Dec. 18, 2011 Advent 4
This morning we sang, rather than listened to the gospel lesson. It's a story we all know well, and I hope, that as you sang, you also heard this familiar story in a new way, and, perhaps, even heard something you hadn't heard before. A month after Zechariah lost his ability to speak, the angel Gabriel pays a call on Mary, a virgin engaged to Joseph, a descendent of King David. The angel tells her that she is truly blessed and will have a son.
“Hold on a minute!” says Mary. “I can't be doing that. I'm still a virgin.”
“Nothing is impossible with God” the angel tells her. (Luk 1:35) "The Holy Spirit will come down to you, and God's power will come over you. So your child will be called the holy Son of God.”
And, of course, Mary says: "I am the Lord's servant! Let it happen as you have said." It's the answer we've heard all our lives. It's the answer we expect to hear. It's the only answer Mary could have given. Or is it? What if it had been different? What if Mary had said: “No way! I'm not risking my marriage, my future, my life! Not for you! Not for anyone!”
We don't think of Mary as having a chance to decline, but she did. God always gives us the option to say “yes” or “no.” Eve could have said “yes” to God and “no” to the serpent. Adam could have said “no” to Eve, and yes to God. Abram could easily have stayed in Haran. Moses (Exo 3:11) said, "Who am I to go to the king and lead your people out of Egypt?" “What if no one believes me?” 'I'm not a good speaker.” All in an attempt to say “no.” The Scribes and Pharisees said 'No” to Jesus, as did The rich young ruler. When God told Ananias to cure Saul's blindness, (Act 9:13) Ananias replied, "Lord, a lot of people have told me about the terrible things this man has done to your followers in Jerusalem. (Act 9:14) Now the chief priests have given him the power to come here and arrest anyone who worships in your name."
(Act 9:15) The Lord said to Ananias, "Go! I have chosen him to tell foreigners, kings, and the people of Israel about me.” For many years I said “no” to the ordained ministry. God gives us the opportunity to say “no.” It is, ultimately, our decision to follow or stand back.
So what if Mary had said “no?” Paul tells us that (Gal 4:4)when the time was right, God sent his Son, and a woman gave birth to him.” So it's possible that if Mary had said “No” we might be singing:
What child is this, who laid to rest,
on Cynthia's lap is sleeping.
We can say “No.” But, like Abram, Moses, and Ananias, (Luk 1:38) Mary said, "I am the Lord's servant! Let it happen as you have said.
The Bible is full of stories of impossibilities, and this, too, is a story of biblical impossibilities. But, what about the impossibilities in our world? What in your life, is “impossible? Peace in our world. Impossible! No way! Won’t happen! True justice for all? Impossible! Never happen. A cure for Malaria? Keep dreaming. Our church reaching our surrounding community and making our world different? Impossible! Restoring relationships, healing past hurts in our lives. A relative or friend entering a relationship with Christ. Breaking an addiction and overcoming past hurts and disappointments? Impossible!
The truth is God expected, and God received a “yes” from Mary. When God calls us, Like Mary, we say to the angel: “How can this be?” Like Mary we find ourselves pondering and wondering over the impossible. But as with Mary, God expects us to answer “yes.” So maybe the question isn't so much “What if Mary had said “no” as it is “What happens now that Mary said “Yes?” The real question for today is “How can the impossible become possible?” C. .S Lewis wrote that “God seems to do nothing of Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures. He commands us to do slowly and blunderingly what He could do perfectly and in the twinkling of an eye.” So, like Mary saying yes to the angle, the first step in overcoming impossibilities is for us to say “Yes” to God. For with God all things are possible, but nothing is possible without God.
In his book, Just As I Am, Billy Graham tells this story.
