Sunday, December 31, 2017

New Year's Eve

I love New Year's Eve.  It is like when the teacher used to say, "Get out a clean sheet of paper", and you reached into your 3-ring binder, opened it, and took out a pretty, clean one.

Tomorrow begins a clean, new sheet of paper.

Years ago, I had a student with a problem.  She was such perfectionist that, if she made a mistake on her paper, she'd tear it up and start over.  Every time.  Of course, she never completed an assignment.  It didn't take long for her to work herself up into such a state that she would put her head down on her desk and quit.

I had other students who would not make a start at writing assignments.  They would take out their sheets of paper and be so afraid of failure that they would either not attempt or just barely attempt to write their stories.  The longer they hesitated, the more difficult the task became. 

Both scenarios are memories those children still remember, I have no doubt.  But, I hope they have moved past those habits in their adult lives.

Each situation described above is pertinent to thinking about New Year's Day.

Failure is a fact of life.  It does not have to be a lifestyle; still, occasional failures are a reality all of us deal with, if we live long enough.  Did you know failure goes hand-in-hand with New Year's resolutions?  In fact, if I had to choose one word that best characterizes January, I'd choose "failure"! 

The reason most New Year's resolutions fail is because most of us approach them like the little girl who made one mistake and crumpled up her paper.  We make resolutions on, or just prior to, Jan. 1st.  We inevitably lose some ground, stumble, experience setbacks or failures.....and....we throw it all over sometime in January.  We give up.  We pronounce it hopeless.

Actually, giving up is the easy route.
Much more difficult is the path of persistence.

A friend of mine posted recently about a success she had achieved over a period of months.  She said the following:
        "I didn’t start for anyone other than myself. I deserved better and my family deserved better! I’m putting this here to remind myself goals aren’t achieved over night or in 6 months. They are gradually achieved through determination." 

There is not a single doubt in my mind that my friend experienced some failures along her journey this past year.  Nor will she continue an even, unbroken path going forward.  To expect otherwise is not humanly realistic!  That's not to say we should look for failure in our New Year's resolutions, only that when we do encounter it we get right back up and sock it in the kisser!  ;)

Past failures often cause some of us to not even make New Year's resolutions, like the children who would not attempt their writing assignments.  The trick, the secret, is not to fear failure, but to harness its lessons going forward.  Failure is not usually final.  Neither is success.  Both have lessons to teach us.  Our current U.S. President had this to say about failure:
"Sometimes by losing a battle you find a new way to win the war."

As Christians, let's prayerfully consider our "next steps" in 2018, and then take that next step ... after taking our resolutions to the Lord in prayer.  He is the One who orders our steps, after all (Psalm 37:23).  He's also the One who helps us when we fail, when we fall, when our humanity becomes more than our spirits can bear.

I love this quote by Oprah Winfrey, who said: 
"Think like a queen.  A queen is not afraid to fail.  Failure is another steppingstone to greatness."  Those of us who know Jesus Christ as Savior ARE children of the King, right?  That makes us princes and princesses! 

So, from one princess to another member of the "royal family", HAPPY NEW YEAR!  Go forth and do great things for God in 2018. 

Friday, December 29, 2017

Generational Faith

I got up this morning with the prophet Zephaniah on my mind.  :)

One of the startling things about this Old Testament prophet (like others) is his family tree.
Zephaniah 1:1

The word of the LORD that came to Zephaniah son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah, during the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah:

Of all these names, you will probably recognize a couple.  Hezekiah mentioned here is the same King Hezekiah mentioned in several books of the Old Testament.  He was Zephaniah's great-great grandfather.  The kingly line of Hezekiah did not extend down through Zephaniah's ancestors, though.  Instead it went through Zephaniah's great-uncle, Manasseh, Amariah's brother.  And then, you may recognize the name Josiah, another godly, benevolent king of Judah.  Josiah was Zephaniah's cousin.  Let me throw another couple of non-relative names into the mix and then draw some parallels: the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah.

Hezekiah's father was the infamous King Ahaz (not to be confused with Ahab).  His mother was a godly woman, a daughter of the prophet, Zechariah.  Her name was Abijah, often shortened to Abi.

Hezekiah's son, Manasseh, was the most evil king to ever rule over Judah, according to 2 Kings 21:11.  Tradition holds that it was he who murdered the prophet Isaiah, a close friend of King Hezekiah.  Manasseh also sacrificed his own sons on the fiery, pagan altar of the demon god, Molech.

