4th Sunday in Advent “Wait Upon the Lord: WITH GRATITUDE”
December 19, 2021 (from the midweek series Luke 1:67-79)
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ, [READ = Zechariah’s song]
In our three midweek evening advent services, we’ve focused on the theme of ‘waiting’. This is a common theme in Scripture. Since we are helpless before God, so the life of God’s people is characterized by waiting for Him /to speak, /to act, /& to fulfill His promises for us. You & I are waiting. A negative view of this waiting is that we are -ultimately- waiting for death. But that’s not the truth, is it? The truth is, we are waiting for Christ to return; we are waiting to see heavenly, eternal life.
This is what Adam & Eve were waiting for; along with all those who heard & believed God’s promise of the Savior. Neither we, nor anything in all creation, can hurry God’s plan, or stop God’s plan, or alter God’s plan. In our mid-week devotions, we’ve looked back at a few people ‘waiting upon the Lord’ for that promised Christ-child & King to be born. Abraham & Sarah waited with faith; Isaiah waited with hope; Elizabeth waited with rejoicing. Faith, hope, & rejoicing. This morning I’d like us to ponder a fourth person: Zechariah; who was ‘waiting upon the Lord’ with Gratitude.
Some called her ‘the witch of wall street’, and some ‘the world’s greatest miser.’ She was Hetty Green, who was a financial wiz. She died in 1916, leaving behind an estate valued at $200 million dollars. That would be 4-to-5 billion today. That’s billion with a “b” = as in ‘O boy!’ In 1916, that was a lot. Back then, the average carpenter in Mpls made about $100 per month. But, as the story goes, every morning Hetty Green ate her breakfast cold, because she didn’t want to pay to heat her oatmeal. And Hetty’s son had his leg amputated, because she didn’t want to pay to take him to the doctor. Hetty Green was super-rich; but if you saw her, you’d swear that she was dirt-poor.
As children of The Kingdom, sometimes WE live that way. We are super-rich in Christ Jesus. One billion dollars cannot get even one human toe thru heaven’s door. And yet, our reservation in heaven has been made & paid for = for us. Yet, sometimes we would appear to be ‘dirt poor’. At times we can be heard to say, /‘Poor me! Look at my health. /‘Poor me! Look at my finances. /‘Poor me! Look at my stupid job, my pitiful house, & my aging car.
Shania Twain released a song a few years ago that says: “Poor me – this, poor me – that. Why do I keep looking back?” Zechariah was singing this poor song. Do you remember his story? He had waited & prayed & waited some more. Then finally, in his old age, Zechariah was going to be a father. But his first reaction to the angel Gabriel was not great; it was doubtful, lacking faith.
He said, “How can I know you’re telling me the truth? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” (Luke 1:18). God had answered Zechariah’s prayers for a child; He was rich. But he responds as though he’s dirt-poor. So God gave him a sign so that he could know it was true = do you remember? Gabriel informed him that he would not be able to speak until his son was born.
I’ll bet that every day, for 9 months, Zechariah felt 2 things: regret for letting logic overrule faith, and gratitude that God did not cancel the promise of a child. Eventually the time came for his regret to fade away. It was the day the baby was born, and the family asked him what would be his son’s name. The moment he wrote down the name ‘John’, his tongue was freed, and he could talk again. John would be ‘the Baptizer,’ and the chosen prophet to prepare the way of the Lord. We call his words The Song of Zechariah, or the Benedictus. Whether he sang or spoke, it is pure praise. This old man, a new father, sings about his spiritual wealth in the Messiah, the Christ, in a song of gratitude.
His song has two parts at the end of Luke chpt.1; in the first verses, he gives thanks for what God has done in the past, and in the last verses he gives thanks for what God will do in the future. That’s the pattern for all Christian gratitude: past and future. About the past, he says, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people.” About the future, he says, “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.”
