This post comes to us from Alex Sosler, Assistant Professor of Bible and Ministry at Montreat College:

I wonder if 2021 seems impossible to you. I know a new year can be a kick in the pants to your dreams and goals … at least for a few weeks. Perhaps you have a sin issue that needs some resolving or a relationship that needs reconciling or a marriage that needs healing, and a new year comes, and you think, “I got this!” Or maybe you have more tangible needs: a job that brings in a paycheck or a paycheck that buys groceries or a break from your kids. Do you think you’ll be as hopeful in February if things remain the same? After a dark year with plenty of suffering, you may look out on the year ahead and see a bleak future. Is there any light shining in this dungeon of darkness? It seems overwhelmingly impossible.

About a thousand years before Christ arrived, a shepherd boy is in a field tending his flock. An important prophet comes to his father and asks to see all his sons. The father lines up the best and the brightest  — the most stereotypical kingly figures — the jocks, the impressive, and the attractive. He leaves his small shepherd boy out. He was probably a loser. It would be impossible to pick the runt of the family. The prophet gives a quick run-down of the would-be kings from this family, and he denies them all. “Is this all you have?” he asks. He has another son — I imagine, a straggly, dirty, shepherd boy. “Ah. That’s the one,” the prophet replies. It’s this shepherd boy, the one who tends the sheep, who God declares to be the king and makes eternal promises to. His name is David.

Later on, we read of this shepherd boy turned king. One night, he’s perusing the city he rules from a rooftop. He looks down and sees a young, hawt woman bathing. Her name is Bathsheba. She’s married to a warrior who is off fighting a battle where the king should be. He looks out and likes what he sees. Like Eve in the garden, he is tempted by what is not his and wants it because he wants it. In this power relationship, David takes advantage of his inferior. He invites her up, she becomes pregnant, he kills her husband in a scheme of battle, and no one has to find out. But God knows. The new Adam becomes like the old Adam: taking what God prohibits and is met with similar consequences — death and destruction. The hope of the people of God fails again.

From this lineage of adulterous abuse comes a virgin girl named Mary. She’s betrothed to a fellow named Joseph. She winds up pregnant. I know sometimes we project foolishness back on those who came before us, but when a first-century Jew hears this, as one pastor noted, they’re not thinking, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” They’re probably thinking, “This girl is a whore. Joseph, her betrothed, certainly is not too excited about this prospect: your future wife is pregnant and you know you haven’t consummated the marriage. That leaves one option for both the community and Joseph. And this scandalous child would be called Jesus — God saves; Immanuel — God with us.

A shepherd boy king. An abused widow. A pregnant virgin. The son of God. Impossible.

Which takes us to you and me. What possibility do we have? You and I have this problem which I’ll call disordered desire. We’re not so dissimilar to David: we want what we want, and no one can tell us differently — not even God, if there is such a being. We want good things in the wrong ways and we want bad things. I want to succeed in my job more than I want a good marriage. I want to have fun with my friends more than I want to care for my children. I want to be desired. I want to be liked, and I’ll do most anything to make it happen — even if it harms me.  The biblical word is sin, but call it what you want. We all have it. To desire is human. The problem is that our desires are disordered.

So what hope do we have? What hope do I have? I want the things that I know will kill me, and it’s hard for me to do the basic things that bring me life. I am wretched. And you may think I’m wretched, but man, if only you knew the depths of my sinfulness. And if I’m a betting man, I bet you find yourself in a similar predicament to me. We are screwed. Who could love us? It’s impossible.

Can the impossible promise to David be true — that God would favor and be faithful to an abuser like David? Is a virgin birth possible? Would God come as a vulnerable baby — a suckling, crying child — to redeem the world who will kill him? Would the judge be the justifier? Can we be known — truly known — and loved?

What we need is something seemingly impossible. And the good news for us is that God is used to the impossible.

One of my favorite poets is W. H. Auden. I love him so much that I named by son after him. He wrote a long oratorio called For the Time Being about the Christmas story. One section includes the following lines:

Alone, alone, about a dreadful wood
Of conscious evil runs a lost mankind,
Dreading to find its Father lest it find
The Goodness it has dreaded is not good:
Alone, alone, about our dreadful wood.

Where is that Law for which we broke our own,
Where now that Justice for which Flesh resigned
Her hereditary right to passion, Mind
His will to absolute power? Gone. Gone.
Where is that Law for which we broke our own?

The Pilgrim Way has led to the Abyss.
Was it to meet such grinning evidence
We left our richly odoured ignorance?
Was the triumphant answer to be this?
The Pilgrim Way has led to the Abyss.

We who must die demand a miracle.
How could the Eternal do a temporal act,
The Infinite become a finite fact?
Nothing can save us that is possible:
We who must die demand a miracle.

Alone. Broken. In the abyss. That’s where we are.

But if the abused and the abuser are part of Jesus’ past, then surely we, the abused and the abuser, can be part of Jesus’ future. If lowly Gentiles are part of Jesus’ family tree, then surely we desperate sinners have hope. If God has done the impossible in the past, he can do the impossible now.

At the heart of this faith of ours is that the way to life is death and the way up is the way down. If 2021 seems impossible to you, then that’s good news. After all,

Nothing can save us that is possible:
We who must die demand a miracle.