It’s A Meaningful Life

Elderly Woman

Luke 2:36-38 “There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then she was a widow until she was eighty four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them (Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus) at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Israel”

Anna was a senior citizen. The Bible considers long life a blessing, but old age brings its own set of burdens. Years of wear and tear on the body take their toll. I remember my grandfather going to the doctor because of joint pain when he was in his 70’s. The doctor told him: “Marvin, you’ve worked hard all your life. You are simply worn out at the seams.” At some point in time you start to realize that the other members of your generation are disappearing. Loneliness becomes more common.

We don’t know how Anna felt about her age. We do know that more serious hardships were a feature of her youth. She was widowed after only seven years of marriage. She may have buried her first and only husband in her twenties. Did she see herself a widow so soon? Was this what she expected her family life to be?

For Anna, widowhood brought another struggle. There was no regular employment for women living in First-Century Israel. The law of Moses provided some kind of welfare for widows and orphans, but having enough to eat could be a daily struggle.

We see nothing to criticize about Anna as she fought through life’s hardships. But for ourselves, we need to understand the temptations that go along with a life that falls far short of our hopes and expectations. These can be spiritually deadening.

A cultivated sense of bitterness can make us very unpleasant people to be around. Worse yet, it flies in the face of God’s word: “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4). “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). It is hard to place trust in God, or feel love for him, while we are busy being bitter about our burdens.

Another dangerous trap is self-pity. It is a waste of our time and energy to spend them in endless reruns of how hard our life has become. Like bitterness, focusing on self erodes our faith, chokes our love for others, and opens the door to other sins.

Anna didn’t spend her long years of widowhood sulking. She spent them in worship. Every day found her at the temple until as late in the evening as they would let her stay.

Who really benefits when we spend time in God’s service at worship? Does the Lord need anything from us? He is not, as Phil Donahue once suggested, “An egomaniac who constantly needs to be adored.” Worship benefits us. It keeps us in touch with what matters: We have a God who loves us so much he made himself our Savior. He let himself be tortured to death to free us from sin and deliver us from death. Our lives are meaningful because Jesus considered them meaningful enough to redeem them for himself.

There is another place in God’s service that Jesus makes our life meaningful. That is in our life of witness. “Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Israel.” Redemption is one of those loaded words we hardly think about. It speaks about a price paid to set us free. Anna recognized Jesus as our Redeemer–the one who would pay the price, the Lamb of Sacrifice who sets us free from sin’s guilt and power. Straight from her heart Anna gave her little witness to all who would listen. This baby is redemption sent from God. He pays the price to take our sins away.

What would make your life meaningful? Inventing a cure for cancer? Making a billion dollars? Feeding people in a third world country? What about sharing the love of Jesus with your own children? What about helping a friend to know Jesus as his Savior? What about being part of an effort to send missionaries to people who haven’t heard the gospel before? When we serve God by spreading the good news of redemption to others, we are making an eternal difference in their lives. And our own words about Christ and cross and sins forgiven come back to feed our own faith as well.

Your life is meaningful, child of God. Jesus makes it that way.

One Blessing After Another

Blessing Window

John 1:16-17 “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

Grace is God’s gift love, his undeserved love. John the Apostle, the writer of this gospel, wants us to understand what a source of blessings God’s grace is. It is an inexhaustible source. Jesus brings us God’s grace from his fullness: the full supply of the eternal and unlimited God whose resources know no bounds.

It is hard to find anything else in our experience for comparison. We worry about running out of so many things in our world–exhausting our resources. How much longer will the world’s oil reserves last? Some places worry about running out of drinking water. There are no such worries with grace. Even the world’s most plentiful substances, like sand or sea water, could be used up, I suppose. Scientists believe our sun has between 4.5 and 5 billion years left before it burns out and sunshine becomes impossible to find. Long after all these things are long gone, the supply of grace will be no less than it is today.

This grace, this gift love, is God’s greatest gift, the true heart and center of Christian faith. When John contrasts it with the law given through Moses, he is not saying that there was something wrong with the law. Jesus preached the law during his ministry. The law can bring us many good things, too–a happy family, a safe and secure community, the honor and respect of our neighbors, a content and fulfilling life, even God’s own approval–if we can keep it.

