[Here we reflect on, biblically, Genesis 17:15-21; 18:1-15 and Luke 1:26-38; and historically, missionary Amy Carmichael.]
God appears to Abraham on behalf of his wife, “…you shall not call her name Sarai,” God tells him, “but Sarah ["Princess"] shall be her name. I will bless her … and I will give you a son by her.”
At hearing it, Abraham fell on his face and laughed. “Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” Impossible in Abraham’s eyes, he says to God, “Oh that [my son] Ishmael might live before You!”
But God said, “No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac ["he laughs"]. And I will establish My covenant with him.”
“…Yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised,
He was able also to perform…” (Romans 4:20-21.)
Later, the LORD appears to Abraham, near those great trees of Mamre. Sitting at the entrance to his tent, Abraham looks up and sees three men approaching him. He welcomes them as his guests, and has a meal prepared for them. Dining together, one of the guests asks about Sarah, “Where is your wife?”
“In the tent,” Abraham answered.
Another of the guests speaks up and says, “I will… return to you [again] at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son.”
Sarah hears it and laughs within herself, seeing only through human eyes the impossibility of such a happening. “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my [husband] being old also?”
But it's impossible to hide anything from the LORD; He asks, “Why did Sarah laugh? Is anything too difficult for the LORD?”
“… For this is the word of promise: ‘AT THIS TIME NEXT YEAR I WILL COME, AND SARAH SHALL HAVE A SON’…” (Romans 9:9.)
Forwarding through time, to the New Testament era, we see the angel Gabriel talking with a young, teenage girl, never touched sexually by a man. Her name is Mary, of the small village of Nazareth in Galilee.
“Greetings, Mary,” Gabriel said, “Most favored one. The LORD is with you.”
Mary is perplexed at his greeting. Gabriel assures her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, …you will bear a Son. And you shall call Him Jesus, for ‘He will save His people from their sins.’” (Luke 1:30-33; Matthew 1:21.)
Still, Mary asks, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”
Again, the angel assures her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you … and the holy child [you bring forth] shall be called the Son of God … for nothing will be impossible with God.” (See Luke 1:35-37; cf. Jeremiah 32:17, 27.)
Mary believed the angel and submitted herself to God’s will, trusting despite the impossibility. (See Luke 1:38.)
When Mary’s baby boy is born, shepherds visit Him. Having seen Him, “they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” (Luke 2:17, NIV.), who will grow up to become the good shepherd, only to lay down His life for the sheep.
This all takes place just as the LORD had spoken through the prophet centuries earlier: “’BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIM IMMANUEL,’ which translated means, ‘GOD WITH US.’ (Matthew 1:23; cf. Isaiah 7:14.)
And now we come to the Year of our Lord 1867. It is December 16, and we witness the birth of a baby girl, Amy Beatrice (a.k.a.Wilson) Carmichael, in the little village of Millisle, Northern Ireland. She is the first of seven children born to David and Catherine Carmichael, and to good fortune, the family being well-to-do via the prosperous Carmichael Flour Mills.
However, when she is 18 years of age, her father dies, leaving the family in severe financial straits. Soon after, she moves to Belfast. Adopted and tutored by Robert Wilson, cofounder of the Keswick Convention, she is introduced to city mission work and the “deeper life theology.”
At the 1887 Keswick Convention (when she's 19), she hears Hudson Taylor speak about missionary life. She yields to the words, “Go ye,” as her missionary call. However, missionary work is "impossible" for her. Neuralgia, a disease of the nerves that makes her body weak and achy, often puts her in bed for weeks at a time.
Nevertheless, at 25 years of age she is in Japan. After 15 months in Japan, the Japanese language seems another impossibility for her. She sails for Ceylon (later called Sri Lanka), with first a stopover in Shanghai, China. As she writes, “I left Japan [simply] for rest and change.” Continuing, “It is while in Shanghai I believed the Lord told me to follow Him down to Ceylon, and so I came.”
After a short time in Ceylon she returns home to the British Isles, only to find herself back in Asia less than a year later – this time in Southern India. There she remains for more than 55 years, never taking a furlough, laboring in the work God had planned for her from time immemorial and was making possible as she obeyed. (See Ephesians 2:10.)
Read about Amy Carmichael’s years in India at A Worthy Occupation.