December 12, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 1:34-37 (NRSV)
Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”
In the pregnancy of the Virgin Mary, God did the impossible once again. While we rejoice and marvel over God’s ability to do the impossible, we also accept the fact that God will use both our faith and our work in order to accomplish his plans. We don’t get to sit back and watch the impossible show. Rather, we’re key performers in it as God does the impossible in and through us.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
I keep seeing the word “impossible” these days in places I’d not expect. Mainly, I’m seeing it on promotional posters and menus. Restaurants are featuring impossible meatballs, impossible sausage, impossible nuggets, and, most of all, impossible burgers. What makes all these delicious meats impossible? The fact that they’re made completely from plants, without any meat at all. So, if you go to Burger King and order an “Impossible Whopper,” you’ll get a tasty burger featuring a flame-grilled patty made entirely from plants.
The title of today’s devotion, “God of the Impossible,” is not meant to suggest that God is responsible for things like the Impossible Whopper. I have no doubt that God could create such a concoction if he wanted to, but God’s ability to do the impossible goes far beyond turning plants into burgers. Among other impossible things God does, he is able to make those who could never bear children get pregnant and give birth.
As you may recall, last week we began reflecting on the conversation between Mary and the angel Gabriel in Luke 1. After offering a perplexing greeting – “The Lord is with you” – Gabriel went on to reveal that Mary would soon be pregnant with the Son of God (Luke 1:28-33). In response to this unexpected news, Mary said, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (1:34). She knew how babies are made and she also knew that she had not done what is required for baby-making. She was waiting for sexual intimacy until she and her fiancé, Joseph, were fully married.
In response to Mary’s sensible question, the angel explained that the Holy Spirit would come upon Mary and make her pregnant by miraculous means (Luke 1:35). Just in case Mary needed evidence for the possibility of this impossible action, Gabriel added that Mary’s relative Elizabeth had recently conceived and was soon to give birth, even though she was far beyond the natural childbearing age (1:36). Summing up, the angel added, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (1:37).
Isn’t that wonderful! God can do the impossible. Mary’s baby, Jesus, will one day say something quite similar to his disciples: “For mortals, [being saved] is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27). Or, to use the words of Paul in Ephesians, God “by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). Thus, Paul can say to the Philippians, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).
I wonder how you and I might live if we really believed that God is able to do the impossible, and to do it in and through us. What would we dare to do? What dreams would we seek to accomplish? All too often we live as if our options are limited and God is either absent or lacking in power. Gabriel’s message to Mary challenges us to live courageously as we trust God to provide. Advent is a time to be open to the impossible God wants to do in our lives.
Yet, at the same time, we see in Mary’s story a reminder that God doesn’t do it all for us. God did not drop a newborn infant into Mary’s waiting arms. She had to do all the work of being pregnant and giving birth, not to mention nursing a newborn, rocking him to sleep, and so forth and so on. Time and again throughout the Scriptures, God did amazing, miraculous things, like parting the waters of the Red Sea. But people still had to do their part, like trusting God enough to go out into the middle of the sea while they hurried to escape from the Egyptian army.
Thus, while we rejoice and marvel over God’s ability to do the impossible, we also accept the fact that God will use both our faith and our work in order to accomplish his plans. We don’t get to sit back and watch the impossible show. Rather, we’re key performers in it as God does the impossible in and through us.
Have you ever experienced God doing something that felt impossible? If so, when? What was that like for you?
Why do you think God, who can do the impossible, chooses to work in and through us, with all of our limitations?
What might you do with your life if you really believed God could do the impossible?
Think about something God did that felt impossible. This could be something in Scripture or something in your life. Talk to God about it. Share your thoughts and feelings about this unusual action.
Gracious God, indeed, you can do the impossible. For this we offer thanks and praise. We marvel at your might works.
And we also marvel over the fact that you choose to work in and through us. You call us into your service. You fill us with your power. You do the impossible in and through us if we are willing and open. Amazing!
Yet, in your wisdom, you don’t do it all for us. You seek our contribution. You honor our efforts. You bless us with the privilege of working for you and with you. Thank you for this gift and responsibility. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: A Very Mary Christmas
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.