The Washington Nationals started the 2019 season with the third worst record in Major League Baseball. After their first 50 games, they were 19-31. It looked like the beginning of another forgettable, disappointing year for a team which had never won a championship. But maybe the Nationals just wanted to make things interesting! Over the rest of the season, they had the best record in the National League (74-48).
The Nationals secured a spot in the National League Wild Card game, in which they edged past the Brewers with a dramatic 9th inning comeback. In the Division Series, they bested a powerful Dodgers team with a 9th inning grand slam in game 5. They flattened my St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Championship Series, and then came the World Series. The underdog Nationals surprised the baseball world by winning the first two games on the road in Houston. After the Astros won the three middle games of the series on the Nationals’ home turf, the Nationals were on the brink of elimination with two games to play in Houston. In a close game 7, a Howie Kendrick home run off the foul pole gave the Nationals the lead and proved to be the World Series winning swing. The Nationals became the first team to ever win the World Series by winning four games on the road!
The Nationals spent two-thirds of the 2019 season climbing in the standings. When the playoffs began, they picked up right where the regular season left off. To go from third worst team in the majors to World Series champions for the first time might have sounded impossible months ago, but a great team proved it could be done!
Shifting gears to another sport, the St. Louis Blues hockey team began 2019 dead last in the National Hockey League. Their season was off to a terrible start. Their head coach had been fired, but the losing continued. On January 5, they called up a rookie goaltender, Jordan Binnington. Binnington and the Blues were about to turn their season around. At one point the Blues won 11 consecutive games. Their goalie was as good as it gets, and their offense came alive and got healthy at the right time. By the end of March, the Blues had clinched a playoff spot.
The Blues are pros at getting to the playoffs. This was their 42nd playoff appearance! But, not one of their previous playoff berths had resulted in a Stanley Cup championship. The Blues had played – and lost – in only one Stanley Cup Final. That was way back in the 1970 season against the Boston Bruins.
After an impressive playoff run, the Blues were back in a Stanley Cup Final – once again against the Boston Bruins. The Bruins were heavily favored to win the final. The Blues, however, proved competitive. The series went a full 7 games. The decisive game 7 was played in Boston. The Blues quieted the Boston fans by jumping out to an early lead, and they never looked back. A couple hours later, the St. Louis Blues were Stanley Cup champions for the first time in their 52-year history! Perhaps even more impressive than the Washington Nationals’ run, the Blues went from worst to first from Jan. 3 to June 12.
Ever since the Blues’ Stanley Cup victory, I’ve been mulling over their improbable season. Going from worst to first seemed impossible as this year began, but the Blues proved it could be done!
Other sports victories through the years have even been described as “miracles”, especially the 1980 Miracle on Ice victory of the US men’s hockey team over the USSR.
So what does all this have to do with Christmas? In Luke chapter 1, we hear some impossible sounding promises: senior citizens, Zechariah and Elizabeth, will give birth to a son who will become a great prophet, and young virgin, Mary, will give birth to the Son of God!
As Mary tries to take all this in, the angel Gabriel explains to her, “Behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:36-37)
Improbable sports championships are one thing. Impossible births are another.
Yet something is only “impossible” until it’s been done for the first time. And the miraculous is never impossible for our Almighty God. When He promises He’ll do something – no matter how impossible it may sound to us – He’ll keep that promise, just as He kept His many Old Testament promises by sending John the Baptist and, ultimately, Jesus.
After the virgin-born Child grew up, Jesus had a conversation with His disciples in which they asked Him, “Who then can be saved?” (Jesus had just been telling them about how difficult it can be for wealthy people to enter God’s kingdom.) Echoing His angel’s words from a few decades prior, Jesus responded, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:25-26)
Left up to us, eternal salvation would remain impossible. Period. But praise God, salvation is in Jesus’ hands! Nothing is impossible with Him.
Forgiving your every sin? This isn’t impossible for God. He’s already done this for you at Jesus’ cross! (Colossians 2:14)
Overcoming an addiction or other persistent temptation? Jesus promises to provide the strength and help to get out from under these burdens (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Mending a badly broken relationship? The God who can bring heaven and earth back together can bring two people back together, and more importantly, reconcile us to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:18).
Far better than going from worst to first in a sports season, our God is in the business of achieving the impossible for us. He did it at Bethlehem. He did it at the cross and at the empty tomb. He can take the worst sinners and transform them into His victorious and forgiven people (1 Timothy 1:15). And He continues to do more than we could imagine!
“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)