The Fourth Sunday of Advent - Reflection

'I am the Lord's servant,' Mary answered. 'May your word to me be fulfilled'.  Luke 1:38

What is the difference between faith and belief? That’s a question that we (the clergy) ask most people who come to us for baptisms. What is the difference between faith and belief? You can believe that an apple is an apple, that’s not the same as having faith in it. You can believe your partner loves you, but that’s not the same as having faith in their love for you. The significant thing about faith is, faith requires trust. You can’t have faith without trusting. Faith without trust, is just an arbitrary belief that something is, whereas having faith means trusting in something or someone. And it’s not always easy.  

I used to work with a lot of people who struggled with addiction, and people who were really struggling with life, and often working with them could be really difficult, not just because of the people who were in real need, but also because there were some characters who were just real ‘del boys’. They were actually really entertaining if you sat back and listened to them, but there was one in particular who, bless him, couldn’t help himself when it came to theft. He was a really nice humble bloke who could talk for hours about the beetles or his favourite food, but the second you turned your back he’d stuff his bag with whatever he could from the foodbank and do a runner. The next day he’d always come back and say “oh I’m so sorry, I know it’s a problem, you’ve got me, I need to do better, I’m sorry…” And every day I’d look back at him and say “the second I turn my back, you’re going to do it again aren’t you?” And he’d say “no, no, no, I’ve changed, I’ve seen the light, I’m not like that anymore,” and so I’d raise my eyebrows and turn around and wait to hear the desperate scramble and pattering of feet as he, once again, legged it. The cycle went on and it became such a regular feature of our week that we’d actually take out of his weekly food parcel, the things that we knew he was going to knick anyway.  

It’s like, after a while, with some people, when they keep making the same mistakes over and over, the faith can go, can’t it? The trust can break down. It’s one thing when there’s someone knicking a few cans of beans every week at a food bank, but what about when it’s your parent who said they’d be there for you and then they weren’t. What about when your partner promises you they’re going to stop but they don’t. What about when the trust breaks down? Sometimes it’s almost like they speak a different language and you just can’t quite communicate in the same way because you don’t know if what you’re saying will be heard and listened to. Our faith in people can be broken and lost. It’s hard to trust those people. It’s hard to care for those people and to go out of your way because the faith and trust is gone. So what does the bible tell us about having faith? 

Well in our readings today we have three of the greatest examples of people of faith. First of all we have King David, King David who at this stage has lost his best friend, has been chased and forced into exile, David had been through the ringer. But he never stopped trusting his God, he never lost his faith. David foresaw the temple of the Lord and also looks forward to Jesus, the perfect descendent of David who comes to fulfil God’s promises. Although things have been hard for David, it’s like there’s something special, something solid about his trust in God. You know, like I’ve said, when things go wrong with people time and time again, we lose trust in those people, and when things go wrong time and time again in life we can sometimes blame God but that’s not what King David did. In the famous Psalm 23, he says that God leads him through his darkest valley. It’s a bit like, to David, his faith has been strengthened by knowing God was near when things went wrong. For David, his trust had grown through the hard times, because he knew that God was with him throughout. God was his good shepherd, he was there for David, so David would be there for God too. David’s faith in God made it so that he couldn’t help but sing songs of joy to Him, and look forward with hope because he trusted his God with all his heart. David had faith in God because he had been with him when he was facing the bears in the field and the Giant on the Battleground.  

So why do we struggle so much to have faith, especially when things go wrong? Why do we so often trust in ourselves and not trust in God? And what should faith even do, anyway? How can we live out our faith like David? Well St Paul says this about faith, he says “the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ…” which he explains is a message given in the light of the prophecies in the Old Testament, and it is a message given, he says, “so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith”.  To St Paul, faith should grow into obedience. In other words, once you’ve lived with the God of David, once you know the God who is with you in the difficult times, once you trust in that God, you should be able to say ‘yes’ to him. Think of the veteran soldier, who’s comrade has been with him through thick and thin and then asks him for help, when you trust in God, you’ll say yes to him. He’s been with you through all of the pain. He’s been right beside you in the foxhole. So we can know with certainty that we can trust in him. Don’t blame the person stood beside you for the bombs that the enemy is dropping, instead, trust in the one who never left your side. And when he tells you to do something, you say yes because you love him, because you trust in him, because you have faith in him.  

The Bible is filled with true stories of times when people said yes to God but perhaps one of the most gracious, sincere and heartfelt ‘yes-es’ was given in our Gospel reading today. The angel Gabriel appeared to a little girl, a teenager with a normal life, engaged to be married, and the angel gave her a huge job. Imagine being 13 and told that everything that the prophets had said and the saviour of the world is going to come out of you and you’ve got to raise him. I love the song ‘Mary did you know’ but we know the answer to the question, the answer is ‘yes she did know’. She knew how big this job was. She’d have known what giving birth meantfor starters, and she’d have known the hope for the promised Messiah.  

You know in the superhero movies where they find out something special is happening with them and they have to reconcile their superpower with being responsible? Well imagine that sort of responsibility but without the power, and with a whole lot of pain, and all at the age of a teenager. It’s not fair at all but Mary, has faith. So when God asks, she says yes. The angel finishes saying what he’s going to say about the baby being the Son of the Most High and the successor to King David, and Mary says, in her exact words “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Her faith in the God who had been by her side, and the side of her people throughout history, made her say yes. Her faith made her obedient. Not a day or two to think about it, not a hum or a har, “I am the Lord’s servant.” That’s faith. That’s someone who trusts in their God.  

Tonight we celebrate Christmas and I’ll be talking about Immanuel, meaning literally ‘God with us’, so let’s get ready for that as we remember all that God has done for us, even dying for us on a cross, as we remember that he has been with us through the hard times and the good, and may our faith make us obedient like it did Mary and King David. I encourage you brothers and sisters to go out today and ask yourself ‘has my faith made me obedient?’ What is that one thing you can say ‘yes’ to, in light of all that God has done for you. And may you know that this Christmas season, God is with you. Amen (from Fr Jordan).