Manasseh 's son was King Amon (who was evil and eventually assassinated), and Manasseh's grandson was King Josiah, another God-fearing king of Judah.

The prophet, Jeremiah, was a contemporary of Zephaniah's.

I guess you are wondering about the point of all this.  Here you go.

Many of us beat ourselves up because our children and/or grand-children and/or great-grandchildren do not embrace the faith in Jesus Christ, whom we dearly love.  We tend to see their wandering or outright idolatry as personal failures on our part.  The Christian community can often be judgmental toward Christian parents similarly.  The lineage I described above, however, points out that God gives no guarantee our offspring will follow Him.

Oh yes, there are general principles in Scripture and these hold true - - namely, that if you raise your children in a loving, God-fearing home, where Jesus Christ is honored the children will eventually embrace the faith.  However, this is not an iron-clad guarantee.  Each of the people mentioned above had the free will to either follow the God of their forefathers, as revealed in the Old Testament writings, or not.  In the sovereignty of God, some chose to do so; others did not.

I have a friend who told me that she prayed for 36 years for her father to come to Jesus Christ.  God answered her prayers and the man did, in old age, accept Christ as Savior.  Hallelujah for that!  Her example is inspirational and should motivate us all to pray for our friends and loved ones who are "giving Jesus the hand" - - - you know, when you hold your vertical palm toward someone as if to say, "Back off!"  These are they who have heard the truth of the gospel, yet have chosen to embrace some version of Satan's lies and deceptions as a poor substitute for the abundant life.

Indeed, prayer, along with living our faith out before them in love, are our only weapons of spiritual warfare in this spiritual battle for the souls of our most beloved.
Yet, there are times where, despite our best efforts and most fervent prayers, our loved ones make the choice to walk away from God's offer of salvation, or to delay it or to ignore it in favor of more enticing pursuits.

So, in a sense, there is no such thing as "generational faith".  Our descendants cannot suck saving faith out of their baby bottles.  Salvation is not automatically conferred, nor can it be assumed.  Parents who lackadaisically make that assumption often awake out of their complacent stupor to find that their children have become mired in deception and/or made the decision (whether overtly or quietly) to reject Jesus Christ.

I don't know what happened in the family line of King Ahaz.  It contains extremes of godliness and ungodliness, which, honestly, I find troubling.  Part of the explanation is that Satan was hell-bent on destroying the Davidic line, God's ordained Messianic line, using whatever evil methods he could employ.  (And, he didn't waste any time.  Have you looked at the sons of King David?!) While the birth of Messiah is not at stake in our family trees, Satan still hates the Christ-honoring family and delights in his attempts to destroy each and every one.

Few really like to read blog posts about intense spiritual warfare.  Yet, such is an indisputable legacy of the committed Christian, along with the rich legacy of God's precious promises.

Father, I can't explain or even discern how or why I was chosen and made the personal choice to follow You.  I was no better or worse a sinner than anyone else.  My parents were good faithful Christians, but they were not paragons of virtue by any stretch.  I am humbly grateful for my salvation because I recognize that You in your sovereignty chose me as much or perhaps even more than I chose You.  And so, I pray that You, in Your perfect will, in Your flawless sovereignty, will draw to Yourself those I love, those whom I long to see made right with You.  Through these prayers of supplication you both humble me and grow my faith in You, as I increasingly recognize that salvation is a work of Your Holy Spirit, not something contrived by the will of any woman or man.  I know this: that I am eternally grateful for Your perfect love for me.  A million thank-yous...In Jesus' name, amen.


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Did You See?

Good morning!
I hope you have been blessed by the Advent blog posts the past few weeks and that the Lord Jesus' birth was the centerpiece of your Christmas celebrations.

This morning's text is Luke 2:22-32 (ESV), the story of Simeon.

22 And (C)when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem (D)to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in (E)the Law of the Lord, (F)“Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in (G)the Law of the Lord, (H)“a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was (I)righteous and (J)devout, (K)waiting for (L)the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not (M)see death before he had seen (N)the Lord's Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when (O)the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and(P)blessed God and said,
"Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace
according to your word
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and a glory to your people Israel.

Here we see a man of great faith; the Holy Spirit of God was on him.  Until the Holy Spirit was given to all Christ-followers at Pentecost (about 2 months after Jesus' resurrection), God's Spirit visited people episodically, to fulfill the will of God at that time.  The Spirit would come, do God's work and then (in some cases) depart from that person. Simeon was a very devout, elderly Jew.  It had been revealed to him through the Holy Spirit that he would get to see the Messiah in the flesh before departing this earth.  That same Spirit revealed to him that baby Jesus was the Messiah.  God always keeps His word (vs. 29).

