Christmas Advent, Faith, Spiritual Encouragement, Stories from Scripture, Uncategorized
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Simply Jesus, Day 7

Pastor Bill was the most enthusiastic, caring, happy person I’ve ever met.

He had a bounce in his step and it seemed the sunshine followed him whenever he walked into a room. He was truly overflowing with joy.

He was pastor to the senior citizens at a baptist church we attended early in our marriage. He possessed such joy, such charisma, such a big, welcoming smile that he singularly brightened and warmed the “frozen chosen” sitting in the pews into almost raising our hands in worship or smiling while we sang the morning hymns.

Pastor Bill played the piano and although his fingers made the music on the keys, his entire body was engaged. He always grinned at the congregation while he plunked out the chords.

Bill was a single, white-haired, AARP-card-carrying firecracker.

He loved people, loved Jesus. Bill loved.

Sometimes Bill was asked to give the message or lead in prayer. I only remember one thing that Bill ever said, however. I was in the secretary’s office making copies and he was sitting at the desk making detailed notes in a chart.

“What are you doing, Bill?” I asked, leaning to peek at his work.

“I am tracking everything I do each day this month. I want to make sure I’m not wasting any time that I could be using to serve people. So, I’m writing it all down so that I can really see what I’m up to. I don’t want to lose momentum. You never know how much time you have! May as well make the most of it!”

Pastor Bill “got it”. He understood the secrets to a joy-filled life.

He didn’t let his age (or being a baptist!) get him down. He wasn’t plagued by the loneliness of being a single, older man. Instead he filled his calendar and populated his life with many people to love and encourage.

When I think of Bill, I think of his broad smile, of him nearly dancing at the piano, of him hustling out the door to find people to love. Bill had an “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” attitude. I hope I can be a Bill someday. Bill didn’t reduce his life to working for God but instead continually opened his life for God to work and and through him.

Scripture: Luke 1:19-20, 23-25a

“How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

The angel answered, “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. 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 proper time.”

When his time of service was completed, he returned home. after this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said.

Inspiration: The Truth of God for Us

Zechariah (Luke 1) was an old man who had served God in the Jewish temple for many years. He was an incense bearer. That was his job.  The priests took turns by drawing lots (like drawing straws) and served in the temple as they were called upon.

Zechariah was responsible for lighting the incense twice a day in the Holy Place, the room between the Porch and outer courtyards of the temple and the inner room, the Holy of Holies. Only priests were allowed in the Holy Place. Their main role as priests was to represent man to God (whereas a prophet represented and spoke for God to man). The incense served as a reminder to the people to pray. There were up to 20,000 priests serving in the temple during this time — far too many for them to be working in the temple regularly. It was perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be the incense bearer before the Lord.

It was no chance-meeting that Zechariah had with the angel Gabriel.

As far as w know, angels didn’t often hang out in the Holy Place and Zechariah, though he was old in years, may have never stepped foot in that place before. This meeting between a representative of God and a representative of man was God-ordained. The time had come. God’s people were to have a prophet again — and this quiet, aged, fellow was to be that prophet’s father.

Zechariah is known for being John the Baptist’s father, but he also known for his doubt-filled response to God’s message. “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

At least he didn’t call his wife old! Well along in years sounds so much kinder than “old lady”.

But there is an attitude of doubt, questioning, even a hint of “prove it” in Zechariah’s response to Gabriel.

So Gabriel shut his mouth and gave Zechariah a good long time to think. He didn’t speak again until John was born and this is what he had to say (Luke 1:68-79):

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago) salvation for our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us–to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies and to enable us to serve him with our fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins because of the tender mercy of our God by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

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Mission: Take Away

Zechariah gives me hope.

His story reminds me that because of God’s faithfulness in my life, in spite of my old-crotchety human way of thinking and limited spiritual sight, I can be transformed into someone who eventually sees God’s amazing grace and tenderness. God can help me be like Bill — a “may it be as you have said” sort of gal instead of a “how can I be sure of it?” gal.

Had Zechariah immediately comprehended and accepted Gabriel’s message about the coming baby, we would be left thinking that God only works remarkable miracles in the lives of the faithful and worthy and devout. Had Zechariah sung his song of praise right there in the Holy Place, only God and Gabriel would have heard him.

