Advent 4B

Nothing will be impossible with God. This is what the angel Gabriel told the young Mary, echoing the message of 2nd Samuel when the Lord told the prophet Nathan that God would make a great house from the line of the simple shepherd now become king David. And Paul reiterates it in his own way when he promises the church in Rome that God will give them the strength and wisdom to make the Good News known to the gentiles. God is able, Paul insists.

Making the small one great. Giving wisdom to ordinary people. Inviting a young girl to participate in the transformation of the world. Impossible? Absolutely not. Not-impossible is the fierce double negative proclaimed by God’s messenger Gabriel. Nothing will be impossible with God.

How deeply we long for that to be true, no? And yet our days are full of the apparently impossible. You probably don’t need a reminder, but I can make an educated guess that sometime this week you doubted God’s ability. You prayed for a broken relationship to be healed, an illness to be cured, money enough to pay an overdue bill, congress to pass a fairer tax bill. Maybe you even prayed for a parking spot at Trinity. But at least some of these things didn’t happen. So if nothing is impossible for God, why do so many things seem impossible to us? If God is able, as Paul wrote, what does it mean that we don’t see the miracle—even the small and simple one—that we are waiting for?

We’ve been listening to plenty of stories of God’s people waiting throughout these three short weeks of Advent. You may remember that we were ominously warned to keep awake, because we can’t know God’s timing. And then we were introduced to the locust-eating, camel-hair-wearing specter of John the Baptist, preaching repentance and crying in the wilderness about  the unknown one coming at an unknown time. Not an especially reassuring message. In their time, none of these stories would have come close to answering the burning question of how and when God might liberate the oppressed people of Israel. But in our time, at least they serve to remind us that we’re not alone in our waiting for God to overcome the impossible.

When we find our imagination so constrained by the apparently impossible that we can’t even see the God who is able, it might be because we’re looking in the wrong place. That seems to be what the prophet Nathan was reminding David when he described God as the one who brought the people of Israel up from Egypt, and took David himself from the pasture. God is the one who can be found liberating slaves and empowering the overlooked little brother. If we’re looking for possibility among the powerful and influential, we might just miss the God of the not-impossible.

Recall that in our first lesson, David was negotiating with God—through his prophet Nathan—about building a temple. Apparently the God who had been moving around the desert in tent and tabernacle had little interest in a fancy house. David’s intentions were good: he wanted to construct a permanent building to hold the Ark of the Covenant. Now there’s nothing wrong with a nice building where people can gather and worship—we have a very beautiful building here at Trinity—but God and the prophet knew that a temple represented a dangerous temptation. A temptation that the building itself would become more important than the people God longed to dwell among.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. This year, in about eight short months, Trinity’s Red Door project turned our own beautiful temple into a part-time space of welcome and sanctuary for immigrants seeking to learn English. And because we were looking in the right place—that is, among the poor and marginalized—we not only met Chung Ho from South Korea, Haley from Somalia, and Sam from Syria—we also met the God of the not-impossible.

My friend Karen knows this God. Raised in a conservative Christian home, as a teenager she wanted nothing more than to be a missionary and bring Good News to Africa. But Karen married right out of college, started a family, and assumed that the seed of her girlhood dreams had died. Furthermore, she eventually became an Episcopalian, and didn’t worry as much about evangelizing people who were already mostly Anglican anyway. But the God of the not-impossible was not done with Karen, and that God has no problem with a long gestation period. Forty-some years after letting go her teenage missionary dream, when Karen was approaching retirement from her job managing a San Francisco medical lab, she met a woman who was advocating for AIDS orphans in Uganda. Karen mobilized her network and started funding medical care for the children. A decade and countless trips later, her faithful efforts have birthed a fully-staffed 30 bed hospital in a rural East African town.

And the angel said to the grandmother remembering her girlhood call to missionary service… not impossible! The angel said to the volunteer language tutors sharing life skills in Trinity’s basement… not impossible! The angel said to the Bhutanese immigrant struggling to learn English… not impossible. And the angel said to the young Galilean girl who was not even married… not impossible. Nothing will be impossible with God.

You might think of this morning as the great liturgical pivot point between the impossible and the not impossible; between anxious Advent waiting and the joyful realization of God with us. Some of you will probably return to Trinity this very afternoon for a service commemorating the birth of the Christ child, just a few short hours after we’ve heard an incredulous Mary ask “How can this be?”  But let me invite you to linger a bit with Mary’s words, most especially the courageous consent that allowed God’s not-impossible to take root in her. “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Sisters and Brothers, here are we. Servants of the Lord. Let it be with us according to God’s word. And then let us prepare to be surprised! Whatever God does with our willingness will not happen because we have access to wealth or power, or even because we are intelligent and persistent and capable. God’s not-impossible happens when we give our wholehearted consent to participate in what seems impossible. And guess what? That kind of miracle happens all the time, around us and even within us. You—who are exhausted by holiday preparations, who are lonely because  your beloved ones are gone or far away, who are hurting in body mind or spirit—you are the ones called by God to transform the world.  It’s not impossible. It’s what you were made for.

In the 13th century, the mystic Meister Eckert wrote “We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture?”

Let all God’s people say, it’s not impossible.


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