At this time, Jesus would have been about 40 days old.  Matthew chapter 2, which records the story of the wise men, indicates that the little family had not yet taken up residence in Nazareth.  For sure the wise men had not yet visited, as they did not arrive until Jesus was between 1 and 2 years old.  When they did visit Jesus, they seem to have done so in Bethlehem.  So, it seems that the family journeyed from Bethlehem to the temple in Jerusalem, for Jesus' consecration and Mary's purification rituals.

The thing that stands out the most to me about this incident with Simeon was his declaration, "My eyes have seen your salvation." 

Did you see God's salvation this Christmas?  I hope you did.  Through eyes of faith, as Simeon walked by faith, I hope we all placed our eyes on Christ and worshipped Him.  Such is the very essence of Christmas.  "O come let us adore Him..."

At our Christmas celebrations, not everything went "right".  My french toast casserole was not well-received Christmas morning.  One gift recipient asked me to return a gift (!) . We had to leave one family celebration to make it to the Christmas Eve service and very nearly did not make it.  One family member refused to go.  The communion bread nearly ran out, due to crowd size (PTL!)  This morning I am continuing to suffer from a monster allergy attack that started at my mother's house yesterday. 

All of these foibles highlight our imperfections and should not be the focus of our attention.

As we struggle to correct such errors and make things right ... or by God's grace just simply move on through them....., we can glory in the fact that God the Father, in orchestrating the birth of His Son, made no such errors. He sent His beloved Son as the Light, who would reveal His Truth to the Gentiles; those people like me who walked in deepest darkness yet have seen God's magnificent light (Isaiah 9:2; Matthew 4:16).  Did you see it?  Have you seen it?

It is so tempting at this time of year to focus on what has "gone wrong" - - our mistakes, our tremendous losses in some cases.  When we focus our love, attention, adoration on the Savior, He pours His joy into our souls. And, apart from Him, there is no peace or joy.  Simeon prophesies that Jesus will be a stumbling block to many.  How people will respond to Jesus will determine their destiny.  (vs. 34-35).

I have to admit to being somewhat wistful (okay, jealous) of Simeon and others who receive such a powerful revelation from God, while at the same time knowing that God is sovereign.  He created me and gives me His very best in accordance with my gifts and talents.   Similarly, if you and I follow hard after Him, He will fulfill His purposes in us, whether they are as startling or astounding a revelation as His to Simeon or not. In this truth and in His perfect love, we can rest secure.

Thank you, Heavenly Father, for the greatest Gift of Christmas, the gift of Your Son, my Savior. Thank you for letting me "see" Your salvation.   I praise You for the marvelous work of Your Holy Spirit, both before Pentecost and after.  Thank you for revealing Yourself to us in such amazing ways. For those who are walking far from You, please draw them by your Holy Spirit and open their eyes to Your great salvation!  In Jesus' name, amen.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Advent Day 22: Peace Transcending

Well, it is finally Christmas Eve.

Today's text is Luke 2:8-20 (ESV).

Now there were shepherds nearby living out in the field, keeping guard over their flock at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were absolutely terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people:11 Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a vast, heavenly army appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!”
15 When the angels left them and went back to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, that the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they hurried off and located Mary and Joseph, and found the baby lying in a manger. 17 When they saw him, they related what they had been told about this child, 18 and all who heard it were astonished at what the shepherds said.19 But Mary treasured up all these words, pondering in her heart what they might mean.20 So the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; everything was just as they had been told.

The Gentile gospel writer, Luke, is the only New Testament writer who chronicles in such detail the events surrounding the birth of Jesus.  We are told in the opening statements of his gospel that he was meticulous about interviewing witnesses and corroborating their stories, so that his friend, Theophilus, could be sure that what he had been told concerning Jesus was true.  I sometimes wonder... If it had not been for Luke, what stories would we tell at Christmastime?!

The whole Christmas narrative is just not the way we would have scripted it, is it?  What a strange way to introduce the world to Messiah!  God orchestrated this grand, glorious display of jubilation over the birth of His Son and presented it to some of the lowliest members of society, shepherds.   (Lepers were farther down on the societal ladder; but, they could not have gone to worship Jesus in the manger.)

