Sunday, December 05, 2010

six impossible things before breakfast

Yesterday I was asked to consider how to explain faith to children in a Sunday children's sermon.  For some reason, when I thought of explaining faith to children (and adults), I thought of Alice in Wonderland.

What is faith and why is it so difficult to understand?

Here's one definition:
"complete confidence or trust in a person" - World English Dictionary

That's not so hard to imagine.  We all probably know someone that we have complete trust in. Someone that we know loves us and will do anything in their power to keep us safe and happy. (*)

Now how about this next definition:
"a strong or unshakeable belief in something, especially without proof or evidence" - World English Dictionary

That definition is much harder to understand.  How can we believe in something that we cannot prove exists?  Something that we can't taste, smell, touch or hear?  Something that seems impossible?

This definition reminds me of Alice in Wonderland (2010).  When she is having tea with the Mad Hatter, she says "sometimes I believe in as many as six impossible things before breakfast."  And the Mad Hatter's response is "that is excellent practice."

It's a curious exchange.  What is the point in trying to believe in impossible things?  Why would it be excellent practice?

I imagine that is was quite difficult for Mary and Joseph to believe that they were going to be parents to "the Messiah".  In the Old Testament, Isaiah proclaimed this child would be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  What kind of child was this going to be?  Can you imagine?

What about the shepherds that heard from the angels announcing Jesus' birth.  Don't you think they wondered if they imagined the whole thing.  Who would believe their story? Or the wise men who had this idea they should follow a star to find the king of the Jews and give him expensive gifts even when they found him in a stable.  Where did they get that impossible idea?

We don't know why they believed these impossible things, but we do know they had faith that these things would be possible with God.  Faith gave them hope when things seemed hopeless.  Faith gave them courage when the odds were against them.  Faith gave them joy in experiencing the love of God.  Believing six impossible things before breakfast may seem like a silly idea, but when we have faith that God makes things possible, we are also given the gifts of hope and courage and joy.

* I realize that having complete confidence in someone else is a real challenge for many of us, but my thought is that as a child, one usually hasn't yet experienced crushing betrayal or disappointment by a trusted person.  Then again perhaps my glasses are still too rosy.

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