That’s the catch. The law is not the gift that keeps on giving. It is the gift that keeps on demanding. And what it demands, every honest person knows he cannot fulfill.

But the grace of God has no catch, just because it is undeserved. It is the special blessing Jesus brings. Others talked about it before him. But he embodies grace, he is grace–God’s gift of love, with every facet of his existence. His love for confused parents, disgusting lepers, arrogant Pharisees, unsteady disciples, and lowly sinners isn’t just lovely to look at. It is a gift God hands to us and says, “Here, it is yours. Be covered in it and filled with it–the beautiful new face and appearance you wear as a child I have claimed for myself by faith.”

The gory and upsetting details he has told us about the injuries Jesus endured at his trial, the agony of his crucifixion, and the indignity of his death are not gratuitous displays of violence. Nor are they a guilt-trip meant to manipulate us into better behavior. They are the pinnacle of God’s grace, the gift to be able to peer into God’s heart and see, “This is how much he loves us. This is the suffering he is willing to endure to save us and claim us for himself.”

These give the gift of certainty: to know that forgiveness is no empty promise. It is bought and paid for by the blood of God’s own Son. He left no sin unaccounted for. He offers us this gift with no strings attached. The news of Jesus’ resurrection isn’t some freakish intervention in the laws of nature meant to stimulate our curiosity. It is the gift that sets us free from all fear. It fills our lives with hope. It raises us above every painful experience and dark hour because it means that someday Jesus will raise our lifeless bodies to share his life and victory.

These gifts, this grace, comes through Jesus Christ not so much like individual objects being given to us in a parade or succession, once following the other, like a child who has a never-ending pile of gifts to open on Christmas day. He opens one, and then the next, and then the next. But they come all together in an unending flood, like a person standing in a river that never stops flowing over and around him. No blessing surpasses the understanding of grace that Jesus brings us.

Light in the Darkness

tea lights

John 1:3-5 “All things were created through him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, and yet the darkness did not overcome it.”

Are any of us self-made men and women? We may be proud of who we are, what we have accomplished, or what we can do. In many cases we may have filled up a genuinely impressive tote bag of diplomas, honors, and achievements. But does any of us believe that he or she created oneself? Could even an atheistic evolutionist believe that?

At Christmas time, the light shining from the manger reveals where we come from. “All things were created through him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created.” As incredible as it may seem, this little baby, this helpless little infant who can do little more than eat, sleep, cry, and wiggle is the Mighty Maker of us all! The Creator has become a creature. Jesus is the one who has given life and existence to us all.

But there is a far more important life he gives to you and me. “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” The life that gives us light is not our creation. It’s not our physical life. It is the life with God that Jesus gives back to us. Jesus shines on us with spiritual life, eternal life. Jesus himself lived a life that revealed the spiritual life working in him. He lived a selfless life, a perfectly loving life, in keeping all that God demands of us. Then he absorbed all the darkness of human sin and death into himself. He took it with him to the cross where he died and disposed of the sin that divided us from God. He rose from the dead, he took his life back again, and in all of this he has restored our relationship with God and given us life that never ends.

This new life can be found only in the child in the manger. This news, this amazing, happy, wonderful news, shines like a light. It exposes sin. It chases the darkness of despair and unbelief out of our hearts and minds. It makes it possible for us to see and understand God’s grace. It fills our hearts with faith. It firmly plants the new life that Jesus has won for us inside of us, and it makes us spiritually alive again. This life that Jesus gives us is light. In fact, by leading us to faith, it has overcome us with its light.

That Light overcomes us, but the light cannot be overcome, because Jesus won’t be overcome. “That light shines in the darkness, and yet the darkness did not overcome it.”

Have you ever felt threatened by dangerous surroundings? I remember an incident in high school when some friends and I were walking to get a pizza. Suddenly we were surrounded by a larger group of bigger guys. They stopped us and tried to bait us into saying something or doing something that might start a fight. We kept our cool, and eventually we were allowed to pass.