The angels' message is one of the most misinterpreted of all the aspects of Christmas celebrations. Generally, Christmas cards proclaim, "Peace on earth, goodwill to men."  For years, I totally misunderstood that message, because it was incomplete.  Take another look at the entire message, in verse 14 above.  The angels were glorifying God for His marvelous work, but also celebrating that peace would now be available to all people with whom God is pleased.

So, God sent Jesus to make peace available to all people, not just the Jews, to provide a way back to Him, to have peace with Him - - a peace that transcends all earthly circumstances.  But, this peace is only available to people with whom God is "pleased".  Some versions say, "those whom God favors".  The Greek word (eudokias), which is translated in the KJV as "good will" only occurs one other time in the New Testament, and that is in Philippians 2:13, where it is translated as "His good pleasure".

How does one, then, obtain God's favor?  We are unable to do it through our own inherent goodness, because we do not have any, in and of ourselves.  The Bible makes clear that we are each conceived and born into the world with our sinful nature firmly in place.  It is impossible for us to meet God's standard of sinlessness.  This is the very reason Jesus had to come and live His sinless life on our behalf.

We obtain God's favor and transcendent peace with God through His Son, by accepting His sacrifice, His substitutionary death FOR us.  There is no other way.  Peace was and is made available to all who will embrace it.  It is not forced upon anyone.  Every person, however, must make a accept Jesus or not.

The day after Christmas, we are going to look at Simeon again.  He warned that Jesus's birth and life would be divisive to people.  Jesus, Himself, proclaimed that His message was divisive, that it would divide even close family members.  Consider His words, as recorded by Matthew:

Never think I have come to bring peace upon the earth. No, I have not come to bring peace but a sword! For I have come to set a man against his own father, a daughter against her own mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man’s enemies will be those who live in his own house.
Matthew 10:34-36

You know...Jesus' half-brothers thought He was a lunatic when He first proclaimed Himself Messiah.  They did not even attend Jesus' crucifixion.  At the foot of the cross Mary, Jesus' mother, was put by the Lord into the protection and conservatorship of the disciple closest to Him, John.  Where were Jesus' brothers?  Certainly, they were not at peace with the earthly ministry Jesus had chosen.  Yet....later, after Jesus' resurrection, they became so convinced He was who He claimed to be that they went on to write books of the New Testatment (James, Jude) and eventually died martyrs' deaths.  Transcendent peace - - - peace that even bests physical death.  Such is the love of God.  Such is the power of the gospel.

We certainly do not see peace on earth among nations, do we?  That is most certainly not what the angels meant.  The tiny country of North Korea has been threatening terrorism upon the United States for years. 

 When people heap insults upon the dead "prophet" Mohammed, adherents to that faith rise up and threaten to annihilate the scornful.  There are so many examples of strife, conflict, all-out war on this earth, it is obvious that peace does not reign here...

Except in one place: the hearts of the followers of Jesus Christ.

The apostle John records some of Jesus' final words to His followers, speaking about peace in the heart of a person, peace between a person and God:

The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught.
John 14:25-27  The Message

When He was born, the message was "peace with God".  When He was about to leave, the same message was given: He is the originator of peace, its only true Source.
I like this pithy little saying:  "Know Him; know peace.  No Him, no peace."

There are those of you who read this blog who do not know Him.  Don't you wonder sometimes if the gospel message is true?  If HE is true? Don't you long for peace that abides, deep within your soul?  There is only one solution, one remedy.  Take that leap of faith this Christmas.  Kneel at the manger of the God-child, Jesus.  Take Him into your heart as your own.

The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;  the Lord lift up His face upon you, and give you peace.  
Numbers 6:25-26

Merry Christmas!

Psalm 8:9 - - Oh Lord, my LORD, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!" You give strength to Your people (Ps. 29:11), because You blessed us with peace at the birth of Your One and Only Son, and You continue to extend Your hand of peace to all people today who will receive it.  Hallelujah!! May Your holy Name be praised forever and forever!  Amen.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Advent Day 21: Break Forth!

Isn't the morning a precious time?  It is for me.  I am a "morning person".  Used to be I was always the first one up at our house.  Now that younger son has a J.O.B., he gets that title.   This time of quiet, as the morning light creeps over my little corner of the earth...such a blessing!

Today's text is Isaiah 9:2-7, one of my very favorite Christmas prophecies.

