As I read through the Christmas story in Luke 1 & 2 again on Monday. The story of Zechariah the high priest caught my attention. He was an old man. Both he and Elizabeth were well beyond their childbearing years. Gabriel, the Angel of the Lord, appeared to him as he burned incense the temple. He announced to Zechariah that his wife would give birth to a son, whom we know would grow up to be John the Baptist, the last prophet and forerunner of Jesus.
Although Zechariah was known as a righteous man, he was filled with unbelief when he heard this news and stated it honestly: “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
These words reminded me of a line I love in a Toby Keith song, “I ain’t as good as I once was.” It’s a lament that resonates with me more with each passing year and I have all the typical aches and pains associated with aging to prove it. Even as I type I’m literally, painfully, aware that my hands don’t work as good as they once did.
Zechariah’s unbelief didn’t disqualify him from serving God’s purpose, but it did silence him until the moment Elizabeth gave birth. God took away his voice for a season so that he’d have no choice other than to be still and listen. Gabriel’s news was really good news for Zechariah and Zechariah’s story is good news for me. No matter how old we get we are never beyond God’s reach to use us, often in ways we never expected. And I need to be reminded that faith sometimes looks like being quiet and listening.
Jim Mckee – Pastor
Luke 2: 10 – “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy . . .”
It was dark. The sheep were doing whatever it is that sheep do once night falls. The shepherds were keeping a watchful for eye for any signs of danger, as shepherds had done in this region for centuries. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared them. The glory of the Lord illuminated the area around them. Think about it. In the dark shadows of the night, the invisible suddenly becomes visible. The veil that separates heaven and earth is pulled back and they see something few mortals have ever seen. There was nothing in their collective experience that would have prepared them to make sense out what was happening. In the face of this unexpected and supernatural occurrence they were understandably overcome with fear.
How comforting it must have been that the angel’s first words were, “Fear not!”. It was exactly what they needed to hear to stop them in their tracks, calm their hearts and keep them from running. There must be something viscerally terrifying about an encounter like this, because these were also the first words uttered to Zechariah when the angel appeared to him. He spoke these words because he knew something neither the shepherds nor Zechariah knew. Somewhere on the eastern frontier a boy was born who would be their Savior!
Life can be terrifying. It’s full of uncertainty. Bad things happen to people we love and care about. We are mugged by circumstances that are beyond our control. People we count on disappoint us, even betray us. It’s easy to be overcome by fears from within and by fears from without. After all, the world is a very dangerous place and there is no lack of evidence to belie our concerns. It’s in these moments that I need to hear the words of the Angel of the Lord echoing in my heart and mind saying, “Fear not! … For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
The birth of a boy in a manger in the city of Bethlehem announced to the shepherds the good news concerning the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. The arrival of the One who brings true healing, renewal and peace has come to pass. Expectation has given way to fulfillment. As we celebrate Advent, all the scenes and signs of the season are pointers to this new reality. The true King of the world has come! He is the one will rescue us from the curse of sin and death. And if we are His, we have nothing to fear. May we hear the voice of the Spirit shouting those words, “Fear not!” in the face of all our fears.
What’s more boring than a genealogy in the Bible? Some of the names are unpronounceable. We know little to nothing about some of the names in the list. They are mostly meaningless to us. Many readers skip over these genealogies to get to the real story, but occasionally, embedded in what feels like an endless list of who begot whom’s, there is an interesting discovery.
In a time when genealogies didn’t normally contain the name of even a single woman, Jesus’ genealogy mentions five. There was Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, the wife of Uriah who is Bathsheba and finally Mary. Their lives were anything but boring! Tamar was the childless widow of Er the eldest son of Judah. The only security a woman had in the ancient world was tied to her husband and her sons. Denied by both Judah’s surviving sons, in desperation she does something almost unthinkable. Tamar disguises herself as a prostitute to trick her father-in-law, Judah, into having sex with her. She conceives two twin boys, one of whom is in the lineage of Jesus.
The second woman referenced was Rahab. She did not pose as a prostitute; she clearly was a prostitute. Later she became the great-great-grandmother of King David. Ruth is the third woman mentioned. She wasn’t even a Hebrew but a Moabite, an outsider, and when her Jewish husband died, her mother-in-law tried to send her back to her own people. The next female ancestor in the list is Bathsheba, who had an adulterous relationship with King David. The final woman mentioned was Mary. Before she was married she discovered she was pregnant. Finding himself engaged to a now disgraced woman, Joseph, her fiancé, quietly purposed to end their relationship.
These were woman who, for the most part, led unremarkable and sometimes scandalous lives from a human perspective. Several were promiscuous even by modern standards. Others were misfits and outsiders. All in some ways were victims of their fallen cultures. Nevertheless God incredibly used all of them to bring redemption to a fallen wold. Their lives are a reminder that there is no sin so great that God’s grace is not greater still. They point to the reality that no matter how low we have sunk, God’s love is even deeper. They announce that no matter what we have done, there is nothing that can put us beyond God’s reach.
What’s in a genealogy? This one announces the good news that there is nothing in our stories that God cannot redeem and there are no lengths that He will not go to make us His.
One of the sweetest symbols of Christmas is the Candy Cane. According to folklore, in 1670 the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany asked a local confectioner for some sweet sticks he could give to children during the enactment of the living nativity scene. He asked that they be red and white striped and that the candy maker add a crook at the top. The white stripe was intended to be a symbol of Christ’s sinlessness as the spotless Lamb of God. The red stripe was the symbol of his blood, which was poured out for us for the forgiveness of sin. It was no accident when John the Baptist saw Jesus coming out to the Jordan 30 years after his birth that he cried out in a loud voice, Behold, the Lamb of God who comes to take away the sin of the world!
The crook at the top of the candy stick was meant to remind us of Jesus who came to be our Good Shepherd, the one who gave up everything in order to save the one that was lost. The sweet thing is that once we were lost, but now we are found because Jesus is our Good Shepherd. This little piece of candy is loaded with meaning.
Sometimes people are so captured by their failures and their losses that they feel they are beyond God’s reach. The truth is that there is no depth to which we can sink that God’s love is not deeper still. No one who is willing to flee to him in faith will ever be beyond his grasp. Now that’s a sacrifice worth celebrating!
Christmas is a season full of symbols. One of the best-known symbols of Christmas is Santa Claus. He is based on Saint Nicholas, the 4th-century Christian bishop of Myra, who was renown for his lavish generosity. His personal ministry was inspired by the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:3-4, when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
The most famous story of Saint Nicholas’s generosity concerned three young women whose destitute father was going to force them into a life of prostitution in order to survive. Nicholas rescued them from this plight by walking past the family home at night after they were asleep and throwing a bag of gold through the window. According to one account I read, the bag of gold surprisingly fell into one of the girls’ stockings that had been washed and hung out on the fireplace mantle to dry.
Gospel generosity doesn’t flow out of a sense of duty or obligation. It’s compelled by love. It’s the love of Christ that constrains the heart of the Christ follower to give. We don’t give for merit or honor; we pour ourselves out on behalf of others because Christ has poured himself for us. Galatians 2:20 declares, he loved us and gave himself for us.
Unlike the lyrics in the song, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” we don’t give because others have earned or deserve our generosity, but because of the generosity God has poured out on us in Christ. When we give freely from the heart, with no demands or expectations, we enter into the true spirit of Christmas 365 days a year!