Having a baby can be a wonderful experience. It can be a long and arduous experience. It can be a terrify experience as well.
For instance, at the birth of both our children, Julie and I were overwhelmed with joy. However, when Violet was born Julie had to be induced and then had to push for three hours. And during those three hours, I had my arm behind her which I then used to help her contort herself to push. For like a day and a half after my arm really hurt. Like I said, arduous.
And then we experienced the terrifying when our son A.J. was born in the ambulance outside our home. (Thank goodness the paramedics and Rick Lloyd were there to ease my fears!)
But perhaps what is most wonderful, arduous, and terrifying is being given a promise by God that you would have a baby, then waiting decades all while growing older and older, then one day in that old age being told that it was finally about to happen. That is what Sara and Abraham experienced. And that experience led not only to the fulfillment of a promise and covenant, but it became an outward sign of God’s love and faithfulness.
And it was all the foundation for impossible faith.
It’s important to remember God made a covenant with Abraham—that Abraham would have more descendants that the stars. But now Abraham and Sara are old—he’s 100 and she’s 90. They have lived for decades with the knowledge they would have no legitimate male heir. They have lived for decades knowing what had been told to them was impossible. But now they are told the impossible was about to become a reality—and they were to have faith in this impossible.
As one might imagine, at first, Sarah is incredulous. When she overhears the messengers of God tell her husband she is going to have a baby, she laughs. And who could blame her? It’s an absurd notion. She herself says that her husband is old and that she is well past her childbearing years.
Even the writers of the New Testament concur, but are far less polite about it. The author of Hebrews writes that Abraham was so old that he was “as good as dead.” In his letter to the Romans, Paul says the same thing about Abraham, then adds that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Harsh. Yet despite their lack of decorum, Hebrews 11 and Romans 4 have a point. A couple in their 90’s does not have the physical ability to conceive a child without the assistance of major advanced medical science. But this isn’t a story about what is possible through science. Nor is it a story about aging well. Romans, Hebrews, Sarah and Abraham themselves remind us that this is a story about faith, impossible faith.
It is fun to think of Sarah’s laugh that day. I kind of think her laughter was actually her absolutely losing it. Her embarrassment and denial when she’s told her visitors overheard her seems to indicate this was an involuntary reaction to obviously absurd news.
During the pregnancy, however, she and Abraham must have grown to accept and even embrace the laughter. For forty weeks, Sarah had reason to laugh everywhere she went. Telling her friends she was having her first child at age 90 must have been a source of joy and laughter. The baby shower must have been a hoot. When she started to show and saw people on the street, their puzzled looks and double-takes must have been fun to see—all because she and Abraham were now an outward sign of God’s love and faithfulness. And that is what impossible faith reveals—an outward sign of God’s love and faithfulness.
And really, laughing with joy and wonder seems like an appropriate response.
When the child was born, Abraham and Sara named the baby Isaac, the Hebrew word for laughter. Their impossible faith in God’s promise had brought joy and laughter to their lives.
Isaac, the child named “Laughter,” was not just a little bundle of joy for his unlikely parents. He was also the fulfillment of God’s promise to the whole world.
Abraham and Sarah’s impossible faith for the love and promises of God enabled them to experience the impossible. They, and now along with Isaac, were an outward sign of God’s love and faithfulness.
We are called to have this impossible faith which will give us the ability to experience the impossible, find joy and laughter, and then be an outward sign of God’s love and faithfulness. And the opportunities for such are around us every day.
The story of the birth of Isaac is not just the miraculous origin-story of the people of Israel. Beyond etymology, this is a story about the love and faithfulness of God and the lengths to which God is willing to go to bless us. It is a story about how we can choose to respond to God’s love and faithfulness.
As human beings we get to choose how we view the world around us. We can opt to view our circumstances through the lens of what we can see, or with impossible faith like Abraham and Sarah—who when they did, they saw something better.
Against all hope, against all reason, against what they could see, Abraham and Sarah believed God had something good in store for them. They believed in the impossible future God was promising.
It is pretty easy at times to trust only in what we can see. Many of us have come to the end of our resources, the end of our ability to understand what is happening in our lives—and can only see a dim future.
Some have received a diagnosis they have no idea what to do with. Others have been called into their supervisor’s office and told they no longer have a job. Others have had someone whom they care deeply about hurt or disappoint them. Some have been exactly where Abraham and Sarah were, desperately wanting to be parents but hear that having a child is not likely—at least not without the help of advanced medical science and great expense.
We have all fallen into those times when all we can see in front of us is struggle, hardship, disappointment and denial. The dimness seems thick and we’re convinced the light we see is not “the end of the tunnel”, but rather the train that will soon run us over.
This can also happen to our communities. In a world where bad news travels fast, we can become convinced that our neighborhood, nation, world or church is doomed. We look at the situation and the only solutions we see are bad ones.
Impossible faith, however, offers us a view we wouldn’t typically be able to discern—the impossible becoming a reality.
But how? How did Abraham and Sara do it? How did they cultivate such an impossible faith? Our text reminds us how. It reminds us how when one of the three servants of God asked, “Is there anything too wonderful for the Lord?”
This statement reminds us that God works for all things good—all things wonderful. This statement reminds us that when choosing how we will look at situations and circumstances that we can look at only what can be seen, or we can look with faith, knowing that God already sees the wonderful.
Yes it might take a long time, a lot of patience, and maybe even some pain—but God’s ability to create wonderful goodness, no matter what, is the promise and covenant God has made to us all.
Abraham and Sarah laughed at the idea that God might bless them in their advanced age with the gift of a child. Their impossible faith, however, allowed them to believe something better. They believed God’s promise, and they could see the blessing that was to come for them and the whole world.
This is the faith we can aspire too as well.
Through the eyes of impossible faith— influenced by God’s word and God’s ways and God’s promises—we can see God and God’s blessing even when they seem impossible or absurd, making it that we can believe God has not left us to figure out on our own things in this world.
Through the eyes of impossible faith—sometimes against all hope— we can see God at work, working to make for us an experience of the impossible becoming a reality. And when we do so, and live so, we become, to a world in desperate need of such, an outward sign of God’s love and faithfulness. We show others that God has not given up, and neither should we.
So may we aspire to be like Abraham and Sara and Isaac. May we wait with patient faith, knowing God is at work. May we laugh in the face of the impossible, holding to the belief that nothing is too impossible or too wonderful for our God. And may we be an outward sign of God’s love and faithfulness by living out impossible faith. Amen.