Beyond The Thick Fog
Abraham is sometimes called our ancestor in the faith. As this title indicates, his life-journey required a lot of faith as though he was walking through thick fog. Ironically, although Abram (as Abraham was then called) was unable to have children for many years, at the very same time, God promised that He would make Abram into a great nation and his offspring a channel through which all people on earth would be blessed. Abram was trained to rely on a God of promise as he waited for the promise to be fulfilled. As we read in Genesis today, his first journey of faith began with God’s call to travel to a strange land: “Go away from your place, Haran, to a far territory, Canaan (Gen. 12:1).”
For Abram, Canaan was an unknown territory – a place he had never even Googled before! The route from Haran to Canaan was about 1,770 kilometers. In other words, it’s like the distance between this church and Tucson in Arizona. He had no idea what would be happening to his life, his family, or his property on the way there. He had to exchange his secure, comfortable life for great uncertainty. Moreover, the Lord was not one of the gods of Abram’s hometown. Other deities such the moon god, Nanna, were worshipped the local people of Ur. The voice of God might have been quite new to Abram; there is no record of Abram having a relationship with God before the events of Genesis chapter 12. If such was the case, Abram had to trust the unrealistic promises of an unknown God. It must have been a weighty decision to make. If you were Abram, how would you respond to God and His unlikely promise? If God calls you today to leave Langley – for instance, to go to the most isolated island in the world, North Sentinel Island of India, where young American missionary John Allen Chau was killed with arrows two years ago – could you really leave behind everything you have ever known in Langley?
I began going to church when I was five years old. Since then, I have never expected to face dangers or accidents on my way to worship God. I came to Langley Presbyterian Church this morning with subconscious faith that forty-four avenue would be safe. I didn’t need as strong a faith to get here as Abram needed for his dangerous trip. However, what if I read in the Vancouver Sun that terrorists had set up bombs along the avenue and in the parking lot of this church? Then I would really need a conscious and strong faith in God’s protection to get me here. More likely, I wouldn’t even come to church in order to protect my family. I am guessing that none of us want our families to get hurt by the explosion of a bomb. We would need intense faith in God’s trustworthiness before we would take the risk of driving down the avenue rigged with explosives. This illustration is not so different from what Abram faced in the passage we read. He was required to take great risks, putting great trust in a God whom he barely knew. Not to mention, Abram didn’t even understand what God’s promise actually meant. We know that the God of promise can often puzzle us.
Our culture, which values science and rationality over against faith, would certainly see Abram’s decision to leave as absurd. God is declared to be dead, and the Word of God is considered a boring old tale by our generation. It is not surprising to hear that people today tend not to believe in God’s miraculous incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, nor in His promise that He will surely come again. All these events sound unrealistic to the modern mind, which seeks certainty based on scientific data.
With this in the background, as Advent draws to its close, we should think again about our faith in a God of promise. We Christians live in between two advents—Jesus’ first coming, which we call Christmas, and His second coming, the Day of the Last Judgment. Both are God’s sure promises given in Scripture. The first one was fulfilled in Jesus’s earthly ministry, while the other one is yet to come. No one knows when Jesus will return. This may make us uncertain about the invisible promise. So, during uncertainties about tomorrow, what we need is not faith that is paralyzed, but faith that moves forward, the faith that Abram had.
In fact, Abram obeyed God’s calling to travel to Canaan not because he understood God’s promise, but because he trusted the God who spoke to him, the God who promised him, the God who would surely fulfill what He promised. The author of Hebrews sets it all out for us, “By faith, Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place he would later receive as an inheritance, and he went out without understanding where he was going” (Heb. 11:8). As time went on, Abram was gradually given confirmation that God is faithful and trustworthy. God gave him a son, Isaac, and made a nation, Israel, through his seed. And one of Abrahams descendants was the very baby Jesus in Mary’s womb in the Gospel according to Luke we just read.
Mary seems to me like the kind of person who would have been willing to leave her home for Canaan, in the sense that she trusted a much more ridiculous promise than the one Abram’s received. How could a virgin girl get pregnant without knowing a man? How could a human being conceive the Son of God? Was it some kind of joke, right? Like Abram, Mary was situated in a very uncertain moment, as if thick fog surrounded her. She could not fully grasp her destiny in the seemingly silly message about her pregnancy, delivered by the angel Gabriel. Yet, Mary humbly responded to the angel: “Yes, I am a servant of the Lord; let this happen to me according to your word” (v. 38). It must have been hard for Mary to accept the message because she knew she could be seen as unfaithful to her fiancé Joseph. In the Jewish culture, such a girl would be treated as an adultery if she got pregnant before wedding ceremony. In addition, during her pregnancy, she would have to take a three-or five-day journey of some 128 to 160 kilometers. Potentially, it was a risky trip for the young Jewish girl, between 12 and 14 years old, if taken alone.
