Faith in real time is tough
Looking back it all seems so inevitable – but it didn’t feel like that at the time. The story of the building and commissioning of the Ministry Centre is quite a read. All human life is there – drama and dangers, setbacks and breakthroughs, dreams and completions. There were a few times when the whole project appeared to falter, sometimes for months at a time. But in all this we found God faithful. It wasn’t easy at the time but there was a sense that he was at work through all this. Whatever would happen, he would see us through to completion. And he did. I'm in this situation again, something in my own life apart from Christ Church and from ministry. I can't tell the story yet simply because it hasn’t finished and it will only make sense once it has finished. But God spoke to me, confirming this guidance through other people and through unexpected events, and once again I so am stepping out in faith. Once completed it could make a wonderful story honouring God in his faithfulness. But there again, I may be wrong and heading down the garden path. As I write this, I simply do not know for sure. This should be a familiar situation to every Christian as God calls us to step out in faith. Always an element of risk – but it is how we grow as Christians through the testing of our faith. Our instinct is to ask God for a sign, often forgetting that we may well be responding to a previous sign. To quote George Caird is his commentary on Luke, we long for “a certainty that leaves no room for doubt and, incidentally, no room for faith.” That observation helped me see the whole Nativity narrative in a new light – how the birth of Jesus happened at the time, what it felt like to be there not knowing how the story would end. It is so much easier for us. Living on this side of the resurrection we know that the angel of the Lord got it right – but it wasn’t obvious at the time. Certainly not to the startled Zechariah. “How can I be sure of this?” Not the kind of question you would normally ask of an angel of the Lord standing at the right side of the altar of incense. But I know where Zechariah is coming from. “If I step out in faith, I want to be sure. There’s no fool like an old fool!” And of course, his request is answered. He is given a sign; in fact he becomes a sign. So he emerges from the evening sacrifice dumb and probably deaf (the Greek word can mean both). He makes signs to the puzzled people, Luke adds possibly with irony. In fact, only the shepherds are given a sign from God: his messengers tell them “You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” But Mary and then Joseph simply take the message of the angel at face value. At some considerable personal risk, they decide to believe. Remarkably Mary praises God in song for his faithfulness at the beginning rather than at the end of the story. A remarkable faith! Looking back it all seemed so inevitable – but it didn’t feel like that to Mary and Joseph at the time. And Joseph himself never knew his vindication - he died before Jesus began his ministry. But this is how it is, folks, if we are to follow Christ. Hence John Wimber’s famous quote on how faith is spelt. But this is how we grow as Christians as our faith in God’s promises is forged. This means that we decide to place our confidence in what God can do through us, rather than in what we can do for God. For as the angel Gabriel encouraged Mary: “Nothing, you see, is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37). This has to be the message of Christmas – the God who does what it takes, even making the impossible happen. Such is his love for us. So we look forward to our Christmas services, as shown in the attached notices for the next two weeks.