Faith

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Miroslav Volf in Free of Charge (subtitled “Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace” expands on the theme of God the Giver who continues to give in a world inclining towards “gracelessness”. He speaks of faith:

Faith is not something we give to God. In that case, faith would be a work, and a silly kind of work because it would be work we do even though it deosn’t benefit anyone. But exactly the opposite is true. To have faith in God is to be “without works” before God (Romans 4:5). Faith is the way we as receivers relate appropriately to God as the giver. It is empty hands held open for God to fill…. In contrast good works offered to God dishonour God; they tell a lie about God and our relation to the divine Giver, and they take away God’s due.

I remember David Lunn, on hearing of his appointment to be Bishop of Sheffield speaking of his surprise because he felt “he didn’t believe enough”. Who hasn’t thought that?
The faith that expresses itself with hands outstretched trustung God’s gifts is something of the heart. When I say something like “I’m not sure what I believe” part of that is to do with my head and perhaps is saying “there are loads of things I don’t understand”.
Being empty handed before God suddenly makes that not matter. There is nothing we can do to make God love us more, and there is nothing more we can say which will make him love us less. All we can give to God is delight or pain.
Rowan Williams likened the giving of God to the Niagara Falls. Love cascades to us – that’t the empty hands bit – but it’s only living water if we release the gifts to others. If we don’t the water stagnates and becomes poisonous.

>Children

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A frosty morning for a run – all the better for seeing more clearly!

Carol services always raise the contentious issue of the place of children. If the service is too child-centred the adults complain about it not being enough for them (as if services are for our own pleasure). If the services are too formal, parents worry that it’s been boring for their children. All very ironic as the Christmas story is totally child-centred (baby centred), and when that child grew up he used a child to show his disciples what faithfulness looks like.

One way round is to take turns. One year, the Carol Service is for children – the next it’s for adults. While it may teach some people a lesson it doesn’t do much for healing divisions.

The inescapable fact is that Christmas celebrates God’s gift, in the form of a baby and those who enter the spirit of Christmas accept that gift with joy. Children love the story and love playing their part in it – as you can see from these photos of our recent Nativity. Their response, joy and enthusiasm is an inspiration for us all. Not only should we welcome the Christ child as God’s gift, we should also welcome children as God’s gift – to be treasured, and as we say as a church in the baptism service – “we receive them with joy”.