Dan Peterson is 82 years old. He lives in Augusta. Earlier this year his wife died and Dan fell into a deep depression. He spent six months just sitting in a dark house staring out at the squirrels. He had no purpose. He wanted to die. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/a-more-perfect-union-widower-unexpected-friendship-with-little-girl-transforms-his-life/
One day he went to a Publix grocery store. Like many men, Dan hates grocery shopping. You can see it written all over his face. It’s an expression that says, “I hate being here; get out of my way.” (Ibid)
However, on this day something improbable happened.
A four-year-old girl named Norah Wood was being pushed in a shopping cart by her mother and as they passed one another she reached out to Dan and said, ‘Hi, old person, it’s my birthday today.’” (Ibid)
Then Norah demanded that this old person give her a hug. (Ibid)
“A hug?” Dan said, “Absolutely.” (Ibid)
Norah’s mother, Tara was very embarrassed by all of this, but Norah got her hug and then asked her mom to take a picture of her with her new friend. (Ibid)
Tara recalls that Norah zeroed in on this man like a missile. She didn’t want anything from him,” she said. “She just wanted to make him feel loved and to give him a hug.” As she took a picture, Tara noticed that Dan’s little lip quivered and he teared up. (Ibid)
And then he said, “You don’t know. This is the first time, for quite a while, that I’ve been this happy.” (Ibid) That was the beginning of a relationship.
Today Norah visits Dan least once a week. And every time, it’s like the grocery store all over again. (Ibid) The two have a connection. It’s like milk and cookies or marshmallows and hot chocolate. It’s like they were made for each other.
Dan does have grandkids of his own, but they’re grown and have moved away. And Norah does have grandparents, but her mom said this is a completely different kind of bond that almost defies explanation. (Ibid)
She sometimes falls asleep holding a picture of the two of them which bewilders her mother. (Ibid)
This friendship also bewilders Dan, but he sees it as more than just an improbable relationship. He believes Norah is, quite literally, an angel. (Ibid)
What is an angel after all but a messenger from God?
Dan said “she opened him up to a love that he didn’t know existed.” (Ibid)
I think that’s what the angel did that visited Mary and announced to her that she was with child, the Savior of the World. It opened up her life to a love she didn’t know existed. That’s what the birth of Jesus did for all of us.
God reached out to us through a child to get our attention.
You could argue that Mary didn’t have much choice in the matter, that God invaded her space, as the impossible happened to her.
Even so, she had to decide how she was going to respond to the angel’s announcement that she was going to have a child through the Holy Spirit.
God in his wisdom and omniscience must have chosen Mary knowing she was going to be open to the impossible with a compliant and thankful spirit.
Once Jesus was born and the reality of the impossible had taken hold, Luke’s gospel says in chapter two that Mary pondered these things in her heart.
This seems to be a hint that she was trying to take in all of the impossible events that had occurred and surrounded the birth of her child.
This may have also meant that she had to think about how she was going to respond to them.
God shows up all the time but we still have to decide how we are going to respond.
In fact, when it comes to our making room for God to do the impossible in our lives, wouldn’t you say that most of us have doubts that God is still in this business?
Does God have impossible tasks for us? Does he want to use us for special tasks?
Some have come to doubt that God comes to us in mysterious, indescribable ways. Some have even come to doubt this Christian narrative itself. Many do not embrace the virgin birth but see it as a myth.
But if we entertain the notion that there is a God, we have already entertained the notion of the impossible. God IS the impossible.
If we entertain the notion that this God is the Creator God, then we have entertained thoughts of the impossible already. For whatever method you believe that God created the world, eventually you have to get to a point where God created the world, “ex nihilo,” or out of nothing.
What can be more impossible than that?
A lot of people have written God out of their lives because they want God to break into their world with a distinct and life-changing miracle or sign before they will believe.
Some people want an intervening proof that God exists before they will make room for him in their lives. The existence of creation, breath in their lungs, the provisions for the day are not enough for some people to believe.
However, if God sent additional signs, would that really change people’s minds? For some it might, but it did not change the mind of Pharaoh when God sent the plagues on Egypt. It did not change the mind of the Pharisees when they saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead. Today more than ever, people still find ways to dismiss the working of the hand of God.
If you are going to make room for the impossible you need not wait for God to do something impossible; you merely have to change your perspective on how God works in the world.
For example, do you see this story of four-year-old Norah and 82-year-old Dan as an improbable story, or do you see God’s hand in bringing them together? A four-year-old girl saved this man’s life.
In an episode of the Andy Griffith Show, a wealthy businessman named Malcolm from Charlotte, N.C. came through Mayberry on a Sunday morning. His car broke down outside of town so he walked the rest of way into Mayberry and he arrived just as Sunday morning worship was letting out.
Malcolm was happy to see and meet Sheriff Taylor who offered to help him, but he told Malcolm that because it was Sunday he doubted anything could be done for him until Monday.
Malcolm knew he was in a hick town and was about to lose patience when he met Wally, the filling station owner. That was the good news. The bad news was that Wally refused to repair his car because it was his rule not to work on Sundays.
Nothing went right after that. He couldn’t use the phone because the elderly Mindlebright sisters were using the party line to visit.
Malcolm eventually became very angry with the people in Mayberry. He yelled at them in a rant that won him no friends.
Meanwhile, Andy and Barney were relaxing on Andy’s front porch singing “Church in the Wildwood” as Andy played his guitar.
That’s when Malcolm found his way out on the porch and it was there for the first time and just for a brief moment that He made room for a little of that Mayberry easy feeling.
But then, Gomer showed up and told Malcolm that his cousin Goober was going to fix the car. A little while later Gomer come back with his car. As Malcolm went to pay, he was surprised when Gomer said there was no charge. He told him it just a clogged fuel line and Goober said he actually considered it an honor to work on such a fine machine.
That’s when the improbable happened. The calmness, the serenity, and the relaxation on the porch began to seep into his soul.
Malcolm realized that his priorities were all upside down. He realized the hurried, hectic, unexamined life had made him into a prudish man. He decided he needed some of what Mayberry had to offer. He decided to put his business on hold and he stayed for the night.
As we move through Advent, some of you are going to miss the most important part of the Advent season if you do not slow down and make room for Jesus.
We do this when we pause to ponder the meaning of God’s improbable and impossible gifts to us. We do this when we slow down long enough to listen to God, when we park for a while and allow rest to talk place for our souls and we allow God to speak to our hearts. God calls this a Sabbath. Luke called it “pondering of the heart.” Whatever you call it, it’s necessary to give us hope.
Hope is what we need to care for other people. We need hope as we reach out to the old person and to the depressed. We must have hope to give a gift to the stranger or interrupt our schedules to help someone in need.
Hope teaches us that the best gifts are not wrapped in a box and placed under a tree, but like the gift that Jesus gave is embodied in our lives and spirits. Hope seen through the eyes of a child and at times led by a child teach us that birthdays are meant to be shared and celebrated with others.
Look around you this morning, I encourage you to take time to notice the person around you, to know their names, to see them as people and not just a face that has shown up for worship that you do not know. For if we show up for worship but do not have community, we have missed much of what if means to be the church.
As you leave, remember that wherever you go, you represent the body of Christ. God can and wants to use you to make the improbable and perhaps even the impossible happen in the lives of others. Are you open to God using you in this way?
If so, move through this Advent season with a simple prayer, “God use me today to bring hope to others in simply, yet profound ways so all of us will know that you are Emmanuel, the God who is with us. The God who gives us hope.” Amen