Imagine this with me…
“Yes, Lord?” The messenger entered the throne room, head down, eyes shielded from the brilliant light reflecting off the golden floor tiles. He closed his eyes as he dropped to his knees.
“It’s time, Gabriel,” The Father said.
“Are you sure, Lord?” Gabriel wasn’t doubting, but everyone had been waiting for this order for so long, he wanted to be sure he’d heard correctly. “Is this how you want to rescue them?”
“Yes.” The Father’s voice was solemn, unwavering. “He is the only way.”
Was it Gabriel’s imagination, or did the light pulse even brighter at this announcement?
Face to the ground, Gabriel whispered, “As You wish, Lord.”
A young girl hummed softly to herself as she swept the loose debris off the packed dirt floor of her home. Her father was visiting at the market, and her mother was caring for a sick neighbor. Every now and then, she could hear her younger siblings squeal as they chased their friends, weaving between the houses.
As she hummed, all other noise curiously faded. She looked up from her task and her mouth fell open.
“Greetings, favored one.” Before her stood a figure cloaked in light. The figure spoke with a male voice, but she was unable to identify him through the brilliant light. She brought a hand to her parted lips as the figure spoke again. “Do not be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with God.” Mary. How did he know her name? And what had she done to earn God’s favor? What was happening? She took a step backward.
“You will conceive and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be called the Son of the Most High and He will reign forever.” The broom fell from Mary’s hand and thumped against the dirt floor. She sunk to her knees.
Me? Her heart pounded in her throat, her temples. A baby? She reflexively pressed a hand against her abdomen. She wanted to look at the figure in front of her, but the light was too bright. She shielded her eyes and swallowed back a bittersweet taste in her mouth. The room spun around her. “H-h-how…” She didn’t recognize her raspy voice. It sounded distant. Like it belonged to someone else. Someone very small and very young and very weak. She tried to speak again.“How is this possible? I haven’t…I’m not…I’ve never…I’m a virgin.”
Was the light playing tricks with her eyes, or did she see a smile form on the glowing face of the messenger?
“The power of God will come over you, and the child you bear will be holy. He will be the Son of God. Even your cousin, Elizabeth, is expecting a child, though she thought it was impossible. You see, Mary, nothing is impossible for God.”
Beneath her, Mary’s toes dug into the cool dirt floor as she willed herself not to faint. Myriad thoughts raced through her mind. For centuries, the prophets had searched, pleaded, and cried out for a word from God about when the Messiah—the Savior—would come. Why would He send a message to her; a shy, insignificant girl? And why a baby? Why not a fierce conqueror? It just didn’t make sense.
But as she kneeled on the ground, something stirred deep within her soul. Somehow, she knew this messenger was from the Lord. Somehow she knew he brought tidings of truth. If she had really found favor with the Most High God, she knew what her answer must be even though terror wrapped its thick fingers around her throat and shook her to the core. She raised her shaking, clammy hands until her palms were upturned. Slowly, and with a trembling voice, she said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let this happen, just like you’ve told me.”
“Joseph, please.” Although her voice was barely more than a whisper, it was strained, urgent. “I am telling you the truth!”
Joseph rubbed the back of his neck, contemplating what to say next. “You are carrying a baby, and you want me to believe you have not been unfaithful to me—your betrothed?” He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. When he opened them, Mary’s big, dark eyes were covered in a sheen of unshed tears.
“You have to believe me. I’ve done nothing wrong.” She was usually so soft-spoken, but today an energy seemed to course through her words.
He started to shake his head. How could she expect him to believe something so…impossible? She was carrying the promised Messiah? The fulfillment of the prophecies? How could this be? In an uncharacteristically bold move that startled him, Mary reached out and gripped his hands. The rough, calloused hands he used to carve feeding troughs and hammer nails in to tables. The sturdy carpenter’s hands he would use to earn a living for Mary and his future family. Only now… “Are you sure, Mary? Do you know for sure?”
“Yes.” Her chin trembled, but her gaze remained steady, earnest. “There are signs. I bury my nose in the folds of my clothing when I fix meals so I do not get sick. I’m always so tired. And the angel – I’ve never seen anything like it. He came from God, Joseph.”
He pulled his hands from her grasp and folded his arms so she wouldn’t see them shaking. Bracing himself against the wall of his workshop, he said, “Your family could disown you, Mary. You could be charged with adultery. You could be stoned.“
I know, Joseph. I know.” Suddenly she sounded small and helpless. He would have wrapped a protective arm around her shoulders under different circumstances. “This is not easy,” she said. “I haven’t slept in days because I’m so scared. I don’t know why I was chosen for this. I don’t know why God finds favor in me when I quake with fear every time I think of what is to come in the days ahead.”
