servant. But it's impossible.
To my, "It's impossible," what does the Lord say? "Nothing is impossible with God." This is what God first said to Sarah when she literally laughed in His face at His promise that she will bear a son. He responded, "Nothing is impossible with God." So whether we're feeling with Longfellow and Lennon that a Merry Christmas is not possible or all by ourselves that it is impossible for us to be a servant of the Lord like Mary, the Lord simply says, "Nothing is impossible with Me."
Here we have no choice but to do some work in Greek. If we let the translation stand, "Nothing is impossible with God," you'll think this points in the direction of flying reindeer, fat Santas, and unmeltable snowmen. It's true that God can do whatever He wills to do, but "nothing is impossible with God" is more than a generic promise about the omnipotence of God. You see if nothing is impossible with God; that also says nothing is possible with God too. God doing absolutely nothing in your situation is possible.
But God doesn't say that "nothing" is impossible. What God said to both Sarah and Mary is, "Every Word of God shall not be powerless." When Mary responded she said, "May it be to me according to your Word." The angel says, "Not impossible with God any reama" and Mary responds, "May it be to me as you reama. You see how translating correctly shows us that God wants us focused on His Word and not His mysterious power to do everything or nothing? What God reveals to us in His Word, what God says to us in His Sacraments this is specifically what is not impossible even though it looks and feels that way to us.
In His Word God said, "A virgin shall conceive," and so one did. In His Word God declares He wills to be gracious to real sinners for Jesus' sake, and so gracious He is. In His Word, God declares that He will make sinners into servants, and so He does. No Word from God is powerless. His Word joined to water makes Baptism a life-giving water, rich in grace. His Word spoken by the lips of a sinful pastor is able to send your sins away from you never to be found by God again. His Word joined to Bread and Wine declare them to be His Body and Blood able to do all that Jesus did with them during His earthly ministry. His Body and Blood forgave, healed, and raised the dead. And so to us, they give forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation.
God's reama is living an active. God's reama is forgiving and powerful. It strikes our hearts and faith in being forgiven for Jesus' sake is born. It strikes our hearts and servants of the Lord are born. It strikes our hearts and our hands let go of wheel of our life. As long as the Lord deals with us according to His Word, His reama, what more could we ask for? If our Christmas is miserable, what is that to someone whose sins are forgiven by the Word. If our Christmas is stressful, what is that to someone who's reborn into everlasting life by God's reama in Baptism? If our Christmas is unhealthy, stalked by sickness or haunted by death, what is that to someone who is going to live forever in the Body of Christ?
Part of the impossibility of us having a merry Christmas comes from the phrase itself. Today merry means "bubbling over with festive spirits." That's a tall order for sinners who take the reality of being surrounded by sin, death and the devil seriously. That's a tall order for Christians who see their holy holiday abused all around them. But merry in "Merry Christmas" means what it does in the phrase "Merry Ole England" or "Merry Month of May." Merry here means "pleasing and delightful." It is always pleasing and delightful to hear your Savior has been born and that the impossible has happened; you are saved. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fourth Sunday in Advent (20051218); Luke 1: 26-38