Zachariah sings his gratitude for God’s many times of past redemption, AND gratitude for God’s promise of future forgiveness. That’s why WE are not poor. Tho we may not have silver or gold, or dollars or pesos, forgiveness has made us exceedingly rich!
If you should visit New York City, ‘The Big Apple,’ and want to see ‘the sights’, there’s a few places you should go to. If you want a view of the New York skyline, go to the Brooklyn Bridge. If you want New York entertainment, go to Broadway. If you want New York inspiration, go to the Statue of Liberty. If you want to shop in New York, go to Fifth Avenue.
But if you want to be depressed in New York, go to West 44th Street and spend a few minutes looking at the U.S. National Debt Clock. The electronic sign is 25 feet wide, and uses 306 light bulbs in 2 lines of numbers == it constantly -and mercilessly- counts UP, and shows the U.S. debt, and each family’s share. Our debt goes up over $45,000 every second.
You & I don’t have a personal electronic sign, but you & I do have a debt clock. Everyone on the planet has their own personal debt clock. Our poor lives are seen & noted;
all our insults & ugly words are counted; so are all our evil acts, our raised fists, our cold shoulders, & all our failed promises. Every second of our lives we are poor, indebted sinners in need of redemption.
HOWEVER, at the same time, we daily thank God that we are rich in divine forgiveness. God’s forgiveness is the theme of Zechariah’s song; it’s also a focus of Luke’s gospel.
In Luke 3, John the Baptist arrives & announces, “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” In Luke 24 =at the end of the gospel= Jesus announces to His disciples “that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations.”
The debt we owe to God has been paid for – in full. Our bottomless pit of liability has been covered by Jesus; & it cost Him everything. On Calvary’s mountain, Christ paid for every sin. Completely. Lovingly. Eternally. Our riches in Christ Jesus overflow, and can never run out. That generates a certain response in us: Gratefulness.
I once heard about a little boy who was visiting Washington, D. C. He walked up to a park ranger & said, “I want to buy the Washington Monument.” The park ranger responded, “How much have you got?” The little boy pulled out $1.87. The ranger said, “Keep it; and let me tell you three facts. Number one =it’s not for sale. Number two =even if it was for sale, you couldn’t afford it. And number three, =…as an American, it already belongs to you.”
These same three facts are true of Christ’s forgiveness for us. Number one =it’s not for sale. Number two =even if forgiveness was for sale, we couldn’t afford it. And number three = it already belongs to us. Christ’s forgiveness belongs to all who believe and are baptized into Christ. It is already yours.
As measured by the Law, we are dirt-poor, & worse: we are spiritually bankrupt. Because the only payment under the Law is death; eternal death. But there is another way we are measured besides the Law = it’s by the mercy of God; He calls it The Gospel.
The Gospel of Christ applies to our account a wealth that is equal to the wealth of the Son of God. It has been deposited in our name, free of charge. For such a gift, there is only one acceptable response: humble gratitude.
That’s the heart & center of Zechariah’s song. Divine redemption; divine forgiveness. He says that this is what will “… guide our feet into the way of peace.” The only ‘way of peace’ with God is God’s way = the way of His costly grace, and our overflowing forgiveness. And so, likewise, the only ‘way of peace’ between two sinful people is also God’s way:
the way of us sharing gospel riches with those who have hurt us.
C. S. Lewis writes, ‘Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until there’s something that needs forgiving.’ That’s because we can’t do on our own. That’s why some seek revenge; others run away from relationships; still others allow resentment to eat them up until they become bitter. I know that, because I’ve tried all three; most likely, you have also /craved revenge, /run away, /& allowed resentment & bitterness. We know how hard forgiveness can be; the cross shows us how hard it can be. And just as forgiveness was the only way to heal the split between God & us, so forgiveness is the only way to heal the hurts that split us from others.
