Advent, A Time of Grace Realized

The birth of a child brings happiness, joy and wonder to every parent. The arrival of Elizabeth’s baby was no exception and perhaps was an even greater joy to them and those around them as they had waited a long time for a child. I can identify with this as we were married for 14 years before the arrival of our Elizabeth and it was pure joy! Jewish customs prevailed and the child was not named until he was circumsized on the eighth day, as that recognized his officially belonging to the family of God. It was a day of great family celebration and scripture gives us a glimpse into this special day.

Luke 1: 57-66 “ When it was time for Elizabeth’s baby to be born, she gave birth to a son. 58 And when her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had been very merciful to her, everyone rejoiced with her. 59 When the baby was eight days old, they all came for the circumcision ceremony. They wanted to name him Zechariah, after his father. 60 But Elizabeth said, “No! His name is John!” 61 “What?” they exclaimed. “There is no one in all your family by that name.” 62 So they used gestures to ask the baby’s father what he wanted to name him. 63 He motioned for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s surprise he wrote, “His name is John.” 64 Instantly Zechariah could speak again, and he began praising God. 65 Awe fell upon the whole neighborhood, and the news of what had happened spread throughout the Judean hills. 66 Everyone who heard about it reflected on these events and asked, “What will this child turn out to be?” For the hand of the Lord was surely upon him in a special way.

Can you even imagine being there when Zechariah spoke after 9 months of silence? What a surprise! But God is faithful to His Word, and just as the child was named, Zechariah’s time of silence ended. Awe or reverence for the Lord was used to describe the effect this had on the people there and the surrounding area. Other translations word it this way, “And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea.” The awe or fear was due to their amazement over what the Lord had done in their midst. They had seen first hand the power of God to provide this child in old age and to mute Zechariah for 9 + months. When was the last time you experience the hand of God in your own life or in someone near to you? Did it leave you in awe of our Sovereign God? Perhaps it was due to the birth of a child, healing of an illness, release from a threatening situation, resolving of a difficult circumstance or an answer to a specific prayer. What effect did it have on you? Were you joyous, like Zechariah and Elizabeth, or filled with wonder like the neighbors or did you try to discount it? Our response to God’s mercy and grace in our lives is crucial. In 1 Corinthians 1:4 Paul puts it this way, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus,” Because of Jesus, our response should be one of thanks for His grace, His unmerited favor, towards us.

Let thanks be on your lips as you look for His Grace in your life today.

Linda

Advent, A Time of Caring

Advent is a time when churches, religious groups and civic organizations look to meet the needs of the poor, hungry, unemployed and hurting people of all ages. This year, 2020, is particularly difficult as we live with the daily effects of the global pandemic. The need is even greater this year with the vast number of people sick and out of work. I have an 80 year old friend that faithfully works at the city food bank in her town sorting and filling bags of food for the hungry. I am amazed by the long lines seen on the news of people waiting in cars to get bags of food. Many of those seeking help have never had to ask before as they had always been self-sufficiently employed.

One verse in our Christmas story brought this to mind. Luke 1:56 speaks of Mary staying with Elizabeth for 3 + months then going home to Nazareth. “Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.” Scripture said that the angel appeared to Mary when Elizabeth was in her sixth month, “In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee,” Luke 1:26 Doing the math, it would seem that young Mary who was only just pregnant came to her cousin Elizabeth when Elizabeth was six months along. Staying with Elizabeth in the last months before John was born, when Zechariah was not able to talk (Luke 1:20), was probably a great comfort, blessing and help to this aged mother and father to be. We are not told in scripture that Mary was present when John was born, but I would imagine Mary stayed until John was born and then returned home.

In this one verse God shows us that we are to be supportive of each other and stay the distance. My friend could go and help out occasionally at the food bank but has made it a priority to give of herself 3 days a week. Many I know, prior to Covid, went regularly to nursing homes to share, sing and pray with residents or visit those in hospitals. Another friend had a brother that had a severe accident and the family ministered to him and nursed him back to health after being released from the hospital. Ministering to those in need shows godly character as we give, are compassionate, merciful and kind.