Does it sometimes feel that way to be a Christian today? We are surrounded by a larger world that opposes almost everything we hold dear. It’s not just that they think we are mistaken. They think we are the enemy. Truths such as “God is the Creator of the world,” “Jesus is the only way to heaven,” “The Bible is God’s Word, his unique revelation of himself,” “Salvation is one hundred percent God’s grace, zero percent our good works,” and a host of Christian moral beliefs aren’t just rejected. They are condemned as evil. We are accused of stirring up trouble and standing in the way of progress. As the darkness of this world presses in around us, we may wonder how much longer we will be allowed to pass.

Was the world which Jesus entered any different? His own people had no tolerance for the things he did and taught. “He breaks our laws and heals on the Sabbath.” “He is a friend of sinners.” “He claims to be the Christ, a king.” “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

The light shines in the darkness. But the darkness has not overcome it. Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus rules from his Father’s right hand in heaven. Jesus will return to take us to heaven. Even if at times the Christian faith resembles a flashlight whose batteries are weakening, and the light seems to grow dimmer and dimmer, the gospel continues to go out into the world. The light of Jesus is shining in the hearts of more and more people. His kingdom keeps moving forward. Jesus’ won’t be overcome. Until the end of the world, his light will continue to drive back and overcome the darkness.

Killing Satan

Serpents Head

Genesis 3:15b “He (Jesus, the seed of the woman) will crush your head, and you (the devil) will strike his heel.”

The devil is no one for you or me to trifle with. You know the story of Job.  When God gave the devil permission, in a single day he was able to move two desert tribes to raid Job’s possessions and to send a fire storm and a windstorm to destroy his flocks and his family. Within a few hours tens of thousands of animals and dozens of people were gone.

More impressive still, when the only two people who lived on this planet were still pure and perfect, with no inner desire to sin, his temptations got them to fall. Alone against a hostile tempter, you and I would not stand a chance.

But one of our relatives had the power to crush him. It is worth noting that Jesus is described as the offspring of the woman. There is no mention of the man. Although this doesn’t explicitly teach the virgin birth, there are already hints of it in this very first gospel promise. As the human Son of Mary, but the divine Son of God, Jesus was fully prepared the win the battle our first parents had lost so quickly.

In doing so, Jesus crushes Satan’s head. John tells us in his first letter, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” During his forty days battling the devil’s temptations in the wilderness, Jesus successfully resisted every one. Just days before his trials and crucifixion Jesus predicted, “Now the prince of this world will be driven out.” On that cross, at his weakest, by his own death, Jesus finally crushed the all the devil’s power. He administered a death blow. That does not mean the devil just curls up and dies. But like a bad actor in a B movie, he dies a slow, dramatic death that spans the ages. During that time the power of the gospel is dismantling his kingdom person by person as it calls hearts to faith in God and frees them from Satan’s hold. In the end, Satan will be condemned and bound to hell eternally, crushed in utter defeat.

Yet you know that this did not take place without a dear price being extracted from our Savior. “You (Satan) will strike his heel.” The suffering Jesus endured to save us is astounding. Many people find it difficult to watch Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion because the violence Jesus suffers is so graphic. Still, Jesus’ spiritual suffering was far worse. He received the penalty for every sin of every sinner throughout time hanging on the cross. The devil’s dirty work required him to suffer agony we cannot imagine.

But a blow to the heel doesn’t kill the way a blow to the head does. Jesus lives while Satan goes down in defeat.

Give the Devil What He Deserves

Devil sad

Genesis 3:15 “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers.”

We like to see a villain get what he deserves. I recently watched the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark again. At the end of the movie you not only want to see Indiana Jones get the Ark of the Covenant. You also want to see the Nazi villains get what they deserve. When the news reports that someone has been caught red-handed in some heinous crime–molesting children, stealing from someone who can just barely get by as it is–we want the justice system to throw the book at him. Give him what he deserves. This doesn’t always come from a sinful desire to see someone suffer. Our sense of justice affirms that it is right to give such people what they deserve.

