The Darkness of Uncertainty

As I’ve said at the beginning of every new month since we first entered lockdown back in March, ‘I can’t believe it’s … ‘. And I really can’t believe that it is less than a month to Christmas. But even in this year, I’m excited about Christmas because the stories from scripture about the birth of Christ give us great encouragement in what has been a challenging year.

Christmas is filled with promise of light; not only do we recall the light leading the Magi or the glory of the Lord filling the sky when the angels spoke to the Shepherds, but Scripture explicitly links light with the birth of Christ:

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. John 1.4 This short verse contains truth big enough to fill eternity, but here we simply note that Christ’s coming includes the invasion of God’s light into human darkness.

And in Luke 2.32, when Mary and Joseph dedicated Jesus at the temple, an old man prophesied about him, saying: ‘a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”  Many places in scripture link revelation – the enlightening of the mind and heart – with the light found in Christ. In this case – the light God brings through Jesus is to the Gentiles; those outside the covenant of God with his people will gain an understanding previously blocked from them.

The Christmas story is filled with light, but the reason God sent light is because there is darkness. Darkness is the absence of light; the thing about darkness is that we can’t see:

* Physical darkness: not being able to see where we’re going, walking, what’s in front of us.
* Spiritual darkness: our own sinfulness, the ideas we think, the narrative we believe, the paradigm we embrace – keeps us from accurately perceiving God and his truth.
* Situational darkness: Uncertainty about what’s going on; not being able to accurately interpret our life situation.

And it’s that situational darkness – the uncertainty of our life situation – that has made this year so difficult. Our lives have been marked by more questions than answers:

* Uncertainty about health
* Uncertainty around jobs
* Uncertainty around the future
* Uncertainty around what’s permitted – what tier are we in, and what’s permitted? What phase are we in? Are we still doing phases …? Or was that just a phase?

When Jean and I were moving to Ukraine as missionaries we shipped all our earthly possessions over on a cargo ship. My father helped make the arrangements, and being from the eastern United States, he always felt nervous when he got off the phone with the broker who was based in California. The different style of communication on the west coast did not give my dad confidence.

After we loaded up the container and sent it off, I remember the thought of all our stuff floating across the ocean, precariously balanced – or so I thought – on a container ship, subject to any big storm that might hit it. It was disconcerting, troubling, and the uncertainty made us feel vulnerable.

One of the key texts in the Christmas story is found in Luke 1:26-35 where we read about Gabriel coming to Mary and announcing the upcoming pregnancy and birth of Jesus.  As we reflect on this episode, there are three points of uncertainty that emerge:

1)The uncertainty of the promise:  there was nothing Mary could do to bring this to pass!

2)The uncertainty her relationship with Joseph: announcing a pregnancy via other means to a fiancé is not the best way to strengthen a relationship – what’s Joseph going to think?

3)The uncertainty of this future son: every mother wants her son to be great, but Gabriel makes some AUDACIOUS claims about the Son who will be born. Look at what he says:

* He will be great
* He will be called the Son of the Most High.
* And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David
* He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever.
* Of his kingdom there will be no end.”
* The child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.

The reason God is un afraid to make great promises to us is that He has the ability to bring them to pass. God makes audacious promises only he can fulfil so that we will trust only him.

What about us? How does God bring certainty into our lives that feel beset on every side with so much uncertainty? Let’s look at two points of certainty God brings into our lives:

1) The certainty of Jesus
The certainty of this text is the certainty found in Christ – he really is who is who the angel said he is; he really becomes all the angel promised. JESUS HIMSELF IS GOD’s GREAT CERTAINTY. HE is the Eternal Word – the light who shines into the darkness of our uncertainty. If we have Christ, if we know him and walk with him, our lives are built on a rock of solidness that can never sink.

2) The certainty of God’s grace
Not to be overlooked in the encounter of Gabriel with Mary are two affirmations of God’s favour: Greetings, O favoured one … for you have found favour with God (vv. 28, 30). The only way anything Gabriel promised would happy is by God’s grace, his unmerited, unearned love and favour. And this is what He extended to Mary.

God’s grace is a rock of refuge, a sure foundation in the midst of a life that often doesn’t make sense. This is why Paul writes to Christians – people who have already repented and believed the gospel – and reminds them by grace you have been saved through faith (Eph. 2.8).

So what do we do? How can we experience certainty from God in our very uncertain moment? I believe we can enjoy the confidence found in Christ by entrusting our lives to God. Look at Mary’s response to the angel’s promise: And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”  (Luke 1.38). It is in entrusting our lives to God that our great certainty is found.

You may not know the name Corrie Ten Boon; she was a brave Dutch woman who, with her family, hid many Jews from the Nazis during the second World War. She survived a Nazi concentration camp and, after the war, was an encouraging voice of hope, testifying to God’s faithfulness. She gives us a simple formula for walking with certainty through uncertain times:  

Never be afraid to entrust an unknown future to a known God.

The final thought is simply this: The certainty God brings into our uncertainty is the certainty of himself. He himself will be us and sustain through the most uncertain times. Into the darkness of our experience, God brings the beautiful, life-changing light of himself.

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