Part 3 of 4
The Gift of Lameness
A very influential man had a debt he desired to repay to a dear friend who had unexpectedly died. He asked around to see if there were any living relatives that he could bless and one person mentioned a son that was still living. Happily, the man asked, “Where is he?” The man replied that the living son was an invalid being cared for by a friend of the family. He was told then to go and bring that invalid son to his own home so that he could care for him.
You may recognize this story for it is found in the pages of 2 Samuel 9. David was the influential king desiring to repay the debt of love he owed his friend Jonathan. And Mephibosheth was Jonathan’s crippled son living under the care of Makir in Lo Debar.
When Mephibosheth was brought before King David, he was frightened. He knew that his grandfather, Saul, had been the arch-enemy of David and upon taking over the kingdom, he knew that David could easily have had him killed. His very life, crippled as it was and so far removed from Jerusalem, was a threat to the security of David’s throne. With one word, David could have easily snuffed out his very life.
But, wonder of wonders, when he was brought before David, he was proffered three astounding gifts: the removal of a reason to fear, the restoration of all of his grandfather’s land, and the return to a seat of royal honor, but in the presence of his family’s enemy, David (2 Samuel 9:7).
Now, he could have turned down these three gifts. Maybe he thought there were strings attached that were too manipulative for him to handle. Perhaps he thought David was just buttering him up to keep him close in order to watch him. He could have been proud and refused to have a former family enemy care for his every need like Makir had been doing.
But Mephibosheth did none of these things. Instead, we know that he accepted David’s profferings of love for the last verse of this chapter reads like this, “And Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king’s table…” (2 Samuel 9:13ab).
David proffered three gifts and Mephibosheth accepted. He would have been foolish not to, but fools have been known to turn down love before. Thankfully, he did not and in that acceptance, he provided for his family, became a wealthy man, owned lots of land, and sat ever after at the king’s table like one of his own sons. Because of his choice to accept the proffered gifts, he lived out an incredible inheritance the rest of his life.
But there was one more gift that was given and it was given by the lame grandson. Because Mephibosheth humbled himself enough to accept David’s generous gifts, he, the crippled offspring of an enemy, healed an evil family fracture. Saul, his grandfather, could not see the gifts he had been given all of his life and became bitter toward the one who seemed to enjoy God’s favor. He cracked open a fissure that Satan used to try and discourage David from God’s gift of the throne.
Jonathan, his father, chose to accept God’s will as his gift and befriended the very enemy his father tried to eradicate, but was killed in battle. He did not live long enough to heal the gaping wound. Even Mephibosheth was a victim of this ugly fissure, for he was maimed because of the fear his nurse had in regard to David’s meteoric rise to the throne. They all thought David would respond like an enemy, but he did not. And in the long-run, Mephibosheth’s choice to accept David’s hand of friendship healed a generational rift.
The gifts that were proffered were lavish beyond belief, but Mephibosheth’s acceptance of those gifts brought honor once again to his family line. His accepting attitude blessed a king and helped him honor a commitment he had made to his father, Jonathan. In short, accepting the gift that was proffered continued a covenant of love.
If Mephibosheth’s nurse had not run taking him to safety, he probably would have been killed in the bloody aftermath of the war. And if he had not been dropped and crippled, he may not have remained in relative seclusion and safety all of his growing up years. And if he had not been crippled, he might have been too proud to accept David’s gifts or even worse, he might have become as bitter as his grandfather and tried to usurp the throne. As it turned out, his crippled legs became the very doorway to an incredible inheritance; his lameness actually turned out to be a gift.
A Brief Review
With Christmas only two weeks away, I am reminded of the urgency of the season. People are very busy being busy about Christmas, but this year as I write, I sense a bit of a soul-shift inside of me. I am quieter, more meditative, even sad at times about the commercialism I see and I am choosing some different behaviors. I am not making fifteen dozen cookies this year. They are a means of blessing others since I give them away as gifts, but I have found over the years that this tradition is a huge time-snatcher. I also am not spending as much time shopping for gifts. We’ve divided people’s lists up more and so I am sharing this responsibility. I have done a lot more making of gifts this year, starting months ago and spending less money in the long-run. All of these choices are not huge changes, but they indicate that I am centering my heart more on things above; I am attempting to place Christ more at the center of this Advent season. I believe these choices have come about because I am staring more intently at the Gift this year than I ever have before.
