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Messy Faith

December 9, 2012

This is a time for carols and Christmas celebrations. It must be: Last night the town lights were switched on in Harleston. Shops have had decorations for weeks, even months, and carols or Seasonal Songs are being played to lift our spirits as we spend. No one holds off celebrating Christmas until the start of the 12 days.

When I think of the taking over of the Church’s order for Christmas, I can get grumpy. I can feel like Scrouge. But then I remember that the date of Christmas had nothing much to do with the Christian faith. It was chosen to coincide with a pagan winter festival. There is nothing too sacred about the timing of our celebration. It is the meaning, the message that is sacred.

So what is the message? Well it starts with a baby, which makes me think of my daughter as a baby. It makes me think of Messy Church. It reminds me that Christmas is about Messy Christianity. A faith in a God that refuses to be put in a box. A God who refuses our offers to organise him. We could make the message so much simpler, if only God would let us!

Our Messy Christianity is like the Messy Church I went to yesterday. There were lots of children busy making a mess, but also making things to get ready for Christmas. Christmas crafts, like making cards, and decorations, and cakes.

If you stepped back it might look chaotic but all was under control, as you looked closer there were lots of children with smiles on their faces. There were lots of beautiful things being made. Individual things, unique to each child. The things made may last but most will be special for one Christmas only, like the hand coloured and hand decorated Christmas cards. I can tell you that there were indeed lots of hands decorated with coloured pens and glue!

Once I realised that Christmas is about Messy Christianity, I could let the Spirit get on with his work, because things don’t have to be the same for ever. Things are going to change, or at least they are likely to be shaken up and come out differently.

I believe that Christianity is a Messy Faith but we want an ordered and tidy faith, me included. So often I want to know what will happen, but I’m nearly always disappointed because that isn’t how God seems to work.

God has given us a Messy Faith. Just think of the Christmas Story. Mary got pregnant before she was married and her life got messy very quickly. Joseph nearly left her, and she had to travel all the way to Bethlehem from Nazareth while heavily pregnant. Mary was chosen by God, but that didn’t result in her marrying someone rich and living in a palace. Mary was chosen by God, and that meant she gave birth to her first child in the mess and smell of a stable.

That is how the story started of Jesus’ earthly life, so why should it be any neater for you and me? In fact I have found that it all goes wrong when I try to insist on an ordered life and an ordered faith. I insist on my order but the Spirit blows where he wills anyway. I can work for order, and have the Spirit blow it all away. Or I can let myself go with the wind: To be led by the Spirit.

Then something special can begin to happen.

The Christian life is a messy life: I have worked in industry; then lived in college (the vicar factory and hated it); then into different parishes; then out of full-time ministry; then with a career flourishing back into full-time ministry once again; and here I am. I feel settled, I hope to stay here for a good while. It would be nice to be allowed to settle somewhere for a good few years. I hope that will happen. But it is not for me to decide.

A week or so ago I thought that I was getting prepared for the run up to Christmas. Then Richard, the head teacher at Archbishop Sancroft High School had a heart attack. So all of that went out of the window. Priorities had to change and I spent much of last week in the school, talking and listening and supporting.

Ministry, like faith, is a messy thing.

I was once told, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans,” and it’s true. Viv and I told God of our plans for a baby, and our lovely daughter was born. But that meant that my wife Viv was in labour for over 24 hours; and Elinor was a lovely baby but she never slept through the night until she was over 3 years old.

You may have wanted a neat, tidy sermon, but that didn’t seem right, not this time.

Our messy faith, is very like those early Irish missionaries, who set off into the Irish sea in tiny boats, with no means to steer or row. They set off, letting God’s wind blow them where ever it would and they ended up evangelising so much of the west coast of Scotland, England and Wales.

So in this run up to Christmas, I pray that I will take seriously the way in which God worked with Mary and Joseph. I pray for the courage to accept a messy faith. I pray for the faith to slip the rope of my certainties, and allow myself to be blown where the spirit leads. If you dare, I want to pray the same for you too. Do you dare, do you dare to let the Spirit blow you where he wills?

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5 Comments
  1. She was 5 before it was reliable. Jus’ sayin’….

  2. Dianna permalink

    Nigel and family we welcome you and your messy faith. Welcome to the” messy” church of Harleston. We are so glad the Holy Spirit blew you this way. The Saviour of the world rejoices in you.

    • Hi Dianna,

      Thank you for your kind words. I do indeed feel that this is where I should be. The Spirit is blowing, and I pray that we can all go with the Spirit rather than fight against the inevitable!

      God bless,

      Nigel.

  3. You get the picture. Mary’s life remained messy… and she maintained her obedience and faith… to the Cross and beyond. I’m certain that the messy life of her Son was nothing like she’d expected following the angel’s visit.

    • I don’t think that we ever really know what will come next or what the consequences of our choices will be. All that we can do is make choices and try and make them the right ones. At least it keeps life interesting!

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