2c The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
3You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
4For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
6For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upond his shoulder,
and his name shall be callede
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
Isaiah 9:2-7 ESV

A couple of years ago, my older son took the dog out to potty and reported excitedly that there were people walking around in the deep, steep woods behind our house. He could hear them and see their flashlights. This was at around 10:00 p.m.  Such news was unsettling to me, to say the least.  We don't live in a densely populated area, per se.  While there could have been neighbors from across the creek out for an evening stroll, it was unlikely.  Son #1 kept watch over them for a little while.  He said that they seemed to be walking in circles.

This comes to mind when I consider the first part of today's passage.  "The people who walked in darkness"....

There is so much spiritual darkness today, seemingly increasing by leaps and bounds.  Lost people are stumbling and falling at every turn.  At Advent, we light candles to symbolize the Light of the World condescending to us.  Without Him, regardless of our boastful pronouncements to the contrary, we are merely stumbling around in the woods, lost, walking in circles, getting nowhere.

Isaiah, given this prophecy in today's text approximately 600 years before Jesus was born, was told that "the zeal of the LORD of Hosts will accomplish this."  And, He did. 

The first few verses speak of the battle between Satan and Yahweh God, the LORD of Hosts, the GOD of Angel Armies: the battle of darkness against Light.  To break the hold of darkness on this world, reeling from the sin that enslaves it, God Himself sent His Son, the Light who dispels all darkness.

You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy.  They rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest.
Isaiah 9:3

What does that mean?  What nation?  Isaiah prophesied later, in 60:3, that the nation of Israel would not be the only recipients of God's mercy. Even then, hope was given to the Gentiles ("goyim", in the Orthodox Jewish Bible).  Hallelujah!

And nations (Gentiles) shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. 
Isaiah 60:3

Johann Sebastian Bach, a German, a Gentile and very devout Christian, wrote the majestic hymn "Break Forth O Beauteous Heavenly Light", as part of his work Christmas Oratorio, nearly 375 years ago (1641).

"Break forth, O beauteous heavenly light,
And usher in the morning;
O shepherds, shrink not with afright,
But hear the angel’s warning.
This Child, now weak in infancy,
Our confidence and joy shall be,
The power of Satan breaking,
Our peace eternal making."1

Yes, He came to break the power of Satan and to enable us to have eternal peace with a holy, sinless God.  He came to gather us to Himself, to be "God With Us" not just for Jesus' earthly lifetime, but forever.  As earthly dawn "ushers in the morning", so Jesus ushers His Light into Our Lives.

In verse 6 of Isaiah 9, some titles are listed for this coming Messiah.  I don't think that it is any accident that the first title in the line-up is "Wonderful Counselor".  If you know the famous chorus from Handel's Messiah, you may have it in your head to make this title two separate words/titles: ("Wonderful"....."Counselor".....).  No, it is written as one title - - - a Counselor who is Wonderful! (One version translates the title as "Extraordinary Strategist", another says "Awesome Advisor".)

He is our Glorious Savior, yes! But, in the Person of His Holy Spirit, He is our Awesome Advisor. You ask me how I know that Jesus is alive today?  He lives in me.  His light shines into my darkest places, exposing my sin and calling me to confession, purification, restoration.  He calls me deeper into relationship with Him, so that when I do see Him at last, He won't be a stranger.  In the clear light of that heavenly day I will recognize Him as, not only the Light of the World, but as my dearest Friend.

Oh Father, I confess that You, God of Angel Armies, and my Savior, the Everlasting Father, and the Holy Spirit, are One.  You are GOD, and there is no other.  You are Light, and in You is no darkness at all.  Thank you for taking pity on us, the sons of men, and banishing our darkness when we call on You to save us, Awesome Advisor.  You offer to us the wisdom of our Father; none teaches like You.  In Jesus' name, amen.



Friday, December 22, 2017

Advent Day 20: Precious Promises, Without Fear

The meme above was created by my sweet Twitter friend, @karee_news to whom God has given such a precious gift of visual art.  In her recent tweet of this meme, she used the following verbiage:  
Miracle God keeps His promises
Amen to that!

Our scripture text for this morning features the praise words from Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, Luke 1:67-80.

Remember Zechariah had been struck wordless/mute by the Holy Spirit when, after receiving the angel's message in the Holy of Holies, he expressed doubt.  Now, his son John has been born and, at the naming ceremony, Zechariah indicates that the baby's name will be John (as opposed to the first born son being named after the father).
Immediately, his tongue was set free, and his first words were this public praise prayer to God.

