Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Let It Be Christmas - "Nothing's Gonna Change My World"

It began so well.

God created it all, everything that there was, out of nothing. Everything was new - and it was good.

But then sin or rebellion if you prefer, crept in through the open door of selfishness. Mankind discovered that it could sin, and that they were good at it. So good they never even went to the trouble of rationalizing or making excuses. Nothing like we would do.

So the perfect couple, created in the image of God, created by Him, created in pure love, left the perfect world created for them and went into the hard places. Oh and they immediately began tearing it down.

It wasn't all that long then, when one brother, angry over God's refusal to accept his offering, killed his brother. For nothing, really.

From that point it just got increasingly worse - to the point that God decided a do over was the best for all concerned. We treat Noah and the Ark as a charming children's story - even doing our baby nurseries in the motif. But the fact is that the flood was needed to wipe out something that was going to consume the entire earth if it wasn't stopped.

Yet after a little while, it began again.

God, ever the faithful One, kept trying with a people no other God would have wanted. The Israelites would benefit from having God's Law, the Torah, and exhibitions of God's power - such exhibitions that the Jews still leave an empty chair when they celebrate the Passover - when God delivered them from slavery.

But they were a stubborn people, often refusing to obey.

Still God tried.

"Give us a King," they said, claiming God was just too complicated - too distant.

And their wish was granted, and that King, a man named Saul, succumbed to the siren call of sin too. He was followed by King David, a "man after God's own heart" who wrote beautiful songs of praise, and also committed adultery and murder.

It just kept getting worse.

God sent prophets - men who spoke for Him - to straighten out the Israelites. They killed some, ignored others. God used Israel's neighbors to punish them, sent the people into exile, scattered them - but to no avail.

So we pick up the story this morning in the last prophet's writings. A man named Malachi, who lived in the southern kingdom of Israel about 500-450 years before the birth of Jesus.

If you pick up the book and skim it, it resembles a pretty familiar occurance in most of our lives. Doesn't it seem to you like the conversation between an exasperated parent and immature teenager? The adult tries his best to get the teen to recognize the issue, and the teen refuses to admit there's any problem with him at all, and if one exists, it has to be with the adult.

- But you say
- But you ask
- But you say, "It's too hard..."

So God begins to close this chapter of His dealings with people. And notice, the final words contain an opportunity to be blessed, or the certainty of a curse.

5 “Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord arrives.6 His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse.”
Mal 4:5-6 (NLT)

And then, silence...............

450 years of silence.

No prophets came forth to speak the words of the Lord.
Neither did the God who freed them from slavery in Egypt remove the boot of Rome from off Israel's neck. The people were oppressed, they were taxed severely, and though a few remained faithful, the majority gave up on God.

Nothing was going to change their world.

We pick up the story again in a book written by a Greek convert to Judaism named Luke. He was a scientist of a sort, a physician, actually, and because this was a discipline still evolving, his main skills centered on observation and recording what he saw. Each case provided him with knowledge he could use again later. So his book opens the way you'd expect it to - with an introduction explaining his purpose and attesting to his trustworthiness.

Luke immediately introduces us to a couple named Zechariah and Elizabeth. In Malachi God referenced a list of His people who did right. These two would have been on any list like that. They were devout believers and faithful in all they did. Still, though they were universally appreciated, and even loved, people knew there must be some sort of curse in their past, or some hidden sin they were paying for - for you see they had no children.

Barrenness back then was thought to be a sign that a person was on the outs with God in some way. So though this older couple were as good as anyone they ever knew, the people who knew them quietly must have whispered their guesses about what their sin could be. It would have followed them everywhere. How many times did Elizabeth turn a corner and hear "there she comes, be quiet" or Zechariah find the men grow silent as he approached?

How heavy a load that must have been. And they carried it for 40, 50, maybe 60 years. People they grew up with had already had their kids - shoot, their kids had had kids, and maybe their kid's kids had too in that culture. But that couple, that old couple, never turned away from God, and never turned on each other.

Zechariah could have divorced her for cause. There's no doubt her barrenness hurt his career as a priest. Instead of the riches of Jerusalem, he was sentenced to the hard life of a small village priest.

You know, when you think about it, that whole "Nothing's gonna change my world" attitude - what they are really saying is that if anything is really going to be different - it is up to me - and that really, I'm not up to it. Right?

We are stuck in a rut and either unable, unwilling, or unmotivated to do whatever needs doing. What percentage of people do you think are living today right there? Right at that point in their life? Maybe 80%

We take a look at the problem and decide it has us licked. And so we just go on with putting one day in line after another. That's what seems to have happened with these two.

Because when Zechariah wins the lottery and gets to represent the nation in God's most Holy presence, he's surprised when God's messenger shows up, and down right insulting in his response to the greatest news he could have ever heard.

11 While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar.12 Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him.13 But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John.14 You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth,15 for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. 16 And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God.17 He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”
18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”
Luke 1:11-18 (NLT)

In other words, if I can't do it, it's impossible.

19 Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news!20 But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.”
Luke 1:19-20 (NLT)

Maybe Zechariah needs time to sort out his thoughts. In silence.

Maybe we do too.

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