18And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” 21And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. Luke 1:18-22
Zechariah was taking his turn serving in the temple when God sent a message. His wife would have a child who would be the forerunner to the Messiah. It seemed unbelievable to Zechariah. Not the part about the Messiah, but the part about his wife having a baby.
When Zechariah left the seclusion of the temple he was speechless. He knew what God had said; his friends and family knew something had happened to him and perhaps it was from God. But they did not understand him. All he could do was try to communicate with his hands. They did not understand.
Sometimes our attempts to tell others about God’s call on our lives may be like Zechariah’s attempt. God confronts us. We have a new experience. We get a glimpse of what He is doing in the world. And we know we get to be a part of it. And now we want to tell others about it. But nobody understands us. What has been conceived in our lives by God is not yet apparent to others. And perhaps we are not yet really believing God. We lack the simplicity and conviction of speech required to express what God is showing us.
We may need a season of quiet patience, simplicity, and trust. That was the issue for Zechariah. He didn’t yet trust or believe God in the matter of the child. His ten months of silence or speechlessness was a graceful gift. When you are struggling to communicate what God is forming in you and for your organization try something: spend some more time quiet with God ‘till He forms the words in you that resonate.
6And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 7And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2:6-7
I’ve often wondered why the inn-keeper is vilified. Surely this nameless and non-mentioned participant in the birth of Christ could be painted in a better light. He was so accommodating!
Perhaps he had already turned away countless others seeking shelter. But there before him was a pregnant woman. His inn was full. But if it was just shelter they needed for the delivery, they could use the stable. As far as he knew the couple before him were nobodies and the child – another nobody. But they had a desperate need and he met it. And there in what we might call a “back room,” the King of Creation fully occupied a manger.
As we watch Jesus in the Gospels we see this humility over and over. He takes what is offered, does more with it than expected, and occupies all the space offered with His glory. He is King no matter what seat He is offered at the table.
Imagine what Jesus can do with a life fully surrendered to Him!
This weekend I lied to our congregation. It wasn’t on purpose. I was telling the part of your story I knew. And well, I only told them the part I knew and I was missing what Paul Harvey used to call, “…the rest of the story.” I told them that in your reluctant search for your father you discovered that he was dead. I shared with them that by starting the search you began to live a better story. So this weekend you illustrated one of the contrarian impulses that may come to us when we start living the Gospel by the Spirit of God: to include the mess-ups in a new family story.
Its Advent, and we launched our series with Matthew 1:1-18. Yes, its the list of names, the genealogy of Jesus, and I read every name. His family tree includes the stories of wonderfully messy characters. Abraham, David, Bathsheba, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and a slew of wicked kings. Jesus’ family list of the “bad” among the “good” shocks our desire to hide what we believe to be our shame. From Matthew’s perspective the genealogy of Jesus is the genesis of a new family and a new kingdom shaped by grace (Matthew 1:1).
The Gospel compels us to do something different, something contrary to our impulse to hide. Instead of hiding the past, we redeem the past by God’s grace. God is faithful. Now we know He is working through the messes of sinful people to accomplish His plan and purposes. While life in its current and painful construction creates a deep longing for family and for noble leaders our disappointment with reality may compel us to hide from truth and ignore the reality of our fallen families. And that hiding only creates more pain. But grace creates a new impulse: the impulse to include the mess-ups of our lives in our story and in our family story. Jesus did it, and He is the grace for it. You know this and have profoundly illustrated it in your writing.
And so, I told your story as you have told it in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years… and as far as I had read in the previous week. So I didn’t know that “rest of the story” until I finished reading your book last night. Like a good story teller you set me up… and for that I’m really glad.
Now our contrarian Advent adventure continues… and I get to tell the rest of your story and the search for your father this Sunday as Origin gathers to explore the rest of the Jesus-story in the Matthew 1:18-25. Thank you! I’m glad you set me up, because you showed me that sometimes God surprises us and the void in our heart gets filled up by grace. There can be a surprising “rest of the story.”
Merry Christmas Donald, and by His grace may we all live a better story.
Leaks seem to be hated recently. And I agree. When our kids were smaller I hated diaper leaks and now a leak in the roof will keep me awake at night for days. However, as governments around the world respond to wikileaks I have been reflecting on the greatest leak ever. In Luke 2:9-20 God leaked the secret of Jesus’ birth and broadcast it to shepherds working the night shift. Up until that moment of revelation Jesus’ birth was Mary and Joseph’s private experience. But God would not keep this joy to Himself. This is how joy works. It leaks into our lives and sometimes floods, but most often leaks.
I think there are plenty of reasons why joy is not our normative experience. For one, we are incredibly suspicious of publicly joyful people. Second, we are inhabited with joy killers who roam about like Rowling’s dementors ready to suck the happiness out of us: boredom, envy, and self-righteousness come to mind. And third, life is tough as we live in a Narnia-like state of suspended winter: “Always winter, never Christmas.” We need joy to leak into our lives and our public experience.
I imagine it was another mundane night of watching sheep until Heaven leaked “good news great joy” all over those shepherds. It was God’s happy dance. Joy has roots in the details and the reality of Jesus’ birth. Unto us a child is born! Heaven shouts, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
The shepherds show us how joy might leak more regularly into our lives. They investigated Jesus and got close to Him. So it is with us when we daily ascribe to Jesus the greatest worth and value in our lives, when we respond to the good news of the Gospel that God loves us, joy emerges.
I love the line in verse 20, “The Shepherds returned…” They returned to their jobs, their lives, their responsibilities…but they were not the same. They returned “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” Sounds like joy.
Here is a joyleak to enjoy:
Your response to the coming of God in your life depends in large part on your attitude toward God. Is the arrival of Immanuel good news or bad news? Isaiah sees the darkness, gloom, and despair that overwhelms a nation that persistently refuses to trust God. If Ahaz (Isaiah 7 and 2 Kings 16) and others will not trust God then they will lead the nation into a deep descent in which paranoia (Isaiah 8:12) and fear rule their hearts. Because they refuse the knowledge and the word of God, superstition and the occult (Isaiah 8:19-22) rule their hearts creating a dissatisfied and angry generation. These people have no peace in their hearts nor in their nation as it will be ravaged by the Assyrians. Without the perspective provided by trust in the sovereign God they will drift in darkness.
And then Isaiah sees the grace of God break into the darkness like a mighty spreading light. The NIV introduces Isaiah 9:1 with “Nevertheless.” This “inspite of” moment is a glorious interruption that comes not because of the righteousness of the people, but because of the character of God. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
Christmas is a celebration of God’s zealous intervention in our darkness. The Messiah comes as a child, initiating a new kingdom, not by means of earthly rule or military might (John 18:36-37). He is not more warlike than Israel or the Assyrians. Rather the Messiah comes and by his character and very presence among us–the literal fulfillment of Immanuel, God with us–As a child, He begins his peaceable, expanding, and eternal Kingdom. Now we may know Jesus as our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:7)
Like Ahaz, we may have lived in our own darkness, independent of God, ignoring His call for faith in Jesus, but “nevertheless” the grace of God breaks into our world, “For unto us a child is born.” If God truly loves us, that changes everything. (See Ephesians 2:1-10)