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Facing the improbable

Luke does a compare/contrast with Zechariah and Mary in the first chapter of his gospel. Both love and serve God, are visited by the angel Gabriel, and are about to have unexpected sons who will alter the course of Israel and the world. Finally, both appear to have similar responses to the astounding news about the miraculous births that will occur. Zechariah says, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years” (Luke 1:18). Mary’s response is, “How will this be since I am a virgin?” (v. 34).  Both of them are questioning how this news is possible in light of their circumstances.

But much as with the response of the people of Nazareth to Jesus (4:22), Luke wants to take us below the surface so we can understand the motives behind the words. In the case of Zechariah, no matter what his words might be—he doesn’t believe (1:20). He is a righteous man (v. 6), but even the righteous stumble. Despite the fact that he has been praying for a child (v. 13), his prayer has apparently been laced with the doubt that James speaks against in 1:6-8.
Mary may have her doubts, but they are of a different nature. They are constructive rather than destructive. She is in the same company as the man who tells Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). In her response to Gabriel we should understand her to be seeking help in overcoming the natural objections any virgin would have in the face of such news. Her heart is reflected by her words that follow Gabriel’s explanation when she says, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled” (v. 38).

We have then a conscious juxtaposition by Luke of these two followers of God. One is aged and experienced; the other is just starting her journey. But as is so often the case, it is not the one who by reason of years should have the more seasoned, receptive faith—it is rather the youthful believer who is open the possibility of the impossible. And so it is with the boy Samuel, the youthful David stepping to face Goliath, or the three young Jewish men refusing to bow down to the statue of Nebuchadnezzar. This should speak to those of us who are not new to Christ and His ways; do we still possess the freshness of faith to believe in the possibility of the impossible or have we been worn down and hardened by disappointment over the years?

In the end though I have to believe that the real challenge for the body of Christ isn’t so much believing in the possibility of the impossible—it’s believing in the possibility of the improbable. It seems to me that in those rare times when we’re called upon to face the impossible, we’re able to rally ourselves to do so. It’s the everyday improbable that staggers us—that person is so cold and aloof, it’s unlikely they’d respond so why even bother trying to reach out to them? Or, the situation that probably isn’t going to get any better, what point is there in getting involved? You can think of your own scenarios but more often than not, it’s the improbable more than the impossible that haunts our lives.

People who see the invisible can face the improbable!

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