First, the impossible feat of Mary becoming pregnant before she has ever even been with a man. That somehow in her through the Holy Spirit she might conceive a child. This is one of the great mysteries of our faith. A mystery that I have no intention to explain to you this morning. Certainly it is one that many people of faith have struggled to understand, to rationalize, to pick apart. Some may ask if there is any great significance to this miracle. What if it didn’t happen? Would that change who God is?
Then the impossible future that Mary sings of in the Magnificat – that the powerful, the oppressors, will finally be defeated, that those who have been kept down, kept out, stepped on and forgotten, that they will be lifted up and the hungry will be filled. This too is a hard future to hope in, as we struggle with all of the ways that the world is imperfect - to think that some day the sin of the world will be no more.
Methodist pastor and writer William Willimon tells the story of a college student talking to him about how the virgin birth was just too incredible to believe. Willimon responded, "You think that's incredible, come back next week. Then we will tell you that 'God has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly.' We'll talk about the hungry having enough to eat and the rich being sent away empty. The virgin birth? If you think you have trouble with the Christian faith now, just wait. The virgin birth is just a little miracle; the really incredible stuff is coming next week."
Which is harder to believe – that God can work a miracle in the small minutiae of what we know goes into conception, or a miracle so great that the entire structure of society will be changed?
Which is harder to believe – that God could create a child through a woman and the Holy Spirit, or that the millions of children and adults killed by war and genocide would be spared?
Which is harder to believe – that a great King would be born of such unusual circumstances, or that all of the totalitarian and oppressive governments of the world would be brought down all at once?
Which is harder to believe – that Jesus would be born into such a lowly state, or that the 40% of the people in the world who live on less than a dollar a day would gain access to the resources they need to care for themselves and their families?
Which is harder to believe – that Mary would be so willing to take on the role of giving birth to and caring for God incarnate, or that she would trust in the hope of the prophets before her, looking to a future where all would be cared for?
Advent is about preparing ourselves for the impossible - as impossible as that task may seem. Advent is about suspending our disbelief in order to enter into a season when our deepest beliefs are renewed. Advent is about the necessity of believing in the improbable because our reality is so out of line with God’s hope for the world.