Sermon Title “Nothing is Impossible” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden
Good morning. Who can identify the music we just heard? It is the theme song from the movie series “Mission Impossible” the composer is Argentinian Lalo Schifrin — extra bonus points if you knew that detail. It is the second Sunday of Advent, and we are continuing to ask the questions How Far is it to Bethlehem? and to see what that answer may have been for various characters in the nativity story. Last week we talked about Joseph and the family genealogy and legitimacy he gave to Jesus. This week I’d like to talk about Mary, a young woman from a non-descript town in the region of Galilee, who was given an impossible mission by an angel.
You probably know that almost everything we know about this young woman and her family and her pregnancy and delivery comes from the gospel of Luke. Matthew mentioned Mary in passing, as being betrothed to Joseph and with child by the Holy Spirit, and how that was a fulfillment of the prophecy from Isaiah. But Matthew is much more interested in Joseph’s Jewish credentials than he is the mother of Jesus. Kind of a big thing to just kind of fly over, isn’t it? Fortunately, I know the gospels a lot better than I do the Mission Impossible movie series — I’m not really a Tom Cruise fan — but there’s some really big stuff going on in this passage from the first chapter of Luke. It is often called, especially in Catholic settings, the Annunciation, because the angel Gabriel says: “Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and his name will be Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” . . . etc. Gabriel must have annunciated very clearly when he said this, because Mary gets it immediately, and askes, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” And Gabriel explains that the Holy Spirit will come upon her, and her older relative Elizabeth is pregnant as well, because nothing is impossible with God. And Mary replies, Here I am the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word. And the angel leaves.
So this is the angel Gabriel saying, in effect, Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to give birth to the Son of the Most High who will reign over the house of Jacob forever. How about it? And Mary, after some inquiry, replies, Yes, OK. I’ll do it. Nothing about her family, or Joseph, or how exactly is this power of the Holy Spirit coming upon her going to work, or what it might mean to be the mother of the Son of God. It is very significant to me, as a woman, that Mary was given a choice about this pregnancy. The power of the Most High did not overshadow her until she agreed to this mission. As we heard last week, Joseph did not have a choice about this pregnancy. It had already happened when Mary told him she was with child. But Mary was not coerced into God’s mission; she signed on willingly and even joyfully, from the tone of her song later in this chapter. We sang a setting of that at the opening of this service.
Mary would certainly have had a ways to go to get to Bethlehem — and that entire journey is not recorded in any gospel. We don’t know how Mary’s family reacted to the news of her pregnancy, or what the folks in her community thought or said among themselves. Early in her pregnancy she walked across the Judean hills to visit her cousin Elizabeth, perhaps to get away from the gossip and stigma of Nazareth. Unwed mothers are often sent away or kept out of sight as part of their pregnancy. By the time she was ready to give birth, she was engaged to Joseph, and they had to make the 4 to 7 day journey to Bethlehem. The Bible doesn’t tell us that Mary rode a donkey, but I sure hope she didn’t have to walk the whole 90 miles or so. Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem was just the beginning of the journey for Mary — but that’s another story.
Where I’d like to focus our attention, this morning is on Luke chapter 1 verse 37 in which Mary says, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” I saw a T-shirt the other day which read: They say nothing is impossible, but that’s not true; I’ve been doing nothing all day. I didn’t go back to the original Greek of the biblical text, but I’m sure Mary’s intent is to say God can do anything; with God nothing is impossible. I whole-heartedly agree with Mary, that God can do anything; although I hope I’m not given a mission like the one Mary had. But how about the other way to read the phrase With God, nothing is Impossible, which is If we are with God, it’s impossible to do nothing?
I know there are people sitting in church pews who do nothing. They do nothing; they say nothing; they give nothing. To be fair, most of them probably stopped sitting in church pews a while back, and now they sleep in or get other things done on Sunday mornings. There is plenty of nothing out there to go around; and there are also legitimate reasons to not be in church on Sunday morning. But is it possible to do nothing and be part of the mission of God? Mary tells the angel Gabriel; nothing will be impossible with God. She was given a choice, for sure, but that meant she had to make a choice. It wasn’t possible for her to say, Well, I’m not sure. Let me ask my fiancée; I’m not sure how my parents will feel about this. How about if I agree to be just a little bit pregnant — would that be OK? She had to go in all or nothing.
I don’t know if you feel like you are part of the mission of God. This is a question I consider on a regular basis for myself personally and for this congregation, and the answer is not always a resounding Yes! It isn’t always clear where that path is leading, or if we’re going in the right direction to find Bethlehem. We don’t always get a clearly annunciated message from the Gabriel Positioning System. That’s the GPS, for those of you who are tracking. Part of our work as a congregation is to discern together what the mission of God looks like for us. But I have come to believe that if we are with God, nothing is impossible. Failure is an option, for sure, but we learn things about ourselves and our goals and our resilience when we fail. But if we do nothing we just check out of anything which we may be related to an invitation from God.
There is a lot more to the character of Mary, the mother of Jesus, than simply being pregnant. She was courageous and faithful and joyful and prophetic. But being pregnant is a great metaphor for participating in the mission of God — and not just for female-type people. Feel free to exercise your imagination with me: Mary did not only have Emmanuel. God-With-Her, she had Emmanuel, God-WithIN-her. She agreed to carry this child, she signed on to God’s mission: without reading a lot of fine print. Once she started on that road to Bethlehem, there was no turning back. She probably didn’t know that she’d be traveling for days and away from her family and midwives who knew what to do when she was ready to give birth. She didn’t expect visits from shepherds or wise men, or to have to pick up everything and flee to Egypt. She had some warning early on that Jesus’ life might not end well, but he was a good boy — he was God’s Son, for heaven’s sake — there was no reason to think that he would be crucified by the Romans Empire as a criminal. If Mary had known all that, would she still have said Yes to the angel? To God’s mission? We don’t know. The Annunciation by Gabriel and Mary’s consent reveals how much we don’t know. God’s mission is not about preparing for every potential scenario and testing all of our options and checking all the boxes. Going on a journey to Bethlehem means saying Here I am, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word, for with God, nothing will be impossible.How far is it to Bethlehem? Are you willing to go if you don’t have a specific answer to that question? Are you willing to begin that journey if only God knows what will happen along the way? All I can tell you is: with God, nothing is impossible. Amen.