67 And his father Zechariah (A)was filled with the Holy Spirit and (B)prophesied, saying,
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has visited and redeemed his people
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
    in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies
    and from the hand of all who hate us;
to show the mercy promised to our fathers
    and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
    that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
    ()in holiness and righteousness before him (S)all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
    whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, 
to guide our feet into the way of peace."
80 (AF)And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was (AG)in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.

Zechariah focuses on God's faithfulness and His mercy in this psalm of praise.  He testifies to those listening that in sending Messiah God has remembered His agreement with Abraham, the patriarch who gave us all a wonderful example of how to walk with God in faith, as well as His promise to David's descendants, that Messiah would come from among them.

But, the best part of this Holy Spirit-inspired song occurs in verses 74 and 75.  It's the "why" of all this:  WHY is God doing this?  WHY is He keeping His promises?  Zachariah testifies of three reasons:

1.  So that we can saved from our enemies
Who is the number one enemy to whom this reference is made?  Satan, mankind's "public enemy number one".  Satan caused mankind to be subject to physical death, through his temptation of our ancestors in Eden.  Before the coming of Christ, Satan held a power over this world that made it a very different place than this earth we have known.  Even with the evil we see around us now, things were worse before the coming of Jesus and then the Holy Spirit.  Can you imagine?!
In John 10:17-18, Jesus testified of his coming sacrifice and affirmed that He has the power to lay His life down and to pick it up again.  Then, in His vision appearance to John the apostle in Revelation 1:18, look at His words:
"I am the Living One; I was dead, and now, look!  I am alive forever and ever!  And, I hold the keys to Hell and Death."

2.  So that we can serve our Savior without fear
Fear can be so debilitating to the resplendent walk.  Fear is the opposite of faith.  The reason that Zechariah mentions this next in his psalm is because of this beautiful truth:

When the fear of death is gone, all other fears lose their power.

I don't think about my own death very much, probably because I still see myself as a relatively young person.  (Those friends of mine who are in their twenties are laughing to read this...)  But, it's true! As a human, I am middle-aged (stop laughing!).  However, as a soul, I will never die.

Like a famous chef on TV says, "BAM!"

"Oh Gena, you think you are so special!"  
YOUR soul will live forever somewhere too.  What you decide to do with Jesus's offer of eternal life with him determines where YOU will live after your life on this earth is over.  There is no need for you to fear death either, unless you have not made peace with God through His Son Jesus Christ.  If that describes you, Reader, please go and read my earliest blog posts right now.  Get your soul right with God, while there is still breath left in your body.  Because once God decides your time here is up, it is then too late to become His.  

That is the most fearful of all fearful thoughts.

Where my temptation of fear intrudes is in watching when friends and loved ones decide to reject Jesus.  I know that their eternal future hangs in the balance, and that often fills me with dread.  I am constantly having to lay that burden at Jesus' feet, through intercessory prayer.

3.  So that we can walk resplendent
The way Zechariah puts it in the version above is to "serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness all our days".  I would add to that "in love".
The apostle John declares that "perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18).  When we are filled with love for our Savior, there is no room for our human fears.

Zechariah goes on to speak inspired words of blessing, of consecration, over his son, John.  I've read this and Mary's song and Elizabeth's song; and, I admit to being somewhat jealous of their revelations from the Holy Spirit. Who among us wouldn't like to be told, "Your child is destined to do great and marvelous things for the kingdom of Jesus Christ!"?  You have to remember, though, that with those callings came tremendous sacrifice.  Each of these three parents (assuming Elizabeth and Zachariah lived long enough to see it) saw their sons' lives laid down in service to the One, True King. Sobering, yes?
Maybe it is best that we mothers and fathers do not have foreknowledge of what the Lord will require of our precious children.

So, here, Zechariah knows and declares that Messiah will soon arrive, to fulfill scores of Old Testament Messianic prophecies.  He knows that Light is soon to break forth over the dark and sinful earth.  While we anticipate the anniversary of Christ's birth, let's thank Him that His light has shined on us.

"No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I'll stand."
                                       from "In Christ Alone", by Natalie Grant

Father God, You have declared that You are Light, and that in You there is no darkness at all.  Let Your Light break out into our lives this day, banishing all fear into the distance.  Fill us up with Your love because "there is no fear in love; perfect love banishes fear" (1 John 4:18).  Whatever is troubling us, causing us to doubt Your goodness, please replace it with supernatural and abiding faith, hope, love.  In Jesus' name, amen.