4th Sunday of Advent: The Subjunctive Space
Rev. Sandy Johnson
December 24, 2017
Luke 1:26-38 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Birth of Jesus Foretold
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”[a]29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”[b] 35 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[c] will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 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. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
These lessons in Luke are some of my favorite. The heavenly visitation by the angel Gabriel! The surprise by Mary to be face to face with Gabriel! Surprise turned to shock that her cousin who is quite old, is in fact expecting. Then the topper of the whole story – Mary herself will become pregnant, even though she is a virgin. Seems too much for us to even imagine. These kinds of things just don’t happen, at least not in our world today.
The lesson for us is not necessarily that a virgin is pregnant, but this story highlights God’s theme that nothing is impossible for God.
“On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, we inch closer to the heart of the Christmas story as Jesus’ birth is foretold through the relationship of Elizabeth and Mary. If John the Baptist prepares the way for Jesus, then John’s mother, Elizabeth, sets the stage for Jesus’ mother, Mary.
“While there are differences between Elizabeth and Mary regarding marital status, age, and circumstances, the plot-twist revealed through them is the miraculous nature of God’s work.
“Elizabeth is six months pregnant. Prior to this, Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, received a message from an angel, Gabriel, who foretold that Elizabeth would be pregnant, despite her advanced age and her inability to conceive. Through the story of Elizabeth, we see that truly nothing is impossible for God.
“It is this same angel who appears to Mary and announces a similar incredible happening. She too is to become pregnant – with God’s Son, no less. Her disbelieve is understandable.
“In the space between Elizabeth’s story and Mary’s story exist the impossible possibilities of God’s abundance. In the space between the barren and elderly Elizabeth and the teenager Mary, blooms a miracle so great, that it testifies, “Nothing is impossible for God.”
“The question is, why is Elizabeth’s story necessary? Why is it just as important for Elizabeth’s’ story as for Mary’s story to be rooted in impossibilities? Is it so that Mary would believe?” I wouldn’t put it past Mary to dismiss this angelic visitation as a bad dream, except the message about Elizabeth was found to be true and accurate. Her older relative really was pregnant, against all odds.
“Could it be that seeing the extremes of what is possible for God, reveals to us that there are no bounds to what God can do? No despair too deep. No pain too unbearable. No situation too hopeless. No sin unforgivable.
“Often times, we believe our relationship with God must be grounded in faith and certainty. However, being certain of what we know is true and possible has a way of suffocating opportunities for God to surprise us. What if faith is rooted in the space we create between the extremes of what we understand to be impossible so that the Holy Spirit has room to move, breathe, and expand? How would that change how we interact with the world, or engage in the Christmas story; would it change how we relate to our brothers and sisters in Christ?
“Phuc Tran, an instructor of Latin, German, Greek, and Sanskrit, has a deep passion for grammar, particularly the use of the subjunctive and indicative. Indicative case captures the factual statements made about what is actually happening or has happened. (Just the facts, ma’am) The subjunctive holds all the nuances of possibilities and potentialities. Indicative says, “I go there.” Subjunctive says, “I could go there,” “I would go there,” “I might go there.”
“When he was growing up, the use of the subjunctive was incredibly helpful to Tran, whose family barely escaped to the United States from Vietnam. His ability to ponder the “what ifs” gave him strength to survive the harsh indicative reality of leaving his homeland during a war-stricken time.
“The power of the indicative is that it roots us in reality, and the truth of who we are. But it also prevents us from grasping alternate possibilities and can make us feel stuck and trapped, accepting a reality that simply doesn’t have to be. The power of the subjunctive is that we can imagine not only the possible but also the impossible.
“Like Mary and Elizabeth, we must hold on to the indicative nature of who God is so that we can fully embrace who we are. And Like Mary and Elizabeth, we must also embrace the subjunctive of what God can do. Like Mary and Elizabeth, we are called to connect the dots between the God whom we know, and have always known, and the God who is guiding us into our future.”
How might we live our lives differently if we truly trusted God, understanding and counting on the fact that nothing is impossible for God? Are there dreams we have only dreamed, that we would work hard to bring into reality? Would we change careers? Start a new ministry? Travel to a far away land to volunteer with those in need. So many times, we allow the circumstances we can see, stop us instead of remembering that God can handle all the details if only we will let him.
You’ve heard me tell this before, but when I was called into full time ministry I had numerous reasons why I couldn’t follow God’s will. I couldn’t get a Masters of Divinity in Southern Nevada. I would have to travel to Claremont School of Theology two days a week for three years. How in the world could I do that? I worked fulltime and had kids at home. Scratch that calling! No way I can manage it.
Fast forward a couple of years and circumstances had changed. I was working in the tradeshow industry and was earning an executive salary. JJ and I lived a great life filled with expensive things – diamonds, fancy cars, and international travel. No way I was going to give that up. We needed that income to live. I can’t afford to go into ministry.
God took away the excuses one by one. First a new school opened up in Denver that would allow me to go to school online, traveling 4-5 times a year to Denver, instead of every week. Next, my executive income declined as the recession hit. With the objections gone, I had to agree. Except that JJ put one more condition on answering the calling – we would not go into debt to get my masters.
What looked like an impossible situation, raising $75,000.00 for a Masters of Divinity, turned into an opportunity for God to remind us that nothing is impossible for Him. To the penny, whenever tuition was due, the money was there – scholarships, a gift from my mother and increased commissions from my job. I graduated with no debt, almost three years later.
What I learned then and what I rely on today, is the fact that if God wants you to do something, he will provide the means to do it. But I also know that spiritual warfare steps in to keep us from doing the impossible and keeps us from spreading God’s love to our neighbors. Too often we get hung up on the details of something we are called to, and we don’t proceed into the calling because of fear and discouragement.
Here’s the thing, we are a people who don’t live by the facts alone. We don’t stay in the indicative case, we must live into the subjunctive space, that place where we imagine the possibilities, we can dare to dream, and we can dare to have the faith that God really can do the impossible. What is impossible for us, is totally possible with God.
Birth of a child in our 80’s? A virgin birth? Impossible you say?! Growing a small church into something mighty and impactful in BC? Taking over a large, two story building in downtown BC and creating a community center? I trust that with God all these things are possible, if and only if we don’t let fear and discouragement hold us back. I don’t know what the new year will hold for our church, but I am excited at the possibilities God has for us. Might we begin an adult day care here in this space? Might we bring needed mental health services to Boulder City? Is it possible we can help consolidate services by using this space to it’s fullest potential. Might the City of Boulder City transfer ownership to our church? Impossible? Maybe! But if this is the path God has laid out for us, it will absolutely happen, in his perfect timing. It would be outrageous for sure!
My prayer for us all is to move us from looking only at the mere facts of our lives and that we would dare to tap into God’s realities for us. That we would imagine what we could do or be if we allowed God to lead the way. Sisters and brothers, nothing is impossible for God. Trust that promise today and always. Amen