Thursday, December 14, 2017

Advent Day 12: A Leaping Heart

Do you remember times in your life when your heart leapt for joy?  I'll bet you can think of many.  I surely can.  What a wonderful feeling, right?  I remember, a few months ago, watching my dear friend find out her daughter was going to give birth to twins.  She was shown the first sonogram, and there were two little "lima beans" in the picture!  She nearly collapsed in tears of joy!  And, this past Tuesday, those little identical twin girls were born.  What joy!

Today's Advent passage is from the Message version this morning - - Luke 1:5-15.
It's the beginning of Elizabeth's and Zachariah's story.

During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest assigned service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God. But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old.
8-12 It so happened that as Zachariah was carrying out his priestly duties before God, working the shift assigned to his regiment, it came his one turn in life to enter the sanctuary of God and burn incense. The congregation was gathered and praying outside the Temple at the hour of the incense offering. Unannounced, an angel of God appeared just to the right of the altar of incense. Zachariah was paralyzed in fear.
13-15 But the angel reassured him, “Don’t fear, Zachariah. Your prayer has been heard. Elizabeth, your wife, will bear a son by you. You are to name him John. You’re going to leap like a gazelle for joy, and not only you—many will delight in his birth. He’ll achieve great stature with God.

These two were of the tribe of Levi, which meant he would become a temple priest and she a priest's wife.  Such was the role assigned to them as members of the Levitical order.  Not only that, but Elizabeth was "spiritual royalty", as humans would view it.  She was descended from the daughters of Aaron, who was the first Levitical priest appointed by God Himself.

In spite of this, the couple had no children, a situation that caused them much grief, embarrassment, shame, stigmatization.  People of that day would have looked at them and whispered, "What did they do to deserve such a curse from God?"  Childlessness was seen as a curse.

Levitical priests of the highest orders lived for that opportunity to go into the Holy of Holies.  It was an awesome, fearsome occasion.  One never knew what would happen in there.  Apparently, some men had become so overwrought they had suffered heart attacks and presented a problem - - - how to get them out?  So, it had become a tradition to tie little bells on the garments of the priest selected to enter this most sacred of places.  If the minders heard the bells tinkling, they knew he was still alive. Similarly, a rope was tied around one ankle, so that he could be dragged out if he collapsed in there.

Lo and behold!  The unimaginable happened to Zachariah, who was a "priest's priest".  In spite of the corruption in the priesthood of that day, he and his wife lived "honorably" before God.  In spite of their seeming "curse", they remained faithful.  How many of us would do the same, in the face of such adversity?

Then, we see such an amazing example of God's timing in verse 13.  The angel said, "Your prayer has been heard!"  This is the second time I know of (or can recall) when a very old couple has been told they would conceive, Abraham and Sarah being the other.  Zachariah and Elizabeth prayed for a child for a very long time.  Whether they were still praying, even in their twilight of life, I don't know; the scriptures do not say.  But, the point is that they had prayed faithfully.

It appeared for so long that God's answer was going to be "no". 
But, God's timing is not our timing.

What are you asking God for today?  What news or answered prayer would make your heart "leap like a gazelle"?  Here at Advent, we wait for and anticipate the Savior's birth.   We wait for the anniversary we know will occur.  Not so with deeply longed-for prayer requests however.  It is hard to "keep the faith", to keep praying and seeking the face of God.  Sometimes, it feels pointless and "impossible".

We must remember that, no matter what answer God ultimately gives us to our prayers, nothing is impossible for Him.  Nothing.  The angel Gabriel stated this to Mary, as recorded in Luke 1:37 - - -

"For nothing will be impossible with God."

The most hardened sinner's heart is not too hard for God.
The most wayward child is not too hard for God.
The vilest illness is not too hard for God.
The most ambitious dictator - - -
The strongest storm - - -

Zachariah, despite his astounding track record of faithfulness, thought the angel of the Lord's message was impossible.  As a lesson to him and to others, God took away his power of speech for a time.   I can understand Zachariah's "faith lapse" there. There's no telling what I would have thought or said, in such a situation!  Sometimes, when we have prayed and prayed, even in the face of impossibility, we are astounded when God gives us the answer we were seeking!

You may be familiar with a more-recent Christmas song called,  "A Strange Way to Save the World". 1

Wasn't it though?  A strange way to save the world?
Some would say "impossible"!  A virgin, being overshadowed by the very Spirit who created all things ... impregnating her?  All the Old Testament messianic scriptures that were fulfilled by Jesus?  Impossible, right?

Keep praying for "your impossible", Christian!   

Good morning, Lord.  I am so privileged to serve "the God of the Impossible"!  The One who created all things and holds it all together.  Help us to faithfully and in submission to seek Your will in our prayers, remembering that Your love is everlasting and that nothing is impossible with You!  All my love, in Jesus' name, amen.



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