God on the move

Published 10th December 2020 by lucy moore

Luke 2:1-7 
The Messy Church Silver Team met this week to explore God’s word together, to support Lucy and to listen to what the Spirit is saying to Messy Church at the end of this strange year. Jane Leadbetter chose the Christmas story in Luke chapter 2 as our focus and her questions prompted the following reflections about ‘God on the move’, kindly written up by Martyn Payne:
1. While the earthly ruler of the world was busy finding out how great he was by counting his subjects and reckoning their tax potential, the true ruler of the universe was busy becoming as small and insignificant as possible!

2. We wondered why people needed to return to their place of birth for this census. Was this just for tidy records and neat accounting? While the earthly ruler of this world was organising his empire to be as neat and tidy as possible, the true ruler of the universe was preparing to get messy and untidy out of love for us.

3. What a lot of extra tradition and story we’ve wrapped around Luke’s simple unadorned factual narrative. Luke wasn’t tempted to exaggerate or elaborate the story but simply offers us the facts as he had researched them. How often we are tempted to exaggerate in order to ‘big up God’ in our situations or in the ministry we are doing!
4. We mustn’t lose sight of just how ordinary this extraordinary event was: they had to stay downstairs with the animals; they had to make do with what was available; they enjoyed no special treatment or privileges; they were just another couple getting by as best they could. This is a ruler we can identify with.
5. Some of the group tried to imagine how Mary’s diary of these days might have sounded. Maybe only in hindsight did she begin to understand how God was on the move. At the time it didn’t feel like a silent and holy night for her. In fact, it must have been an awful experience full of fear, pain, shame, vulnerability and aloneness. If that night, Mary had been told that ‘God was on the move’, she might well have thrown the manger out the window in frustration and disagreement! Similarly, it is maybe too soon to discern how God has been on the move this year but there have been some pointers even in the midst of all the sadness, disruption and pain.
6. God’s timing is clearly not our timing – ‘there is a season for everything under heaven’, as the preacher says, and of course ‘no one knows the time’ that God will act. St Paul’s comment on the birth story is in Galatians 4:4 and it is about time, namely ‘when the time was right, God sent his son born of a woman’. Remember though, there was a lot of waiting for that right time!
7. Sometimes tough things put the church back on track and maybe COVID-19 has done that. Just as the persecution in Acts 8 put taking the gospel out to Samaria and beyond back on the first church’s agenda, in the same way this year has forced the church to rethink and reimagine: we have had to step outside our normal comfortable boundaries, think missionally, explore greater creativity in our presentation of the Gospel and in fact have made connections with many new people who are out there searching for meaning in life.
8. At the same time, we have to recognise that often – and probably more often than not – when plans are upset, things go wrong and hopes are dashed, it can be hard to appreciate that God is on the move. It must’ve been like that for Jesus and one verse that was mentioned was John 5:17 where Jesus says’ My Father is always working’; in other words, God is always on the move, we just have to believe it, even when we can’t see it. There is always this truth which is our hope.
9. So how was God been on the move in 2020 and in Messy Church in particular? It has certainly prompted new creativity in a church that already was very creative. It has certainly stimulated new engagement with people in a church that has always been about engaging with new people. It seems that God has been on the move in this year by discomfiting us out of old patterns and our tried and tested Messy ways – yes, even Messy Church has its traditions already! And the image that came to us was that of winnowing or sifting the wheat from the chaff. Everything has been thrown up into the air which has meant that some Messy Churches have been blown away but at the same time this throwing up in the air has meant that Messy Church awareness has landed in new places and come to the attention of new people in ways that hadn’t already been happening. This year has been a sort of ‘burning platform’ which has forced us to do things differently, and some of those new things are definitely here to stay. Some of us may not be great fans of Zoom etc. but the 60+ leaders that run Messy Churches need to recognise that this is the natural world for the digital generation.
10. So, are we prepared to go on being winnowed when this can be uncomfortable and disturbing? Are we ready to be humble enough to accept the ongoing need to adapt, change and listen to what the Spirit is saying afresh to us in this next decade and beyond? Will we like Mary go on pondering these things in our hearts and discovering more of the mystery and miracle of what it can mean that ‘God is on the move’?

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