"One summer while in New Jersey, I was having lunch at a roadside diner when I was greeted by a big, smiling man whose eyes grew large as he studied me. “Hallelujah!” he shouted, grabbing and pumping my hand. “What an answer to prayer! I was just sitting here praying that I might meet Billy Graham, and in you walk! I didn’t even know you were on the East Coast.” He introduced himself as Dr. Theodore Elsner, a preacher from Philadelphia. “I have a great burden on my heart,” he said. “It’s a message that I believe is from the Lord. Billy, you must go on national radio. You know Dr. Maier the great Lutheran theologian and radio preacher from St. Louis is dead, and you’re the man God could use to touch America through radio.” I did not know what to think. Dr. Elsner urged me to contact Fred Dienert, his son-in-law, and Walter Bennett, a Christian who was also a radio agent. Impressed though I was by this abrupt meeting, I did not look up either Mr. Dienert or Mr. Bennett; indeed, I pretty much forgot the whole idea. I was so busy that I could not imagine adding anything else to my plate. A few weeks later I was speaking at a conference in Michigan. Two well-dressed strangers approached me and introduced themselves as Fred Dienert and Water Bennett. I did not know whether Dr. Elsner had spoken with them since he had met me, but their mission was to interest me in a national radio program. I was still president of Northwestern schools, still active with Youth For
Christ, and spinning in a whirlwind of national interest in our evangelistic Crusades. I told Fred and Walter that I appreciated their interest but simply could not do a radio program at the time. My closet advisers - Cliff, Bev, and Grady- concurred; it was out of the question. Later, in Portland, these two extremely persistent men repeatedly lay in ambush to catch me. All they wanted, they claimed, was five minutes of my time. I got so irritated with their pestering that sometimes I took a back elevator to avoid them. I finally told Grady to let them know I was not interested in their scheme to get me into broadcasting. Leave me alone was my message.
"As I came out of the hotel one night, continues Billy Graham, there they were. “We want to say good-bye,” one of them said. “We’re leaving tonight for Chicago.” “All right, fellows,” I said laughingly, “if before midnight tonight I should get $25,000 for the purpose of a radio broadcast, I’ll take that as an answer to prayer and be willing to do a national broadcast.” The thought was so incredible to them that they laughed along with me before heading for the airport.
More than 17,000 people were at the meeting that night. Just before introducing my friend Bob Pierce for a brief report on his travels in the Far East, I told them about the burden Walter and Fred had for broadcasting the Gospel, and the $25,000 condition I had laid down. The audience joined in my laugh. After Bob spoke, I preached and then extended the Invitation to receive Christ. Afterward, in the little room set aside for me in the tabernacle, a number of people dropped by to greet me. Several of them said they believed God had spoken to them during the service about helping us go on national radio. They began to leave cash, checks, and pledges. I couldn’t believe it.!
“Billy,” said Frank Phillips when everybody had left, “people have given us $24,000 tonight for radio!” Their confidence and generosity were enough to make me weep. But how could this be God’s answer? It was $1000 short. I told Grady, Cliff, Ruth, and Frank that maybe the Devil could give us that much to mislead us. We agreed to say nothing to anyone else about the funds and went out to eat, which was our custom after the service. We got back to the hotel about eleven-thirty.
“There are two letters here for you, Mr. Graham,” said the desk clerk. Postmarked two days earlier, they were from people I hardly knew- businessmen Howard Butt and Bill Mead. Both said they believed we should go on radio and that they wanted to be the first to contribute. And each enclosed a $500 check! Stunned, I bowed my head and said a silent prayer. Emotion so overcame me that I could not think straight. Clearly, the funds had come form God.
Then, when I turned to go to the elevator, who should be standing in the lobby but Walter and Fred! They had been at the airport, they said, but something had told them not to get on the plane. I put my hands on a shoulder of each man. “Sign us up for radio for at least thirteen weeks,” I told them. “God has answered prayer. We have the $25,000. We’ll take this as a step of faith.”
That radio show, that was begun with $25,000 that Billy Graham never expected to see was The Hour of Decision.
It doesn't matter how impossible we think a task may be, there is nothing God cannot do. The cure for Malaria gets closer each day. Our troops are coming home from Iraq, and the nations of the middle east are clamoring for democracy and justice. A cure for Malaria is closer than ever as vaccines are tested and ways are being found to prevent mosquitoes from spreading the disease. The only thing preventing our church from reaching out to our neighborhoods and changing the world around us is our church. Hurt lives are being healed and relationships are being restored. AA and Celebrate Recovery are conquering alcoholism and addictions. The hungry are being fed and the lonely are finding friends. And through it all, The kingdom is growing as people reach out and embrace Christ.
There is nothing in your life that is impossible with God. No matter how many times you've said “no,” you can still say “yes.” Mary said “yes” and changed the world. Jon her and let your world changing “yes” ring loud and clear AMEN.