Sunday, December 19, 2021
“Nothing is Impossible for the Lord”
The Fourth Sunday in Advent
Grace and peace to you and yours the Sunday
before Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It is
the Fourth Sunday in Advent where our focus is
upon the events leading up to the birth of the
Lord Jesus Christ and the intrigue involved in
God (Yahweh) attempting to keep the promise
He made to His people seven centuries before
the event of Jesus’ birth in the legacy of the
rather wild, erratic prophet, Micah. I’ll go right
ahead and share the details from the Scriptures.
In reflection, I cannot think of a time in Scripture
that Satan ever suggested that the God of the Bible
(Yahweh) doesn’t exist. His strategy throughout the
Bible is the attempt, rather, to suggest that Yahweh
isn’t good for His promises. Basically, Satan would
say that God exists, but He is not worthy to be trusted.
This business of not believing in God is strictly for
ordinary human beings, who are sometimes tossed
about by the storms of life…and sometimes I can
begin to understand their position, considering the
the full measure of human experience. Nonetheless,
this is not my position. I stand solidly in the same
position of Saint Paul who wrote,
“…and we know that in all things God works for the
good of those who love Him and are called according
to His purpose…”
I take the position also of Job in the Hebrew Bible (OT),
“…even though He were to
slay me, yet will I hope in Him…”
Just to keep in mind–we have the remarkable quote
of Jesus within the context of the Sermon on the Mount:
“…if then the light within you is darkness,
how profound is that darkness…” (Matthew 6:23b)
Now how does this introduction relate to the Christmas
story. We need to hop over to Luke’s account of the
the times we are presently focused in upon. Luke, the
only Gentile who writes in the Bible, a physician, who
writes in the best “koine Greek” we have therein, makes
it clear that those “who from the first were eyewitnesses”
provided the material to write his Gospel, because Luke
did not know Jesus during his lifetime, but the Virgin Mary,
and the Disciples (Peter, etc.) did. Some scholars call
the Gospel of Luke, “The Gospel According to Mary”.
In Luke we receive the information necessary to know
the details about what happened prior to Jesus’ birth…
The “squeaker” which–takes the cake–in the narrative
comes in God fulfilling His promise made seven hundred
years before…(see above)…
Intrigue comes into the picture when we realize that the
Angel Gabriel addresses Mary in Nazareth with the news
that she would give birth to the Savior. [The Messiah is
supposed to be born in Bethlehem.] She is a virgin,
but, indeed, “Nothing is impossible with God.” Note that
Nazareth is about one hundred and eight miles from
Bethlehem. Since Mary is “great with child” she is not
going to be inclined to walk that distance. Neither is
Joseph. Another note: the donkey in the painting of the
Holy Family did not exist in reality. The scriptures don’t
mention a cart…or a donkey. It was in the imagination
of an Italian artist of the eleventh-century AD. Joseph
and Mary could not afford a casual journey to Bethlehem.
How would God work this out…?
Mary, by this time, is nine months along in her pregnancy.
The couple doesn’t have the financial resources or the
motivation to fulfill the prophesy of the seventh-century BC
prophet, Micah. Furthermore, they very well may not have
known about the prophesy that the “Messiah” would be born
The Holy Family was the poorest of the poor. Joseph
had to work daily to take care of Mary. It would take an
extraordinary measure to dislodge them from Nazareth.
Let me share a story unrelated, and yet in some strange
way, related to the Christmas story. Tom and Priscilla
Nibbe had received an acknowledged “Call from God”
to serve as missionaries in Pakistan with the World Mission
Prayer League in 1976. We tried for months, and then
for years, to receive a visa from the Pakistani visa office.
They refused us time after time. The most hurtful thing was
when my father suggested that I had lied about receiving
a commission to serve in Pakistan. We were feeling a
little like we’d been abandoned by God, but we also felt
this powerful sense that the “call” was real. At the time
I continued to work at the University of California, Berkeley,
and took advantage of the academic and cultural events
on campus. On one occasion, one of most famous
Pakistanis in the world, was scheduled to speak on campus.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Javid Iqbal.
Judge Javid was the son of the iconic Islamic thinker and
world-class poet, Mohammad Iqbal, who, in a past age,
had come up with the idea of a Pakistan, a moderate
Muslim state, devoted to bring about a country devoted
to compassionately draw together East and West.
I attended his lecture. I was “on fire” to be in the same
room with the distinguished son of Maulana Iqbal. He
could have well been the son of President George Washington.
