Few statements carry as much emotion as the one that titles this piece, especially for those who have almost given up after years of disappointment and false hopes. So we can imagine the response of one couple, the biblical Abraham and Sarah, who against all odds not only become pregnant, but models of faith in the process.
It’s both a cliché and an understatement to say that God is a God of surprises, but it’s true. Theologian and novelist Frederick Buechner goes further and says that while we easily see tragedy of the stories of scripture, we must also see their comedy, when, as he says, “What shouldn’t happen, what couldn’t possibly happen . . . happens!”— like the resurrection, like the ne’er-do-well son welcomed home again, like the birth of Abraham and Sarah’s son Isaac, whose name means “Son of Laughter.” Advent should leave our faces streaked with tears of laughter at ourselves for thinking we had figured God out!
But Abraham and Sarah are Advent pillars not only because grace broke into their lives, but also because they trusted the God who made the promise. Saint Paul considers Abraham to be our father in faith not because of any qualifying deeds, but because he trusted that the promises of God would be fulfilled. We find God in surprising moments of grace, and we also find God in the experiences that call for patient waiting and trust.
Waiting is not the strong suit of many of us in our hurry-up culture. Everything is urgent. Hope is foreign to people who expect quick relief, cures, and solutions. We struggle to guard Advent jealously because popular culture short-circuits this season of hope: We are tempted to go directly to celebrating Christmas without getting in touch with the part of ourselves that is longing, hoping, and trusting.
Waiting is also difficult because we’re forced to admit that we are not in control—God is. A friend who recently became pregnant experienced an awed helplessness as the natural process advanced within her body. Her husband also could only wait with her, loving and supporting her and their unborn child, but unable to accelerate the process.
For all their drama, the words “Honey, we’re pregnant,” uttered by a tear-streaked, wrinkle-faced 90-year-old Sarah to wobbly, unbelieving Abraham, or by an amazed, teenaged Mary to an equally confounded Joseph, indicate not the joy of birth—not quite yet—but the amazing surprise of love, and the beginning of a season of waiting, when God-is-with-us.
Abraham was a clan leader who was born in Ur, a city in what is now central Iraq. His father, Terah, later moved the family to the city of Haran. There Abraham received a divine commission to take his family and possessions and move to a new land that God would point out to him.
Abraham and his wife Sarah obeyed God and traveled to what would become the land of Israel. Once there, God promised Abraham and Sarah that they would have a son in their old age. Then when the son was 12 years old, God challenged Abraham to return his son to God. Abraham responded to all of these challenges with faith. Because of that he is revered not only by his descendants, the Jewish people, but also by Christians, who consider him their father in faith, and by Muslims, who revere him as a prophet.