God promises that the arch-villain, the prince of all fiends, is going to get what he deserves. The devil had made some new friends in the Garden of Eden, but God promised to change that. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers.” Enmity, hostility between Satan and Eve, required a change at this point in time. By giving into temptation and eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve had become the devil’s friends. They joined his rebellion against God. That is a big offense–high treason and utter contempt for all the goodness the Lord had shown them so far.

Today, it still requires a change to establish hostility between the devil and the citizens of planet earth. God’s promised that this hostility would also exist between “your (the devil’s) offspring and hers.” By physical birth, all of Eve’s children are the offspring of the devil. They share his rebellion and unbelief. They are his friends. That is why Jesus told Nicodemus we must be born again, spiritually, to enter into the kingdom of God.

This is not something we like to hear. A number of years ago I made a visit to a family that was inquiring about having their baby baptized. As I explained baptism’s promises to them, I emphasized that God was claiming this child as his own in baptism. In effect he was saying, “This one belongs to me now, and if Satan wants him back, he is going to have to fight me for him.” The baby’s father took offense at that idea. “What do you mean, ‘if he wants him back’?” If we don’t like to see ourselves as the devil’s friends, we certainly don’t like to think of our children that way.

But this is not a hard truth to establish, by Scripture or by experience. 1 John 3:8 tells us, “He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.” Do you like any sins? Do your children? Do you find some of them hard to give up? Why is that? God’s friends don’t like sins–not any at all. They find them appalling. Even after God has changed us into his friends and the devil’s enemies, the rebel still lives in our sinful nature. We may find that part of ourselves appalling, but it still wants to dethrone God and take over.

For as much as we are inclined to see the devil as a friend, no one has ever hurt us more. His corrupting work led to every unpleasant experience we ever suffer, infected us with death, and drove a wedge between us and God. He deserves our hostility, but only God can make that happen. “I will put enmity between you and the woman…”

What turns us against the devil and back towards God? God gave us Jesus for that. Jesus gave up everything to give us everything. At Christmas we celebrate him giving up heaven for a cold, smelly stable and a bed of straw. He gave up unlimited use of his almighty power to become a weak little infant, unable to walk or talk or feed himself, needing to be burped and changed and carried around. Later he gave up his life and, for a few hours, his own Father’s love, for a criminal’s death on a cross and sinner’s taste of hell. He gave it all up so that he could give us forgiveness and an unending feast of his Father’s love.

That gift gives us the faith that establishes our friendship with God, and hostility toward the devil. Already in Eden God was anticipating Jesus’ sacrifice when he didn’t destroy Adam and Eve. He came to them. He sought them. He called them to repentance. He forgave their treason. Already in Eden he did what neither Adam nor Eve could do on their own. He put enmity between the devil and the woman, he made them enemies. That hostility is exactly what the devil deserves.

God’s Safe Space

blanket

Psalm 32:6-7 “Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the might waters rise, they will not reach him. You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.”

“What do I really need?” I start thinking about that question when others ask what to get me for Christmas. The answer isn’t always helpful. My need for most things has been satisfied. I might like a flat panel TV, but it is hardly a need, and I know few people buying gifts that cost so much anyway. I need to spend more time with my family. I need to make more evangelism calls. But those aren’t things you can get for Christmas.

David describes a need we all share in Psalm 32. More than anything else, I need forgiveness for my sins. Without it I would be a goner, condemned under God’s judgment and lost forever. But God has forgiven me, and his forgiveness delivers me from his judgment.

Forgiveness is how God responds to our confession. None of us is eager to turn ourselves in, especially if we believe we will only receive a tongue-lashing. But that is not how our Lord has dealt with us. He has always met our confession with mercy and grace. It has never happened that someone repented and confessed his sin, but the Lord judged and condemned that person anyway–ever.

Doesn’t that convince us to turn to him in prayer whenever we need any kind of help? If he loves us so much he delivers us when we have offended him, won’t he want to save us when anything else is threatening us? “Surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him,” David promises. When catastrophe strikes, either God will take us to safety or take us to heaven. Either way we can’t lose. Either way we escape.

