Saturday, December 13, 2014


Ever wonder how something is going to all turn out?

Maybe it's a new relationship, a new business venture, or a new school you will be attending. Or it could be medical test results, a your troubled teen, your home being vandalized, or moving to a another state without job prospects.

Yesterday, it was a woman who called my office with water seeping into her son's bedroom. Two experts had already inspected and still no one could tell us a cause. The woman had a broken foot and family was planning to visit for Christmas. Will they have to jack-hammer her cement slab to find the broken pipe? How will it all turn out?

2000 years ago, other people were asking the same question about the baby born to Zacharias and Elizabeth. Zacharias had been unable to speak for months, and now, during the circumcision and naming ceremony of his baby son John, Zacharias regained his speech. The neighbors were already shocked that Elizabeth was having her first child in her old age.

A deep, reverential fear settled over the neighborhood, and in all that Judean hill country people talked about nothing else. Everyone who heard about it took it to heart, wondering, “What will become of this child? Clearly, God has his hand in this.” (Luke 1:65-66)

When you are in the middle of something, it is impossible to know the end result. Any single snapshot of our lives is only one slice of the story. Elizabeth, only one year before, was an old barren woman. Now she was the mother of a baby prophets foretold of centuries before. Only one month ago Zacharias could not speak and now he was filled with the Holy Spirit prophesying about the Messiah and his son. But isn't that how all of the story went? At age 60 Abraham was childless. At age 50 Moses was a shepherd on the back side of the desert. At age 25 Joseph was a slave and a prisoner. At age 20, John the Baptist was living in the desert eating locusts and wild honey. At age 17 Peter was a fisherman. At the end of his life, Paul sat in a Roman prison waiting to be executed writing letters to  friends. At age 33 Jesus was nailed to a tree.

But God, who works all things together for good, knew how it was going to turn out, the end from the beginning. God sometimes gives us a glimpse of the future. He told Abraham that he would be the father of nations, Joseph that he would be a great ruler, Zacharias that his son would prepare the way for the Lord. Other times, in His wisdom and great mercy, God covers the future for us.

God promises. He promises ahead of time and reveals it to us so we see that He is the true God, a good God, a faithful God. The God who kept His promises to the nation of Israel, and indeed to all the peoples of the world by sending His Son to visit and redeem His people, will be faithful to us today. Even though we can not be certain how the troubled teen will grow up, how the new job will work out, and whether or not the floor will need to be broken up to find the leak, we can be sure that God is faithful and merciful and good.

God does not promise us the future we want, but He does promise to be with us in our future, to provide, comfort and guide. And in the end, His presence is the best present.
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;
  He came and set His people free.
He set the power of salvation in the center of our lives,
and in the very house of David his servant,
Just as He promised long ago
  through the preaching of His holy prophets:
Deliverance from our enemies
and every hateful hand;
Mercy to our fathers,
  as He remembers to do what He said He’d do,
What He swore to our father Abraham—
a clean rescue from the enemy camp,
So we can worship Him without a care in the world,
  made holy before Him as long as we live.

And you, my child, “Prophet of the Highest,”
  will go ahead of the Master to prepare His ways,
Present the offer of salvation to His people,
the forgiveness of their sins.
Through the heartfelt mercies of our God,
God’s Sunrise will break in upon us,
Shining on those in the darkness,
those sitting in the shadow of death,
Then showing us the way, one foot at a time,
down the path of peace.

Read the whole story in Luke 1:57-80.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Prepare for Christmas

Are you prepared for Christmas?

It seems to start earlier each year. The stores decorate right after Halloween, Christmas music plays earlier, even my Jewish boss put up the office Christmas tree before Thanksgiving.

It is only December 6, and my house is decorated and I am well on my way to amassing the gifts for my family. But am I prepared for Christmas? No, not by a long shot.

God prepared for Christmas with angels. Not only did He send an angel to announce the birth of Jesus, but months before that, an angel announced the birth of another child who would come before Jesus and prepare the way.

While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.” (Luke 1:11-17)

Before Jesus' birth was announced, the Lord first brought John to prepare the people for the coming of their Messiah. John, the baby son of Zacharias, who became John the Baptist, spent his life urging the people of Israel to repent, to turn from their evil ways, and to follow God. Specifically, John came to reunite fathers and children. Broken relationships with fathers can destroy the children's belief in a loving God.

As I looked back in scripture, I found God prepared much longer for the coming of Christ. In fact, 400 years earlier, in the book of the Old Testament prophet Malachi (4:5-6):

“Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord arrives. His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse.” 

John the Baptist is the Elijah foretold to come. John had to come before Christ, to prepare because people were not ready for His coming. Zacharias, a righteous man and priest of Israel, was burning incense at the temple with people praying outside. Yet He was surprised and afraid when the angel appeared. Instead of expecting God to show up during worship, Zacharias startled when confronted with an angel.   

During this month we will be surrounded by reminders of Christmas. There will be decorations, music, activities with special food, and presents, all pointing to Christmas, and yet, like Zacharias, we can be unprepared to actually experience the presence of Christ. In the midst of our religious traditions, do we expect the coming of the most holy God?

What can we do to remind ourselves of the real message of this season? How can we be more aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the hurry of the holiday?

This week, as our small group discussed this question, we came up with the following ideas:
  1. Read the story again. Not just any story, the original one, that the "beloved physician" Luke and Jesus' disciple and dear friend Matthew wrote under the inspiration and direction of the Holy Spirit. Don't have a copy? Click here
  2. Listen more closely to the words of Christmas songs. The songs contain a sense of wonder, joy and peace. They remind us of the courage of Mary and Joseph. Sing along and get swept away in the awe of the shepherds as they listened to the angels sing. 
  3. Look carefully at the decorations. Be reminded that Christ came into the world to bring us the light and a fuller revelation of who God is.
  4. As you shop, be reminded of the long journey of the wise men, and their desire to bring gifts and to see something amazing.   
  5. Do good and care for the poor. Find a special activity to share the love of God. Expect to see God in the faces of those you serve, and in those who serve beside you.
  6. Remind others of the true reason for this wonderful season. As you remind others, you will be encouraged yourself, even if they do not believe. Truth sticks and we never know when the Holy Spirit will use our words later as they remember what we spoke.
Expect Christ to show up. Expect Him to give you joy, peace, provide for your needs. Expect Him to speak to you. Do not be afraid. He brings tidings of great joy to all people.

Beloved Jesus, even as I write this, I realize I need to be reminded not merely to share this message but also to live it. Remind me to be aware, to be ready for Your coming. You desire most to give me Your presence this Christmas. Let me be awe-struck but not surprised at Your coming.

Note: Who is Elijah, you ask? He was a great Old Testament prophet who performed powerful miracles. For two great stories about Elijah, see 1 Kings 18:16-39, 2 Kings 2:1-11