Even with Covid restrictions, find a way to meet someone’s needs this week. It could be a phone call, text, card or letter to a friend you know is lonely or sick. Maybe you can make cookies or bread to leave on their doorstep. Know that things done to serve others out of love pleases God. Jesus told us in John 13:34-35 ““A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Let the world see your love for Jesus through your actions of service towards one another.

Linda

Advent Reminds us to Trust Sovereign God Always!

Our story of the coming of John the Baptist, the fore-runner of Jesus, continues as Zechariah listened to the message from the angel Gabriel about his future son Elizabeth would bear and his mind filled with doubt. Unlike Mary who we will see marveled at the words of the angel and accepted the impossible as possible with God. Zechariah seemed to doubt the ability of God to make this birth of a son in his old age possible. He was not asking the how it would work but can it succeed. He wanted assurances in addition to the word of this heavenly being. Gabriel’s response was swift and decisive -silence until John was born.

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” 19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” 21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.” Luke 1:18-22

How do you respond to God? Do you doubt God’s ability to change a situation, heal a relationship, cure a disease or affliction or to see you though a difficult time? Zechariah knew God, knew the story of Abraham and Sarah and the birth of their promised child in their old age. He knew the stories of the impossible happenings like Jonah and the big fish, Daniel in the Lion’s den, Nehemiah and the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, Hezekiah and Gideon’s success against greater enemies, and yet Zechariah doubted the ability of God to give him a son in his old age. He doubted the character of his Sovereign God who was Almighty, Omniscient and the Provider of all things. It is not wrong to ask God for a sign like Gideon (Judges 6:17) and Hezekiah (2Kings20:8) did. It is not wrong to question or react with surprise or even laughter at the thought of an impossible situation like Mary (Luke 1:34) or Abraham (Genesis 18). However, it is wrong to think God is incapable of doing what He is promising. Remember scripture said Zechariah had great faith and walked with God. He did not disbelieve in the existence of God, but in His ability to do as He promised. Zechariah paid for his unbelief with silence. We will see that even this is not wasted effort as God uses Zechariah’s silence to testify and bring glory to Himself.

I am reminded of Hebrews 11:1 and 6 “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Faith pleases God. Faith means trusting God in the most difficult or unlikely situations to work everything for my good and His glory. Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Cling to these promises as you strive to see that  “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:27

As you seek to trust in Sovereign God here are 2 verses that I claim and cling to: Psalm 37:5 “Commit your way to the Lord;  trust in him and he will do this” and Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Hold fast to Sovereign God as He knows what He is doing and will always guide you in the correct way so Trust in Him.

Linda

Advent Reminds us to Trust God with our Heart’s Desires

Zechariah was a priest and as such had duties infrequently inside the temple. His division was called to place the incense before the morning sacrifice. The priest who went into the inner part of the temple was determined by lot, like drawing straws. It was not by chance that Zechariah was chosen as God used this time to send an angel to talk with him.

Luke 1: 11-16 “While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. 12 Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. 13 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. 14 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. 16 And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God.”

Zechariah was visibly shaken by the appearance of a supernatural being, as anyone of us would be! He feared the being and probably the message as well. He did not know if it was good or bad news but a message delivered by a heavenly being would have caused fear. The first thing the angel does is speak words of calm. The heavenly messenger wanted him unafraid so he could listen with an open heart and mind to his message. There are a number of truths about God and our relationship with Him that are included in this passage. May they open your heart and mind to hear God as well.

  • God knows the desires of our heart just as He did Zechariah and Elizabeth’s desire for a child.
  • It is okay to let God know what are your heart’s desires and then leave it to Him.
  • God’s answers to my prayers will always result in joy and good for me and bring honor to God.
  • God’s answers to my prayers will effect me and those around me.
  • God has a plan and purpose for each one of us, just as He did for John.

