It already seems like an age ago that we celebrated our amazing array of Christmas services, remembering the story of God coming to us in Jesus in a whole host of creative ways. But there’s nothing quite like the Kiwi summer — tropical storms included — to take a break from the hard yakka, and to recharge for the year ahead. I hope you’ve had a safe and restful break and are desperately missing church. Thankfully the wait is over and so welcome back to St Paul’s. At this time of year, we are joined by new members of our congregation, and I want to extend an especially warm welcome to you. We’re looking forward to a great year ahead.

As we look ahead to what’s coming, it’s critical for us as followers of Jesus to remember the story that we find ourselves in. One of the characters in the Christmas story that particularly stood out for me recently was John the Baptist’s father Zechariah. He was a priest stationed at the Temple in Jerusalem who drew the lot to enter the holy place to burn incense at the altar. When the angel Gabriel gave Zechariah the good news about his wife Elizabeth’s conception, he totally missed the moment and was struck dumb for his lack of faith until after John was born. God clearly takes this priest on a journey because when John is circumcised, Zechariah is filled with the Holy Spirit and prophecies about God’s saving grace — known as “The Benedictus.” What I find most challenging about Zechariah is that he was a man of prayer, working in the very place where God was expected to be present, and yet he was shocked and off-balance when God’s messenger actually showed up to fulfill the very thing Zechariah had been praying for all these years: a child. I think that’s our challenge too!

As Christians we boldly follow the God who can do all things — who is in the business of confounding human expectations and changing the scope of our horizons. But to enter into what God has in store, we need to go on the same journey of faith that Zechariah went on. Over the holidays, we’ve been reading our son Theo’s Marvel-inspired “Action Bible,” which is quite a ride! It’s impressed on me again the constant challenge God lays down throughout Scripture not to look back at the advancing Egyptians but to turn and face the new path that God is opening up in front of us — to put off fear in all its subtle forms, and to embrace faith and courage. That is the essence of the Christian life and it’s the choice we are faced with as individuals and as a church.

So, I want to welcome you into a new year, full of new challenges and God-inspired adventures. I want to encourage you to consciously choose faith and courage as your travelling companions this year. My prayer this summer is that God will refresh our bodies, renew our minds, and enlarge our spiritual imaginations for the surprising work that He is preparing us all for.

Rev Jonny Grant