My grandmother used to tell us to put the milk in her tea first. She would say if you did it the other way you would scold the milk. But in polite society, the opposite seemed to be true. You put the milk in after the tea, which was a sign that the cup was of sufficient quality to take the boiling water without cracking. Science suggests you put it in first, because if you add it second the milk tends to heat unevenly and break the proteins, causing them to “clump”, which affects the taste and contributing to that skin you get on the top. Despite all this, making tea seems to be an ongoing debate about sequence.
The same occurs when it comes to faith. Do you have doubts which then are resolved through faith, or can you have faith, and then express doubts? Again, this is not that easy to define. Peter doubted, saw Jesus on the water, had faith, walked on the water, then had doubts and Jesus rescued him. Yet after Pentecost, when leaving the temple he sees a cripple, and with nothing to give, tells him to stand and walk, and performs a miracle similar to Jesus. There were no doubts in Peter then. I think we all struggle with this, but sometimes we need the Spirit to simply silence us so we can truly see what faith can do.
That is the story of Zechariah. Serving in the temple, doing his priestly duties, he suddenly sees an angel standing next to him. Now Zechariah was old, as was his wife Elizabeth, so when the angel tells him he is to have a boy who will be the Elijah figure ushering in the Messiah, Zechariah goes; “Really? No way! How can this happen?” So Gabriel leans in and says, “Zechariah, because you doubt what God has told me to tell you, you’re going to be silent until it happens!” There is no place for second guessing God once God decides to act. The only response of faith is to accept, not to question, doubt or wonder why or how God is going to do it. The people got it, when they saw him outside the temple speechless (and probably looking a little whiter than usual). They knew God had acted. Even Elizabeth got it. It wasn’t until Zechariah truly accepted what God had done, and named him John that he could once more talk.
Jesus says, “no one who puts their hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” In a world that thinks it is reasoned and rational, there are still too many mysteries that not even science can begin to fathom. We all are people of faith in some way. It is really about whether we place doubt before or after that faith. A high wire walker crossing Niagara Falls was asked by a journalist, “I think you’re very good at what you do, but do you think you can do this?” He responded by saying, “If you think I’m that good, jump in this wheelbarrow and I’ll push you across!” It’s Ok to doubt before faith, but once faith comes, there is only one way forward. That’s the lesson of Zechariah.
We are in the Advent season, leading up to another Christmas with all its dressage, tinsel, and throw away lines of joy and hope in the commercialisation of the season. But behind this façade lies a world that desperately needs to see people of faith. It needs to see and experience what faith can do when it focuses its entire attention on the one who changes lives. With God all things are possible, and our lives need to reflect that, not in buying into the commercialised deception of our society, but in fixing our focus firmly on Jesus. After all, we wouldn’t have Christmas if He wasn’t born.