Be encouraged today as you ponder the news Zechariah received. The truths reveal how God always sees us through His compassion and love. Because of Jesus we can approach Him and know He hears our prayers. Be assured by the words of Hebrews 4:16 “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” and James 4:8 “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” and Hebrews 10:22-23 “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” God is faithful and hears all our prayers. God will answer in His way and in His time, just as He did for Zechariah and Elizabeth.

Linda

Advent Teaches us Hope and Joy come with Faithfulness

Our story begins during the reign of King Herod who reigned from 37-4 B.C. He comes into the story later but that gives us the time period in history. Elizabeth and Zechariah are the future parents of John the Baptist who was a fore-runner of Jesus. Elizabeth and Mary, the mother of Jesus, were relatives.

Luke 1: 5-7 “When Herod was king of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.”

A couple of things stood out as I read this passage: they were both old and childless and God commended them as righteous and obedient. Since we know in the story Elizabeth becomes the mother of John the Baptist, this being old and childless was an impossible situation. God used the impossible to bring about joy and preparation for Jesus’ arrival. How like God to make the impossible possible. Jesus, speaking of salvation said in Matthew 19:26 “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” I am reminded of Hebrews 11:6 ” And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Elizabeth and Zechariah were people of faith and were the perfect couple to show the power and might of God in their lives bringing joy to them as parents and servants of God and honor and glory to God. Do you trust God when faced with difficult or impossible situations? Do you believe and seek to please God with your faith in Him?

The second thing I noticed was God’s commendation of them as believers. He called them righteous in His eyes, in right standing with Him, blameless and pure. Their right standing with God came from their faith in Him and obedience to the law. Like Abraham their faith was counted to them as righteousness. Genesis 15:6 “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” They were not sinless but were faithful and sincere about keeping God’s commandments. How sincere are you about walking each day with Jesus? Do you study His Word and seek to know Him better? Would Jesus consider you to have a blameless walk with Him?

Let us take a lesson in Hope from Zechariah and Elizabeth. Faith in God makes all things possible, will please God and bring us joy. Advent means hope and joy though faith in Jesus. Trust God for the impossible and see how He will grow your faith and increase your joy!

Linda

Have you known the blessings of Obedience?

Luke 1:57-66 tell of the arrival of baby John to his mother Elizabeth and mute Zachariah, his father.  The angel Gabriel had pronounce God’s judgement upon Zachariah for his unbelief in Luke 1:19-20,  when he had questioned God’s ability to create new life within Elizabeth’s aged, barren body.   Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 59 And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his John namefather, 60 but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” 61 And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” 62 And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. 63 And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. 64 And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. 65 And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, 66 and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.

obedienceThis story shows how Elizabeth and Zachariah learned obedience and followed through doing exactly as God directed in naming their child.  When they had demonstrated this faith and obedience, the temporary judgment was lifted and Zachariah was able to speak.  Not surprisingly, his first words were words of praise to Almighty God for the miracles God had performed in their lives.

God is present in this very story, from the lifting of the curse of muteness upon Zachariah to the birth of a healthy boy in Elizabeth’s old age.  Even the neighbor’s recognized God’s mercy towards her and the joy she evidently showed at being a mother.  God is always faithful, keeping all His promises.  He is a promise keeping God.  In the Old Testament book of 1 Kings 8:56 we find, “Blessed be the Lord who has given rest to his people Israel, according to all that he promised. Not one word has failed of all his good promise, which he spoke by Moses his servant.”   None of God’s promises failed nor will they ever fail.  2 Corinthians 1:20 gives a similar message from our promise keeping God,  For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.”  Peter gives the usefulness of all God’s promises to us in 2 Peter 1:3-4 “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”   God has been and always will be a promise keeping faithful God. His promises provide us access to His divine nature and aid us in escaping the corruption of the sinful world we live in. 

GodkeepspromisesThank you God for being 100% faithful and keeping all your promises to us.  We can rely upon your nature and know you will do what you say in your Word forever.

Linda

Are you doubting God? Careful…He knows.

