Our CEO, Scott Sanders introduces our "Being Present" Advent series with a reflection from Isaiah on what it means to pursue peace during this season.
Sometimes I reflect - ‘how does my context inform how I live a life pleasing for God?’
Growing up in Australia, but being led by God to have a heart for the poor and oppressed around the world, I have had to understand that the immediate world I inhabit is not the same one experienced by many. There are millions for whom, getting through the day is a matter of survival.
While I contemplate the lists of Christmas presents and manage the intensity of this particular season, others are fleeing violence and persecution, or a lacking the basics of life – health, food, shelter.
It is like living constantly in multiple universes – what I see in my twitter feed coming out of Aleppo in Syria; compared to the daily reminder of how much Australians will indulge in a pre and post Christmas spending spree.
The world is a complex place. Around Christmas time, it seems even more so.
So I ask myself, am I drawing nearer to the presence of God and His will for His children – or am I being pushed further away by my own cultural context and seasonal habits?
The first chapter of the Gospel of Luke (before Jesus is on the scene) provides a refreshing reminder of what God loves: lives lived that reflect the presence of God with us.
Zechariah, a priest of Israel during the reign of King Herod, along with his wife Elizabeth, were people who were “righteous in the sight of God" (Lk 1:6). They were good with God, not because of Zechariah’s priestly standing or because Elizabeth was a descendant of Aaron, but because their righteousness was found in their blameless observance “of all the Lord’s commandments and decrees.” This elderly couple lived obedient lives before God.
It is amazing to read that God remembers their years of faithful living, and chooses this elderly couple for his greater Kingdom purposes. Not only does God send the angel Gabriel into the presence of Zechariah (leaving him “startled and gripped with fear” in verse 12), but God declares through Gabriel that Elizabeth will have a son – John the Baptist.
The angel Gabriel lays down an incredible prophecy for Zechariah’s son John (v 14-17), who will eventually “make ready a people prepared for the Lord” – Jesus. This all seems too much for Zechariah, and he asks for evidence from Gabriel because he and his wife are “well along in years” and bearing a child now seems impossible (v. 18)!
But nothing is impossible for God.
In response to Zechariah's doubts, Gabriel declares that he stands “in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and tell you this good news” (v. 19). Nuff said! And with this, Zechariah is made mute until the time John is born to Elizabeth.
Things just got real for Zechariah. But this is what is so amazing. Even a faithful priest of God could not quite come to terms what was being proposed in God’s name!
When we think more about the Emmanuel – ‘God with us’ – do we really understand how profound this is? As believers, do we step out into a broken world living lives in the truth that ‘His Spirit is with us’?
God is faithful and hears our prayers – for all things, even those things that seem impossible. So whether we serve Him in amongst our family and friends this Christmas, or in unseen and shattered places in our world – He is present with us because of Jesus.
So let us this advent season live lives that reflect the reality of the very presence of God in our hearts and minds – enabling us to love our neighbour as ourselves – no matter the situation laid before us.
Daily Reading Luke 1:1-25
Dedication to Theophilus
1 Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3 I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.
The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold
5 In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. 7 But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
8 Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty,9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 10 Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” 19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”
21 Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. 22 When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realised that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. 23 When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
24 After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, 25 “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favourably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”