So complete is his forgiveness that he is transformed (in our minds–God himself never actually changes) from feared Judge to secure hiding place, from executioner to protector. So certain is our safety, that we can sing–not just whistling past the graveyard to settle our fears, but happy, carefree songs of deliverance, like the happy carols we sing at Christmas. The child in the manger didn’t bring his judgment. He brought the forgiveness that assures us of our safety.

That is what I need.

Forgiveness Spells Relief

Dove Rose

Psalm 32:3-5 “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’—and you forgave the guilt of my sin.”

Judgment Day will be a big problem for those who live in their sin and will not repent. But for those who still have a conscience, the hand of God’s judgment today may be all of his judgment we will ever know. David says this was true for himself when he kept silent about his sin. That does not mean there is some virtue in merely talking about it. I know a man who was struggling with sexual temptation. He spent many hours talking about it to secular counselors only to be told there was nothing wrong with what he was doing. It was natural. He should not feel guilty. Eventually they convinced him that it was okay. He would have been better off keeping silent in that case.

I have been around people boasting about their sins– locker room talk of sexual conquest, people celebrating their drunken foolishness, proud purveyors of petty theft. The sinful acts are bad enough. It would be better if they kept it to themselves.

But the kind of silence David refers to here is the stubborn silence of unrepentance. We refuse to acknowledge our sin, and we try to act like there is nothing wrong.

Because God loves us, he will not let us live in the delusion that nothing is wrong. The little voice of conscience speaks for him, telling us we are wrong, warning us that we are in danger. It may not be a loud voice, but it is persistent. It will not let us forget that God condemns what we have done.

Then the real misery sets in. “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.” The constant tension created by guilt makes us ache all over– head aches and muscle aches and joints that ache, right down to our bones. It is hard work carrying this guilt around. It saps our strength thinking about it all the time, always worrying about what God is going to do to me, always wishing my stupid conscience would shut up. Like Poe’s telltale heart, it pounds out a steady beat of accusation: “You’re the one; God is mad; No excuse; Can’t escape.” All of this misery is just a foretaste of the heavier hand of God’s judgment to come.

Yet there is an escape for those who repent. “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’–and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” For those who have received God’s forgiving word with faith, the deliverance is immediate. There are no fines and penalties that must first be paid. There is no community service to fulfill. We confess and God forgives. The guilt is lifted.

Pastor Curtis Lyon once told of a woman with whom he counseled whose guilt was driving her to paranoia and making it impossible for her to sleep. For weeks she had been taking anti-anxiety medication, and still she could not sleep. The first time he led her to lay down her guilt at the cross to take hold of forgiveness, her anxiety immediately disappeared. In fact, the medication she had been taking suddenly became far too much for her, and she practically fell asleep in his office that very afternoon.

God’s word of forgiveness delivers us from his judgment even now, ending the misery caused by our guilt.

Blessed

Jesus Blessing

Psalm 32:1-2 “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.”

The term “blessed” simply refers to the happy state of the person who enjoys something good. That is what we are seeking, and we think we are going to find, each time we turn to sin. We expect our little indulgence to make us happy in some way or another. We think that sin is going to be a blessing. It’s been that way ever since the very first one.

But the very words that David uses to describe sin provide vivid pictures that show us why sin can never be a blessing. Sin is transgression. The word David originally used describes a rebellion. A rebellion is never a really happy state to be in, is it? It flows from great anger and resentment. It’s based on the belief that we have been deprived or denied. There is tension with the one who is in authority over us. There is no peace. That’s not a happy way to live. Is the rebellious teen a happy person? Isn’t he sullen and angry? Are rebel soldiers enjoying a happy existence? They fear for their lives, don’t they?

Sin itself is a word that means we miss the mark. We fall short of the standard. We are failures at loving God and loving others. I have known people who have chosen the path of failure before. But I have never really known them to be happy to be failures.