Our story continues today in Luke 1:18-22 with Zechariah, the priest, talking with the angel Gabriel.  His first words to the angel were words of doubt.  He doubted God’s ability to make a child happen for he and Elizabeth.  His doubting heart and words of disbelief brought condemnation from Gabriel in the form of muteness that would last until the child was born.

zechariah hold on“Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.  19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

After leaving the temple, the people Zechariah met could tell he had seen a vision and realized he could not speak.  Consider Elizabeth’s reaction to the impossible news, “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” Luke 1:25  By contrast Elizabeth accepted as possible the impossible since it came from God.

What is your reaction to God’s power, His plans, His blessings?   Do you doubt that God can do what He promises?  Do you question His plans?  Do you accept His blessings with grace?  God knows our hearts.  There is no hiding from Him or disguising our motives, tone or real feelings.  Being honest with God, brings immediate blessing and a lightness to our souls.

Where do we see God in today’s story?  We definitely see God’s power to make Zechariah temporarily mute,  but we also see God’s Omniscience;  He is all-knowing.  God knew what was in Zechariah’s heart, what his doubts were about His power and ability to make things happen as He ordained.  God is Omniscient meaning He is never surprised by things that happen, He know all there is to know and nothing can or is hidden from Him. David described God’s Omniscience in Psalm 139:1-4 “You have searched me, Lord, Omniscient and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise;  you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down;  you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue  you, Lord, know it completely.”  David knew what Zechariah forgot that God knows all and can do all things.  Zechariah let his human doubts cloud his judgement as he spoke with Gabriel.

As you ponder this story today, look at your heart.  Is your response one of faith and trust in our Omniscient God?   Be honest with God and open yourself to trust in His loving care and blessings of peace and assurance will flood your soul.

Linda

God’s Power in our Lives!

Our story of Advent began even before Gabriel approached Mary and Joseph as it was in the mind of God from the beginning of time.  The arrival of the Messiah, one who would save mankind from their sins, was told throughout the Old Testament.  Scripture also mentioned one who would come before this Messiah, Savior, and prepare the way for His arrival.   Today in Luke 1:11-17 we find two people, Zechariah and Elizabeth who were consider devout and blameless (verse 6).   This didn’t mean they were sinless, but that God recognized their devotion and love for Him.  They had been married many years and had no children.  Zechariah was a priest and Elizabeth his wife was called barren.  They were both considered old, and she was beyond child bearing age.

Zechariah was serving in the temple and an angel appeared to him.  Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.”  The angel told Zechariah their prayers for a child had been heard and would be answered with a son he was to name John.  Then the angel continued and told him about this unusual child, what he would be like and what purpose God had for him.  “He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

luke 1 13Can you imagine Zechariah and Elizabeth’s surprise at hearing this news?  Their prayers had been heard and the answer was forthcoming.  It was not only their prayers but the prayers of the nation of Israel for a Savior, Messiah, that would to come and save them from their sins.  Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son would go before this coming holy one and prepare the way for Him.  What honor and joy they must have felt!

How do we see God in this portion of our Advent story?  As I began yesterday, knowing that God would hear my cry for understanding through His Word so Zechariah and Elizabeth were assured by Gabriel that their prayers had been heard for a child.  They had prayed for years for a child to raise and love.  God had chosen them to parent this coming one who would proclaim the Messiah.  What joy they must have felt at knowing God heard their prayers and that they would have a child.  On a bigger scale they would have understood that they would all be part of God’s  plan for the redemption of mankind.

This reveals that God is accessible to us in prayer.  He hears us and responds in His own way and in His own time.  All God’s plans are for His glory and our good.  I also see God’s infinite grace in revealing His plan to them, showing them how He was going to use them GodsGraceand their son.  God did not need to tell them all these things but showed them His grace in revealing it to them.  Grace is God showing us kindness or favor we do not deserve.  One does not earn grace, it is freely given by God.   Psalm 84:11 says “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor;  no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.”  We also see God’s ability to know the future and have all things under His control, Sovereign.  His supernatural power to provide an impossible child for Zechariah and Elizabeth also shows His love and care for us as individuals.  

May you see our Accessible, Gracious, Loving, Caring and Sovereign God at work in your life today.

Linda