He allowed time for questions after his presentation. I waited
to be third in line of those asking. I asked questions that
indicated an insightful knowledge of Pakistani idealism
and culture. After the session, the great Pakistani
approached me, not me–him, and asked me why I knew
so much about Pakistan. He also said he was hungry, and
could I direct him to a good restaurant in town. He invited
me to join him. Of course, I accepted.
We ate supper and headed back to his accommodation,
the site of my former employment, the Durant Hotel.
On the street, he told me that I should come to Pakistan.
I said I would love to come to Pakistan, but I couldn’t get a visa.
“…but why not?…”
“Well, Dr. Iqbal, I’m a clergyman and I would have to come
as a missionary. The government won’t allow me in…”
“Outrageous! It doesn’t make any difference! You would be
a blessing wherever you went. Come with me right now,
and I will call the Foreign Office in Islamabad. If they don’t
give you a visa, I’ll have their job!”
He did so while I was waiting, and within ten days we had
a visa to go as permanent residents for at least four years.
When Priscilla and I were powerless to fulfill our divine call
because of politics and religion, God sent the most prominent
Pakistani in the world to Berkeley, California, to provide the
way for us to be sent off for service in the Lord Jesus Christ.
There is a similarity between our experience and the situation
presented in the second chapter of Luke’s gospel. God used
the desires of world-renowned personalities to fulfill His will.
Now we return to the narrative of Christ’s birth.
As we turn to the account of what happened (in the second
chapter of Luke) we note something we normally would take
for granted. The most powerful human being in the world
got “a bee in his bonnet”. Caesar Augustus wanted to know
how many people he totally controlled in the Roman world.
He proposed a census…
This proposed census seems totally foreign to God’s purpose,
but God needed to fulfill His promise in the prophesy of Micah
hundreds of years before…the Messiah would be born in
Bethlehem. Since Joseph was originally from Bethlehem in
Judea, he had to return to Bethlehem to register, lest he receive
punishment from the authorities in Roman Palestine.
They were extremely poor and had to walk the entire distance,
even though Mary was nine months along. Thank the Lord
she was young. What was at stake, and rather hidden in the
narrative was the fact that God needed to do what He promised.
That account reads as follows:
“…while they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,
and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped Him in
swaddling cloths and placed Him in a manger, because there was
no room for them in the inn…” (Luke 2:6-7)
GOD IS GOOD FOR HIS PROMISES!
“…and now I will show you the most excellent way…”
(1 Corinthians 12:31b)
“…for God so loved the world that He gave His only
begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall
not perish, but have Eternal Life…for God did not
send His Son into the world to condemn the world,
but to save the world through Him…”
(John 3:16-17 [Jesus])
You don’t need to be a perfect human being.
You need rather to place your confidence in
what Jesus did for you…live by faith in Him…
“…I have come that they may
have life…and have it abundantly…”
(John 10:10 [Jesus])
Do you want to be totally alive, excited about all
aspects of your life, and “on fire” the way I was…
receive Jesus as personal Lord and Savior…
and walk humbly and obediently with Him…
“…don’t be anxious about anything, but in everything
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present
your requests to God…and the peace of God, which
transcends all human understanding, will guard your
hearts and minds in Christ Jesus…”
Note the encouragement of the Apostle Paul
addressing the congregation in Ephesus:
“…I pray that out of His riches, He may strengthen
you with power through His Spirit in your inner being,
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith
…and I pray that you, being rooted and established
in love, may have power…to grasp how wide and long
and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know
this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may
be filled to the measure of the fullness of God…”
This is not my original material–it is biblical–
but I testify along with Saint Paul…
“…I’ve learned to be content whatever the
circumstances. I know what it is to be in need,
and I know what it is to have plenty…I have
learned the secret of being content in any and
every situation, whether well fed or hungry…
whether living in plenty or in want…I can do
everything through Him who gives me strength…
and my God will meet all your needs according
to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus…”
We are still in the midst, not the tail-end, of the
pandemic. Be wise. Be safe. Be helpful.
But…Be well…in heart, mind, and body…
A final comment made by John Milton, the great
English poet, noted by me on December 11, 1994,
who wrote this after his reading of Philippians 4:4-7:
“…a mind is not to be changed by place or time,
the mind is its own place, and in itself, can make
a heaven of hell, or a hell of heaven…”
If need be, I will always choose the first alternative
in and through Christ Jesus, my Lord…
Merry Christmas to all,