The second time sin is mentioned in these verses, the Hebrew word behind it specifically refers to something that has been twisted. So often sin takes God’s good gifts and twists them, misusing them so that they don’t work right anymore, or don’t serve the purpose for which God gave them. If you want an illustration, think of “Sid” from the movie Toy Story taking his toys apart, and putting the wrong parts on the wrong toys to make some sort of twisted “monster” toys. All he succeeds in doing is turning perfectly good toys into worthless junk. That is what sexual perversion does to God’s gift of sex, or drunkenness does to God’s gift of wine, or selfish ambition does to God’s gift of work. It twists God’s good gifts into worthless junk. There is a twisted pleasure some people may take in doing such things, but it is not happiness. There is no blessing there.

Rebellion, failure, perversion, and deceit bring us no real happiness now. They put us under God’s judgment. That is why real happiness is found where these things are not, in the absolution that delivers us from God’s judgment. Again David’s pictures to describe this forgiveness are vivid.

First God lifts the rebellion up and off our shoulders. We are no longer responsible for it. When he sets it down, he sets it squarely on the shoulders of his Son, who dies as a rebel instead of us. It is a happy thing not to face execution for our spiritual treason.

At the same time, our sinful failures have been covered and hidden from sight. God is not intent on keeping a neat file on our failings so that he can refer to them in the future. The blood of Jesus his Son has been spilled all over the file. It is impossible to read anymore. Every sin has been covered completely, every trace of our sinful past hidden. When we know that the only record of sin has been rendered unreadable, we don’t have to fear judgment and we can live a happy life.

Finally, the Lord does not count our twisting of his good gifts against us. We don’t get the credit for our dirty work. That has been given to Jesus, too, and he has suffered the full consequences in our place. This is one time we are happy not to get the credit for our work.

Because the forgiveness of our sins delivers us from God’s judgment like this, we are blessed. Whether or not we are wealthy, healthy, or having fun, we are happy to have a Savior who makes such an escape from what we deserve a reality. That’s not just a possibility. That’s a promise.

Someone to Make Us Ready

pointing hand

Luke 1:14-17 “He (John the Baptist) will be a joy and delight to you and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous–to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

How many ways could the Lord impress on Zechariah (and us) that his son John was going to be no ordinary boy? He would bring joy to people far beyond his family. He would be great in the sight of the Lord. Now that’s an impressive statement. How often do you find God giving a man such unqualified praise? We hear that God is gracious to us and loves us. But to call a man great sets him apart. Proud parents hope for their children to do great things. Christian parents hope for their children to grow up faithful workers in God’s kingdom. Zechariah had obviously hit the jackpot!

Did the angel make this extraordinary announcement just to build up a proud papa? No, these words are for our benefit, too. During this Advent season, we spend a great deal of time hearing about John the Baptist’s ministry in the gospel lessons and singing about it in our hymns. Listen carefully! John the Baptist preached in a style that doesn’t play well on main street today. It’s sharp. It bites. It’s urgent. It demands a response. No prophet ever spoke with a clearer commission from God himself. If the message itself doesn’t make us sit up and pay attention to John’s words, then let the angel Gabriel convince us that this is a man we dare not ignore.

But why? Why is it so important that we hear this message? No prophet ever spoke with such promise. “Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous–to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” A godly man like Zechariah could not have missed the angel’s reference. He was quoting the very last words of the Old Testament. Zechariah’s son John would be a new Elijah, sent to prepare God’s people for their Savior to come immediately.

God’s people desperately needed that preparation. The religious establishment of that day felt that they were on top of the situation. This was a rare period in Israel’s history in which the people were not worshiping all sorts of strange foreign gods. Immorality was held in check. Public sinners were not accepted, applauded, and imitated. They were identified and avoided. It looked on the surface as though God’s people were doing the right things.

But their religion had become an empty shell. People were doing the right things for the wrong reasons. John was coming to make the people aware of the problem with their empty hearts. He was coming to turn their hearts to a Savior who would fill them with his forgiveness and grace, and lead them to a life of love.

Have you looked at your December calendar and heaved a heavy sigh at the load of activity this month? Even when its full of church events, that very busyness can make it hard for us to keep our eyes and hearts turned toward Christ. We, too, need a voice calling with the spirit and power of Elijah to turn our hearts from all the worldliness and externals of this season. Let’s rest our hearts in the grace and forgiveness of the Savior whose coming we celebrate.