However, she accepted that the will of God was happening in her womb and her life. She set out for Judah to meet her relative, Elizabeth, who used to be called barren like Sarah, Abram’s wife. Mary probably wanted to see for herself the sign the angel had told her about the pregnancy of Elizabeth. In verse 36, the angel tells Mary that God, who allowed old Elizabeth to have a baby named John, would make Mary pregnant with the Son of God through the power of the Holy Spirit. Remembering this, and believing that nothing is impossible with God, Mary hurried to follow where the Lord was taking her. Once Mary got to Elizabeth’s place safely, by God’s protection, and greeted her cousin, John the Baptist jumped for joy in Elizabeth’s womb. Being filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth blessed Mary with a loud voice “Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come and visit me?...Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her!” (vv. 43, 45). By the Spirit, Elizabeth confirmed that Mary was certainly trusting in a faithful God who would realize His promises. As a result of God’s faithfulness at work through Mary’s obedience, the promise that God made to Abram was finally fulfilled in Christ Jesus, just as the morning sun rises and melts away a heavy fog.
Here it is: now anyone who believes in Christ Jesus is blessed to become a child of Abraham, no matter what background they come from. In Galatians 3:7-9, St. Paul says, “Just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ so then, understand that those who believe are the sons of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles [you and I] by faith, proclaimed the gospel to Abraham ahead of time, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.” So, then those who believe are blessed along with Abraham the believer. That is to say, we live in a new era that Abram could not see beyond the fog. Only our Lord foresaw it. God has been so faithful to the promises He made.
In the summer of 2014, about seventeen years ago, I was amid a dense fog. As an international student, I had almost completed my Master of Arts in Theological Studies at Regent College, Vancouver. The night after I took the first class of my final course, I got a phone call from my older brother living in New York. He asked me to visit my mother in South Korea, saying that she was in hospital for a stomach cancer operation. I had no idea of what was going on with my mother until that phone call. My parents had kept her surgery secret so as not to worry me. My brother asked me to go and see her for him because he was unable to leave the States due to his artist visa in the process of renewing. I dropped the course right away and went to Korea. In hospital, I was with her for a month and a half. During that time, she suggested that I extend my studies into a Master of Divinity program for pastoral ministry, saying “Young Tae, I saw a vision during my cancer operation. The vision meant that this surgery happened to me for you to come here.... I know your desire to write a theological book for Christian artists and make excellent creative works reflecting a Christian worldview. But why don’t you care for artists in pastoral ways on the top of that?” My first response to her suggestion was resistance. I was already exhausted by the misunderstandings and miscommunications caused by my language barriers in English. I did not have the extra money to pay tuition for the additional thirty credits and living costs, either. My bank account was showed a beautiful zero dollars. It was impossible to live in Vancouver and study for two to three years more. Also, being a pastor was a something I had never wanted to become. But I could not simply reject my mother’s suggestion, because I knew she was a prayerful person. So, I myself began to pray about it seriously. I took some days to discern with my close friends and mentors whether God really wanted me to step into the pastoral track. In the end, I concluded that God was leading me to the program. But, How?
Well, as you see now, I am preaching to you. I finished the program and was ordained three years ago. Meanwhile, God invited me to serve diverse Christian ministries such as a small group of lovely seniors at a local seniors’ chapel, a Christian film festival, and Richmond Presbyterian Church. In fact, I wanted to give up on the M.Div. program so many times along the way. I could not see a bright future in that foggy situation. Sometimes, God’s calling seemed like an illusion to me. However, God fed me and paid tuition fees for me in miraculous ways. Just like the Israelites in the wilderness, I lived month by month. I could not guarantee anything more than one month in the future. If I had known that it would take nine years in total to complete all the requirements for ordination, I would never have started studying theology, leaving behind my professional career in the Korean film industry. But God took me somewhere I had never imagined, even up to this pulpit right here today. God made it happen in His ways, according to His timing, when I followed His leading little by little in that dark fog.
The God of promise was the one who designed the promise so that human beings cannot foresee their future. In uncertainty, we may be worried, scared, or nervous about what is to come. We may plan ahead and do whatever we can to prepare for the future in our own way. But, mysteriously, in that foggy state, God trains us to learn what it really means to live a life of faith through obedience. Such a life should be applied to our ongoing journeys to our own Canaan, our Judah, the new heaven and new earth where there will no longer be any uncertainties, as we move closer to the unimaginable promise of Christ’s future coming.
This Advent morning, may life-long faith that moves beyond the temporary fog around us be granted to each one of us. Amen.
May the God of love sanctify you entirely;
and may your spirit and soul and body
be kept sound and blameless
at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The one who calls you is faithful,
and he will do this, even in midst of the dense fog.