Stories have a way of telling us things we could not have heard any other way. Eugene Peterson calls it “telling it slant” (using Emily Dickinson’s words). We are not always happy to see things about ourselves when told outright. But stories reveal our heart’s motives – sometimes through the heroes and often times through the villainous. They show us the sins we hold dear. And stories can reveal the virtues we lack. Reading the story of Mary, the soon-to-be-mother of Jesus, did this to me.
I started running recently. A few months ago – all to lose weight and get in shape. When I started I was not happy to be doing so with the wrong gear. For one, my shoes are at least six years old, I bought them from the LL Bean “clearance store” back in 2004 and have been cutting grass in them for a number of years. Also, I really wanted one of those cool Under Armour shirts. In Blue. It felt impossible that I could get to my initial goal of losing twenty pounds and running 5K with such pitiful gear.
But I did.
Twenty-five pounds lost later and now able to run more than 5K and thinking about a half marathon this Spring, I now laugh at my thoughts of what was possible. I looked at my circumstances and my problems and thought, “impossible.”
Mary started out thinking the same thing. I mean, it was a good question, “I know you are saying all these great things about what my son will be and do, but there is one little problem… ummmm, how do I put this lightly? (Whispers) I’m a virgin. Sooooo, how could this be possible?” But God, not put off by such circumstances and problems answers through Gabriel, “Nothing will be impossible with God.”
When you look at Mary’s ‘Magnificat’ real close, you start thinking God is doing some incredible stuff through what looks like an impossible situation. Through the scandal of a pregnant unmarried teenager, “all the nations will be blessed.” Through an event sure to draw judgment from gossipers “he provides mercy from generation to generation.” Through a backwoods town, Nazareth, “he shows strength with his arm.” Through the poverty of Galilean peasants “he scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.” Through a baby “he has brought down the mighty from their thrones.” Through a child who depends on his mother’s milk “he has filled the hungry with good things.” Through a virgin he will make a baby and fulfill the promises he made to his people.
It’s pretty incredible. But we don’t really believe he can do this kind of thing. Most of the time. Most of the time we think everything must be just right in our lives and and in our churches. Belief is not enough to change us as individuals and the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments is not enough for our churches.
Our spiritual lives need super-spiritual crazy experiences and our churches need audio and visual excellence. We think we need lots of extra stuff, you know, to help out the Sovereign God of the Universe. Who created everything. Out of nothing. We think we need something else and we need to remove everything that looks like a problem – for God to work. We think we need the best preaching and the nicest worship space. We think we need new songs or old songs. And lots of resources.
God began the most significant act in history through what looked like an impossible situation and we think we need more gear.
We are not like Mary, at least the Mary after the Angel reminded her what God was capable of. Maybe we need a reminder. You know, God has been doing this for awhile. A huge family making up a nation from two really old lovebirds. Armies defeated by lamps and jars. Marching around a wall and taking out a city. Five smooth stones. More clay jars.
And it did not stop with Mary. The Disciples had to have thought, ‘impossible’ while Jesus’ limp and bloodied body hung with shame upon a Roman cross. The circumstances were bleak. The problem stood before them in painful stark relief. Their hopes – dashed against a rock that looked like a dead man’s skull. And yet through this, far more was accomplished than they could have ever imagined during the three years while they were dreaming of him vanquishing the foes of God’s people.
Through what looked impossible the One, Who, by the way, makes all things possible, did the unimaginable. He rescued not only those who had followed him. But all who had rebelled against him and looked to him for salvation. And even now those who look at their own black hearts and think ‘impossible’ can be rescued when they with Mary believe, “Nothing will be impossible with God.”