This morning"s gospel lesson is a story we all know well, and I hope, that as you listened, you 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) actually 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.” God gives us the opportunity to say “no,” or to say “yes.” 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. It was impossible for Joseph to escape the Egyptian prison; It was imposible for the Hebrews to escape slavery in Egypt; it was impossible for David to defeat Goliath; it was impossible for Naaman to be healed; and this, too, is a story of biblical impossibilities. But, what about the impossibilities in our world? 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!” What in your life, is “impossible? Restoring broken relationships and healing past hurts? “ A relative or friend entering a relationship with Christ; Breaking an addiction; forgiving and ex? Relief from pain? Healing from a chronic illness? All of these can be seemingly impossible, and yet they happen every day.
The truth is God expected, and God received a “yes” from Mary. When God calls us, Like Mary, we may 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 angel, 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.
When I was about 10 years old, someone told me that I would probably be a pastor when I grew up. I just laughed it off, because if there was one thing I knew it was that I was nowhere near good enough to be a pastor. The years went by, and every now and then I would feel a nudge, but I was able to ignore them. Then the time came when I simply couldn't ignore the nudges. God was calling me to the ordained ministry, but there was no way. I had a wife and child, a mortgage, I was 37 years old, and still had at least 3 years of seminary between me and ordination. There was no way. But the more I objected, the more God kept nudging. Remember the parable Jesus told about the widow and the judge?
Luk 18:2-5 In a town there was once a judge who didn't fear God or care about people. (3) In that same town there was a widow who kept going to the judge and saying, "Make sure that I get fair treatment in court." (4) For a while the judge refused to do anything. Finally, he said to himself, "Even though I don't fear God or care about people, (5) I will help this widow because she keeps on bothering me. If I don't help her, she will wear me out."
I began to feel like that judge, so I did what scripture says we should never do: I put the test to the Lord. I said to God: “OK, here's the deal. I will apply to one seminary, and one only. If they accept me, and If they offer a financial package I can live with, I'll go. Do I need to tell you what happened?
It doesn't matter how impossible we think a task may be, there is nothing God cannot do. In the face of terrorist threats, there are still those working for peace. A cure for Malaria is closer than ever as vaccines are tested, sleeping nets distributed, and new ways are being found to prevent mosquitoes from spreading the disease. The only thing preventing our church from reaching out to our neighborhood and changing the world around us is us. Hurt lives are being healed and relationships are being restored. Churches sponsor groups like AA and Celebrate Recovery that 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. Won't you join her and let your “yes” change the world? Come. Let your “yes” ring clear as we stand and sing together #206 I Want to Walk as a child of the light. The One who is the light, the One who makes all things possible is waiting for you. AMEN.