How Can This Be?*
December 20, 2020
By Pastor John Partridge
If we’ve learned anything from this pandemic, and from the last couple of decades of our national politics, it should be an overdeveloped sense of skepticism. I once had an engineering co-worker say that if our management said that the sky was blue, he would have to look out the window to check. And lately, that describes how many of us are consuming the news about both the coronavirus and politics. As Ronald Reagan once told Mikhail Gorbachev as they negotiated a new nuclear drawdown, “Trust, but verified.” If you think about it, our suspicions aren’t limited to politics and pandemics. You have probably noticed that many of our non-church friends view the stories of scripture with that same sort of skepticism. And, if we’re honest, even as believers, some of those stories strain our ability to believe them. But we aren’t alone. The stories of scripture remind us that the main characters of the story often wondered how such things were possible. And as our first example, let’s begin with a story found in 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, where we find King David having just completed his ascent to power as the king of a united twelve tribes if Israel, and the construction of his new palace in Jerusalem.
7:1 After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2 he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”
3 Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.”
4 But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying:
5 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? 6 I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. 7 Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’
8 “Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. 9 I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. 10 And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 11 and have done ever since the time I appointed leadersover my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.
“‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you:
16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’”
David rests from his warfare with Israel’s neighbors, from his political battles, and from his palace construction project, and how his attention turns to the idea of building a temple for the God of Israel. But God denies his request, vetoes his idea, and says that David is not the man for the job. But, rather than allowing this to be a discouraging word, God continues by reassuring David of his love for him and makes him an impossible promise for the future. God promises David that his kingdom will endure forever, and his throne will be established before God… forever.
And, although it doesn’t say so, and although we know that David was a great man of faith, and we know that David trusted God and was a man after God’s own heart, we also know that David was not naïve. David had been around the block more than once. He had been a part of King Saul’s inner circle and then fled for his life after Saul turned on him and sent his entire army into the countryside to hunt him. He had lived for a time as an advisor to the king of one of Israel’s neighbors, he had been betrayed by his friends, by his wife, and would later be betrayed by his own son. David understood that kingdoms do not last forever. And so, it isn’t difficult to imagine that even though David trusted God to keep his promise, he had to be wondering…
… “How can this be?”
And the same thing is true at the beginning of the Christmas story. In Luke 1:26-38, God sends the angel Gabriel to tell Mary that she would be the one whom God had selected to be the mother of the messiah that would fulfill God’s promise to David, as well as many of the prophecies of the Old Testament. Luke says…
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So, the holy one to be born will be calledthe Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
God specifically selects Mary to be the mother of Jesus because of her great faith. But even so, when she is told that she will bear a child, and she has never been with a man, she wonders aloud, “How can this be?” And I suspect that even after Gabriel’s explanation, Mary still didn’t really understand how a woman could have a baby without a man, but she trusted that God could find a way.
And that sense of wonder, and of faith, continues in the amazing works of God today. In Romans 16:25-27, Paul says this:
25 Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes fromfaith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.
What Paul is saying, is that God is the one who can do things. God was the one who could create a reality in which one of David’s descendants, Jesus, would rule over Israel, and over all the world, forever. God was the one who could make a way for a virgin to have a baby and carry the creator of the universe, and the hope of the world, in her womb in the form a tiny baby human and, at the same time, fulfill hundreds of ancient prophecies and promises that he had made to his people. And that same God is able to draw us toward him, to bring us to a relationship with him, and to establish us in faith and trust as he did with David, and with Mary, with the disciples, with Paul, and with countless others who now gather as a great cloud of witnesses to the unfolding of history. As difficult as it is to believe, and as often as we ourselves might ask, “How can this be?” God is the one who is able to reveal the truth and to unveil the mysteries of the Old Testament, to rescue all of humanity, and to give strength to his people as they struggle through the twenty-first century. But as he always has, God does these tings so that all the Gentiles, all the people of the world, everyone, might come to faith and obedience to the God of creation and to his son Jesus Christ.
The answers to our question of “How can this be?”, is the same as it has always been, “Because God is able,” and “Because God cares for you,” and “Because of God’s great love for all people.”
How can this be?
You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/q5ywQknu4os
Did you enjoy reading this?
Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.
Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.
Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.
U*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.