The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Sunday, December 21, 2014


"Nothing will be impossible for God."
Luke 1:37

The world and all its inhabitants--you and me--are pregnant with possibility. Yet, generally speaking, human beings are generous distributors of the adage: "Can't be done." Very well, then it can't--not with that as a starting point. What is at stake, however, is more than the power of positive thinking. Here, we speak of faith and the grace that calls it forth.

"Nothing will be impossible for God," the angel Gabriel tells Mary in today's Gospel reading (Luke 1:26-38). Just a few moments earlier, the angel had hailed her as being "full of grace," And with faith, Mary responds to Gabriel's startling announcement (troubling and terrifying might be more appropriate adjectives), by saying, "May it be done to me according to your word."

Gabriel, of course, declares that nothing is impossible for God while assuring Mary that, with God, a virgin can indeed bear a child--just as her barren, older cousin can conceive a son. And Mary's son will not be just any son--he will be the Son of God. He will be a great ruler whose kingdom will be eternal. However, just as God confounds human expectations throughout the Old Testament, accomplishing what he wills for us despite our fickle waywardness, this Son of God--a Messiah both human and divine--will save us once and for all through inconceivable means. He will not be an earthly ruler from noble stock. He will not be a politician or revolutionary. He will not be a fierce warrior conquering every enemy. All of these things were expected--indeed, longed for--by the ancient Israelites.

No, this Messiah, fulfilling all the Old Testament prophecies in a way that virtually no one correctly interpreted, would instead be an obscure peasant laborer, and then an itinerant preacher. Yes, he would teach with authority, drawing many followers and working great miracles, but he would also draw the ire of those who were learned in the Law. He would be a servant who suffers, ultimately dying alone and abandoned as a common criminal in the most humiliating and painful fashion imaginable. And he would do this to save people from their fickle waywardness, to unite in his flesh their fallen humanity with his divinity--before anyone could even care less. In other words, he offers salvation in the most unlikely manner possible to those who do not ask for it, let alone deserve it.

Impossible! Exactly--that's what makes it possible! We cannot save ourselves, no matter what.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways,
my thoughts higher than your thoughts.
Yet just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
and do not return there
until they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
So shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
It shall not return to me empty,
but shall do what pleases me,
achieving the end for which I sent it.

                                 (Isaiah 55:8-11)
This is the good news Christ came to give us. All we must do is accept the gift with faith (most assuredly, a gift that does involve responsibility and cooperation with grace). It is possible! "All things are possible for God," Jesus tells his disciples (Mark 10:27). Time and time again throughout the New Testament, Jesus emphasizes the role that faith plays in cooperating with this grace and transforming the impossible into more than mere possibility: "If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you" (Matthew 17:20).

But we ask: Where are the miracles in our day? In response, Jesus asks us, "Where is your faith?" (Luke 8:25). The fact of the matter is that miracles are happening every day all around us, but we will only experience them if we discover (or rediscover) our faith. Even at the most basic level, the miracle of our existence is taken for granted by each and every one of us. As Fr. Daniel P. Horan, O.F.M., wrote this past week in the excellent devotional periodical Give Us This Day, the seemingly impossible is made real each day:
Consider our planet, its multibillion-year history, and the fact that it became perfectly calibrated to foster and sustain life. What a miracle our world is. Consider our lives, the necessary factors that must align for human procreation. What a miracle you and I are. Consider our creativity, the gifts of intellect and art and invention that God has so endowed us with. To look at art, to listen to music, to understand algebra--these are amazing signs of what is possible with God. What a miracle this vision is.
Even on a more "practical" and less cosmic level, consider the modern miracles of instant electricity at the flip of a switch, clean water at the turn of a faucet, the removal of waste with the flush of a toilet. For the most part, even the most underprivileged among us in this country have access to these things. Yet these "necessities" of life are seemingly impossible dreams for millions in this world, even on the cusp of 2015.

The fact that we have such things here doesn't make us more blessed--but it should make us more grateful, on one hand, and also more responsible users and generous donors, on the other. With such an outlook and practice--cooperation with grace--we can (and must!) make the impossible possible for others who are less fortunate. The have-nots in this world are not less faithful--they are victims of the faithless. We all have a role to play in this economy of salvation--the gift that is freely given by the Savior of the World, who is born naked and crying in a cold and filthy barnyard because the well-to-do closed their doors to the possibility standing right in front of them. Genuine faith is made evident in its works.

On a more personal level, what seems impossible to you right now? An addiction or an obsessive thought pattern? A troubled relationship? A past that won't release its grip or a future that seems foreboding? Does joy seem impossible? Is God even possible?

Again, listen to Jesus ask, "Where is your faith?" and respond by looking for the possibilities that exist right in front of you. And if even this is too much right now, then pray as the disciples did, "Lord, increase my faith!" (cf. Luke 17:5). When asked in all humility and sincerity, it is a prayer that cannot--will not--be refused.

As we conclude our observance of Advent and look toward the birth of our Savior, believe that you are pregnant with possibility. Filled with grace, pray with Mary, who gives the Son of God the human flesh that Jesus reunites with our Father in heaven: "May it be done to me according to your word."

May you be "filled with all the fullness of God, who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us" (Ephesians 3:19-20). Amen.

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