Years ago I heard an ABC interview with Dr Christiaan Barnard, the South African heart-transplant pioneer. He looked forward to the time when there would be global organ and tissue banks - we have moved towards fulfilling that dream.
Then he went on to say, "I believe there is nothing we dream that we will not do one day." Thatís the supreme optimism.
But on the other side is our extreme scepticism - our questioning of the motives of commendable generosity, our refusal to allow the innovator a "fair go," our suspicion of those who adhere to traditional moral values, our stubborn conservatism whenever it suits us...
Charles Wesley wrote:
His words were probably inspired by two verses. One is the occasion when Jesus was speaking to the father of a boy brought to him for healing. The father had requested, "if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us." Jesus replied, "Everything is possible for him who believes" (Mk 9.22-23). The other is from todayís reading - "nothing is impossible with God" (Lk. 1.37).
The whole situation was impossible. For many generations now they had believed that the Lord would send his anointed one, the Messiah - devout Jews still do! But belief had been mixed with unfaithfulness, and again and again the nation had suffered the consequences with invasions, exile and foreign rule.
Right now, the land was controlled by the Romans. Later in the story we read of Simeon, described as "righteous and devout... waiting for the consolation of Israel" (2.25). Then there was an old lady named Anna who spent her time in the temple fasting and praying night and day. She had contact with a whole network of people "who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem" (vv. 36-38).
Humanly, the situation was what we call "impossible," yet there were people who still believed that God could and would do something. Godís hands arenít tied.
Nazareth was a place of little importance. When Philip told Nathanael about "Jesus of Nazareth," he said, "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" (Jn 2.46). Yet it was to Nazareth that the angel Gabriel came with a special message for Mary - "a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph" (Lk. 1.27).
The encounter was unexpected and troubling. "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end" (vv. 30-33).
It isnít recorded that Mary said, "Why me?" However, I think it quite possible that she thought it. After all, she hadnít stood out in society, and she was to marry an honourable tradesman - but just a carpenter. And why insignificant Nazareth? And why this oppressive time in their history?
Yet this was the time and place. And the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth bears the bold Latin words across its faÁade, verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis - familiar to us in English, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (Jn 1.14).
Maryís question wasnít about the impossibility of the time and place. "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" (Lk. 1.34) Some have suggested that it would happen in the course of time when she got married. But Mary knew that this was to happen immediately and extraordinarily. She was the willing servant of the Lord for the unique gift of his Son to the world (v. 38).
"You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus" (v. 31).
"Jesus..." - that was the name Joseph was told too. "She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins" (Mt. 1.21). It wasnít an uncommon name. In Hebrew it is the name "Joshua." It means "the Lord saves." But this Jesus is the unique Son of God who came to "save his people from their sins."
It is another "impossible" time of history. Even some of our "optimists" are becoming a somewhat sceptical about our future. Terrorist violence has shattered our easy-going confidence. Our fuel, electricity and water supplies are all vulnerable targets - and critical to our whole social fabric. And the decline of faith has robbed us of hope that there is a God who could or would do something.
Yet our calendar still bears witness that, over two thousand years ago, Jesus was born - the promised Son of God who came to save us from our sins. He came for us and we need him as much as ever. Letís put our trust in him, not just for Christmas, but for always!
|Prayer: Loving Lord, itís another impossible time of history - just like it was 2000 years ago! Thank you that you sent your Son Jesus, not just for then, but for our time too. Thank you that he lived and died and rose again to save us from our sins. Forgive us for our optimism that has trusted only in our own achievements and has failed to look to you. Forgive us for our pessimism that has refused to receive your redemptive love or to discern the working of your divine plan in human history. Enable us to bring hope and courage to others. In Jesusí name, Amen.
born to save -
At his birth
inn too full,
no room for him.
At his death
again they said,
"No room for him!"
born to save -
Coming to his own creation,
rejected by his own people!
Yet some received him
members of Godís family!
Christmas time again is here -
time for lots of jolly cheer!
Crowds and parcels,
trees and tinsel,
strings of pretty-coloured lights,
ham and poultry,
greetings sundry -
world of whirling satellites!
Still his world
to which he came!
Lively with festivity
on this his birthday,
yet it seems -
no room for him!
born to save -
For my sake,
even mine -
so full of sin -
come to me
and enter in.
No heart too lowly
for our King -
let him in,
make room for him!