He rubbed his jaw, ran a hand through his hair. “I need some time to think, Mary. Please.”
She nodded and a dark tendril fell across her forehead. Brushing it out of her face, she said, “I told you about my cousin. I’m going to stay with Elizabeth until her baby is born.”
He began pacing the floor. Anything to keep himself busy. “I think that is a good idea. I just need some time, Mary.”
She nodded again and turned toward the door. With one last look over her shoulder, she walked out of his workshop.
He leaned against the wall and slid to the floor. He let his head drop into his hands. Oh, Lord, his soul cried out. What do I do?
Never in all her life would she have guessed it would come to this. That she’d be many miles away from home in a city too crowded to offer her a place to stay. She never would have believed how close Joseph, her betrothed, would come to walking out of her life forever. She never would have imagined what he told her after she left his workshop, heartbroken and afraid, all those months ago:
“I’ve seen an angel, Mary,” he’d said, his voice reverent. “In a dream. He told me what you say is true.” His face had taken on a look of wonder. “The baby. We’ll name him Jesus. He will save his people from their sins!”
So he’d obeyed the angel’s instructions and married her. Soon after, they’d traveled to Bethlehem for a census. The City of David was crowded with weary, irritable travelers. They had to push their way through the masses to find an inn where they could stay. Chickens cackled and squawked, donkeys brayed, and Mary gasped as she realized her child was about to be born.
There wasn’t a room for them, so Joseph found a stable. And in that stable, among dusty hay and sour animal manure, the Most High entered into the lowliest conditions. He came into the world in the form of a tiny, wrinkly baby. His little lungs drew breath for the first time and his cry pierced the night air like a bolt of lightening in the dark sky.
Joseph swaddled the infant in shreds of cloth and handed him to Mary. The baby’s thick, dark hair grew in tiny curls on his head. His flat little nose struggled to inhale enough oxygen to feed his cries. She nestled him close, and eventually, his wails settled into shivery whimpers. He closed his puckered pink mouth and opened his round, sleepy eyes.
Mary brought her gaze to his, and she began to cry. Warm tears trailed down her cheeks and into her hair. She was staring into the face of God Himself, clothed in a fragile human body. In that moment, she knew—she knew—the prophecies had been fulfilled. The Savior of mankind now lived on earth. The Word became flesh. She had witnessed the birth of the impossible.
As she tenderly kissed the soft forehead of her Creator, she couldn’t help but sense the course of mankind’s existence had been drastically altered. Because here, in her arms, she held Emmanuel—God with us.
Do you think they knew? Do you think as Mary and Joseph knelt beside the manger, captured in a moment that changed the course of history, they had any idea about what would happen next? Did they realize they played a role in the greatest Love story ever told? Do you think they understood just how significant their obedience to God’s call really was? That we would still remember their bravery more than 2,000 years later? They were faced with the impossible, but they placed their trust in the One whose love knows no limits. And, as they soon discovered, nothing is impossible for God.
I wasn’t there when Gabriel appeared to Mary. I didn’t see the moment she told Joseph about the child. I didn’t witness the birth of the Savior. I was born nearly 2,000 years after these events, but I always wonder just what it was like to be there. To experience the scenes I read in Scripture each December.
I think that sometimes it’s easy for us to gloss over those events. After all, our mantles hold an angelic-looking Mary and Joseph and a peaceful Christ Child tucked cozily inside a crèche. We sing about calm, silent nights. We get these warm, fuzzy feelings inside when we watch nativity plays at church.
But here’s the thing: This beautiful chapter of God’s love story was messy. It involved a real girl, a real man, a real small town, and a real manger. It included a virgin birth, an almost-broken betrothal, and a long, dusty journey to a distant town. It fulfilled prophecies, yes, but those prophecies were fulfilled through humans like you and me. Humans who probably had moments of paralyzing fears and doubts. But the thing is, they were devoted to the Father’s voice. They responded with obedience and trusted that the One who called them is faithful.
What are you currently up against? What impossible situation stands before you like a wall too tall to climb? What uncertainties make you tremble and wonder how you will ever overcome them?
Please remember this: We serve a God who specializes in making the impossible possible. We serve a God who isn’t scared of messes and who isn’t limited by what makes sense to our human minds. We serve a God who willingly became like us so we could have a personal relationship with Him.
He is Emmanuel. He is with us.
In His love,
“For nothing is impossible with God.” – Luke 1:37