Page 339 was a beautiful December Sunday — a day of rest, worship, and watching the snow fall. While the snow is beautiful, it will mean a slightly earlier start to my day tomorrow so I’ll have time to do the cleaning and any necessary sidewalk care before students begin arriving. So, I’m beginning the writing of today’s page early so I can get to bed early tonight. I don’t like the bitter cold temperatures that often arrive mid-winter, but I do enjoy the beauty of the early winter snow.
The day began in the usual Sunday fashion with a later than normal wake-up followed by a time of worship with the church family. Today David began a Christmas story focus in what will become an extended sermon series from the Gospel of Luke. The message shared this morning was on life lessons and looked at some lessons we should learn from the lives of Zechariah and Elizabeth, parents of who we commonly know as John the Baptist. After an introduction explaining his goal of writing an orderly account of the life of Jesus, Luke begins telling the Good News story with the birth announcement given to Zechariah and Elizabeth. A remarkable announcement in many ways, and one that would set the stage for the next birth announcement Luke will write about. Even before he was born, John’s life was preparing the way for the coming of the Messiah.
The morning sermon looked at three life lessons that hopefully we don’t just learn about, but lessons that we need to put into practice. The first lesson is that even if we were to do everything right, God may not give us what we want in the way we want it. The Bible describes Zechariah and Elizabeth as righteous and upright, following the commands of God blamelessly, yet they had reached the point of being “well along in years” and were childless. So many times, we think that if we could just do everything right then God would be obligated to do what we want Him to. Yes, sometimes we aren’t doing the right things and the answers to our prayers are not what we expect because we need to spend time with God examining our hearts, minds, and actions. But you can also rest assured through time spent with God that His ways are higher, and nobler, and often a mystery to us to the extent that an answer we perceive as “no” is always for our best even when we don’t understand why.
The second life lesson we looked at this morning was a reminder that God hears more than just our words, He looks into our hearts at the very core of who we are. If you read the accounts of the angel’s announcements to both Zechariah and Mary, you will find each person having a similar response, “How can this be?”. Yet God’s response through the angel is very different for each of them, which may cause you to ask, “How can this be?”. 🙂 God has made it clear throughout scripture that He looks at people differently than people look at people. We look at outward appearances and He looks at the heart. God can see the difference between a question born out of doubt and a question born out of wonder. It would appear that Zechariah’s question was born out of doubt where Mary’s similar question came from a heart that didn’t doubt but still wanted an explanation of how it would come about. Sometimes we are filled with questions because we are filled with doubt and fear and other times our questions come out of a belief that God will indeed do what He has said but we would like at least a little information about how He is going to do it. It is good news that God doesn’t respond to us based solely on the words we use, or don’t use; He responds based on a knowledge of our heart that is more accurate then even our own understanding of it.
The third lesson we looked at this morning was that sometimes we have to wait, and even endure some pain, before we receive the promised blessings of God — but the waiting will always be worth it. In a culture where children were viewed as a blessing from God (which they are), it is likely that Zechariah and Elizabeth endured a great deal of pain personally and in community as they passed by the normal child-bearing years with no child. Yet here was a couple upon whom God bestowed a great honor and responsibility in raising the one who would be the forerunner to the Christ. The waiting, the heartache, and the pain all became worth it when John was born and Zechariah worshiped God for sending a prophet who would prepare the way for the Lord. While the end result of waiting upon the Lord is always worth it, the pain of waiting is still real. As children of the King, we know there is a better future awaiting us yet that knowledge doesn’t fully erase the pain of living in a world that is filled with heartache, disappointment, and troubles. Jesus made it clear that we will have troubles in this world, but that isn’t the end of the story. In the same context, He tells us to take heart because He has overcome the world. The troubles of this life, while real, are only temporary. Life with Christ who has overcome those troubles is eternal!
Today’s photo was taken this afternoon with an old “fish-eye” lens adapter and the result made me think of a snow globe. The beauty of the freshly fallen snow sticking on the pine trees (while the roads remained clear) always reminds me of the old hymn which said, “Now wash me and I will be whiter than snow.” God wants us to not only learn the life lessons from Zechariah and Elizabeth, he wants us to put those lessons into practice and allow Him to purify us from all unrighteousness.
I pray that you and I would live a life of worship that would make the times we gather with others to worship even more special. I pray that we would look to God’s Word for lessons to learn and to put into practice. I pray that we would spend time with God examining our own life as we seek God in prayer. I pray that we would understand God’s ways are not our ways and that His answers are always for our good. I pray that we would less judgmental of others as we seek to see people the way God sees them — from the heart rather than the outward appearance. I pray that we would keep our eyes fixed on the eternal reward that awaits all who are found in Christ. I pray that life eternal with Christ will help us endure the pain and heartache of this current life.