Zechariah needed time to lean into the message and the faithfulness of God. God gave him time to process and eventually accept and obey God. When Zechariah named his son John in obedience to God, his speech was restored. What came out was a very different tune than before.

So God works in our lives, too. We with wobbly-faith and show-me attitudes.

He does his best work and his most perfect will because of his love for us, not because of our love for him.

He gives us room to grow, silent places in which to think and wander and pray, lonely times when we long for his presence.

His gives us new promises to hold in our arms and in our hearts and lullabies of praise and helps us sing the love song back to him, because of this “tender mercy of our God by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

Play: Have Fun

Holiday traditions become a thing not only because we do them every year, but because they mean something special. When our power was out for a week right before Thanskgiving, we talked with our kids about the possibility of spending the holiday without power. My oldest, who’s moved out and is finishing college responded, “I don’t even care about dinner. I just love thanksgiving breakfast and mimosa’s and cider and the Macy’s Day Parade.” We’d accidentally begun a tradition. We were so grateful when our power and cable were restored and Thanksgiving morning was just what our kids wanted. We have friends that serve Meals on Wheels every year on Christmas. We adopt a family to give Christmas gifts and money to. The tradition isn’t what’s important, rather it’s the spirit and the love of the tradition.

Want some family tradition ideas? Here’s a list of 50 Holiday Traditions to get you started.

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Love: In Action

Something about the memory of Bill helps me realize that the entire bundle of Bill — his joy, effervescence, laugh, compassion — spoke volumes in comparison to his mouth. There is a time for focus, for somberness. But mostly, when we’re out living around other people, our whole person should be leaking joy, having fun. We can be beaming wide smiles all over the place because of the Great Hope we have: Jesus.

Smile at cashier. Give clanging change to to Salvation Army bell ringer — every time. Say Merry Christmas with feeling and counteract all those stupid memes on Facebook about how un-Christmasy our society is.

Be the Christmas! Live it loudly and you won’t worry about the actual words. Be the fun.

And if you’re running low on joy. If pain or worry or health issues or financial woes are dampening your joy, lean into the quiet and find God there. He will see you through and give you a new song!

Yes, and Amen

Thank you for the sunshine of heaven, Lord. We are a people living in the shadow of death, searching for the Light that pierces the darkness and guides our feet into the path of peace. Thank you that we don’t need to jump on every bandwagon that rattles by, that we don’t need to stand under the banner of politics or morality or nationalism because we stand under the banner of Jesus, who gave us the knowledge of salvation, the way of salvation and extended the tender mercy of our God to us when he stretched out his arms and died on that cross. Help us find you in the silence, in the cacophony, in the long stretches of doubt to find faith and understanding and compassion and grace. Lead us on, tenderly, toward loving you, loving others and living in joy. Help us embrace your good news story and draw others into the hug of your mercy. Give us the bold faith to live it out, to be different, to be joyfully, indefatigably up to your good business of salvation and grace. Help us to find your Light and stand in its shining beam and wave our arms and call out Hey! Over here! I’ve found it! to a world that needs you so desperately.

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3 Comments

  1. Love these words: “…the entire bundle of Bill — his joy, effervescence, laugh, compassion — spoke volumes in comparison to his mouth.” And I’m praying, “Lord, help me be like Bill, demonstrating that the abundant, God-enhanced life is the very best life possible! Thank you Alyssa!

  2. jodyo70 says

    Alyssa, I love that the picture you chose for this post is a baby with dark skin and curly black hair…..there’s just something so wonderfully all-encompassing and welcoming about that.

    • Thanks, Jody. That baby’s mom sat outside an orphanage in Ethiopia and tried to give him to me. So desperate she was for her child to have a better life than a beggar-mom could provide for him. Also, that day in Ethiopia, I held and fed and dressed a two-day old beautiful boy who’s teen mom gave him up to the orphanage. I can barely grasp the depth of their pain. Something I learned in Ethiopia is that God’s love and concern is so far reaching, to all humans everywhere. We get insulated here in the west.

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