People worry that they can’t forgive someone because they can’t forget the hurt that was done; but that’s not true. God has a perfect memory; but He chooses to put our sins away and not bring them up against us in the future. He ‘remembers them no more’. And for that, our faith is truly grateful. Likewise, when we share with someone the forgiveness of Christ, forgetting means that we cease & desist with our accusations, our temper tantrums, our harsh judgments, and our ugly grudges. Forgiveness means we resign as judge & jury; we deny ourselves the right of exacting a full payment from that sinner who hurt us. The world expects ‘payback’ — so why wouldn’t we? Because ….. because we are rich! Ephesians 1 declares that in Christ, “… we have redemption thru his blood, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of his grace.”
Zechariah makes this connection: that as we share in the riches of Christ’s forgiveness, we walk in the way of peace. Don’t we want peace in our lives? We are super-rich with it. Remember that song ‘let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me’? Actually, true peace began with Christ; then it was passed on to me & you; and so now it can be passed on to others. We Christians will pass it on to others; it’s what makes God’s people unique in this world. In Matthew 5, Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” He doesn’t say, ‘Blessed are the peace-fakers.’ or ‘Blessed are the peace-breakers.’
The only way to make His peace is to receive & use & share Christ’s forgiveness with people who have disappointed us. ‘Forgive as you have been forgiven.’ It’s not a feeling.
If we would wait until we feel like forgiving, we might never forgive. Forgiveness is an act of our will; it’s something we decide to do, because Jesus Christ has first forgiven us.
Forgiveness is sharing the wealth that God has freely given us in Christ. Forgiveness shows that we understand what has been done for us at the cross. To share that wealth & that peace with someone is a way to show our gratitude to God.
Forgiveness isn’t logical, it is divine. It’s not calculated based on how it will benefit us. It is doing something God does. Forgiveness is the looking at a wrong one last time so that you can move forward by no longer holding that wrong against that person. If this forgiveness looks too difficult for a human being to do; it IS. So, it must be powered by Christ Himself.
Did the Son of God use that cross so that ALL sins could be forgiven? Yes. Did He mean forgiveness is for the criminal? Yes. /& for the cheating spouse, /the embezzling executive, /& the bully? Yes. /& for the lying child, /the neglectful parent, /& the greedy politician? Yes.
Let’s keep in mind: Forgiveness is not an instant solution to hurt & pain; but it’s the only real solution God has given us. Sin will always have its debt & damage; the forgiver faces that cost for the sake of peace. That was the work of Christ as foretold by Zechariah: redemption and forgiveness. He paid the cost for the sake of our peace. And for that we are truly grateful to God. That forgiveness was worth waiting for; and each time God’s forgiveness came, God’s faithful people were humbly grateful. God has the power & the right to destroy sinners. But it’s His power to forgive us that changes our hearts & lives.
In May of 2011, the New York billionaire Huguette Clark died. About a yr & a half later, a long-lost relative of Mrs.Clark was found dead. His name was Timothy Gray; his body was found under a railroad bridge near Evanston, Wyoming. Tim Gray was the half great-nephew of Mrs.Clark, and he had been completely unaware that he was entitled to 6.25 % of the family copper mining fortune, which was estimated to be $19 million dollars. He was super-rich, but he died dirt-poor. Altho, $19 million dollars couldn’t get even his little toe in the door of heaven.
So, now, what do you think, after hearing about the gospel treasure = are you dirt-poor or super-rich? When was the last time we sang ‘the poor song’ = poor me – this, & poor me – that? Moved by the Spirit, God’s people have Zechariah’s song instead. Every week we come together to sing songs of gratitude for the Lord’s forgiveness. It means we’re not always looking back, weighed down by our sins, or someone else’s. We’re looking at Jesus, the one who makes us rich in every way.
We celebrate our Christmas season -with gratitude- that God has visited & redeemed His people and in Christ has brought us overflowing forgiveness. It not only covers all our sins, but it is also ours to share with those around us so that we will live in the way of peace.