Two weeks ago, we looked carefully in the books of Matthew and Luke to realize how the gift of Jesus was preordained for us. All of the prophecy, all of the planning, all of the power of the Holy Spirit was centered on that manger and in recognizing that, we were called to anticipate what God would do through the Gift.
This last week we saw how priceless the Gift really was, both to God and to us. The obvious response to the value placed on Jesus is to adore, much like Della and Jim Dillingham adored one another and gave sacrificial gifts as a result.picture from last week We then traced the response of adoration throughout the entire Christmas story.
Today I will attempt to share my thoughts about the proffered Gift. This Gift was given freely for you and for me. How do we respond to such a Gift? Like David we can continue to look for others to whom we can give gifts. And like Mephibosheth, we can see with spiritual eyes beyond the physical to observe gifts that seem disguised, accept them with all of our hearts, and become instruments of healing, passing the Gift forward. (picture of a gift being given by a pair of hands?)
The Gift of Words
Books and the ability to read are such a gift to me and I have tried to instill that same appreciation in my children. Even when the boys were in utero, I would read and sing out loud to them and almost until the day David graduated, I would read at night to him. I consider reading out loud to my children to be a gift that keeps on giving and one time in particular comes to mind.
One night last year, Robert and I headed into my bedroom to read for a while after I finally got Timmy to bed. This memory finds me comfortably lounging on my pillows with Robert laying perpendicular to me with his head on my legs. We were just hanging out, kind of basking in the presence of each other, enjoying some quality time. I picked up in the book where we had been reading the time before and started into the next chapter and subsequent saga. After about fifteen minutes, Robert spoke up and blessed me one of the best gifts I have ever received from my children: the gift of affirmation.
He said, “Mom.”
Startled, since he almost never interrupted while I was reading, I said, “Yes, what’s up?”
“You’re so pretty,” was all he said, but his soft offering immediately moved me to tears. I couldn’t read for a while; the gift was so precious to me. I smiled at Robert – through my tears, of course – and told him how dear his words were to me.
Why? you might ask. Because they were proffered, freely given. No one coerced those words from his liPsalm Because they were sincere. He had nothing to gain from speaking life over me. Because they were unexpected. What teenage boy tells his mother that she is pretty? And because they were rare. I have never heard those words from him again.
Everyone is loved in different ways. My love languages just happen to be words of affirmation and quality time. Those who know me well know how to love me. But, It is easy to feel unloved and to be unable to extend love…if we do not really know the recipient very well.
This kind of missing love’s mark does not happen in our relationship with God and that is the beauty of Christmas: God knows how you feel loved and He is more than capable of extending that love in a way that you are able to receive it. When God sent His Gift to us, He knew how it would minister to us, how it would bring tears to our eyes, and how it would impact our lives.
He proffered the Gift; it was freely given. He was sincere in giving His Gift; He had no ulterior motives. This Gift was incredibly unexpected and undeserved and it was rare. The Holy Spirit conceived one child in a virgin. God brought one child into this dark world. Mary laid one child in a manger and that one Child walked His way to one lonely hill to die for you and for me.
This Gift is so incredible that it almost takes my breath away. Do you feel any wonder, any awe, any gratitude welling up in your heart at all? My prayer is that you will and if you do not, that God would extend the gift of understanding to you, that He would love you through this Gift in a way that you would comprehend and accept.
My love language is words – reading them, hearing them, speaking them and God knows that. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
God is the best Gift giver ever; He gave us the Gift of the Word.
Gifts From the Gift-Giver
The Word became flesh, was wrapped in swaddling clothes and was laid in a manger. Why? Because there was no room in the inn (Luke 2:7).
What happened to the heavenly, gracious, perfect, weighty glory of the Gift? It was proffered for acceptance by the sacrificing Creator of the universe, but the Gift was largely unsung, unseen, unheard, unrecognized, unknown and un-accepted…except by a worthy few.
And those worthy few saw more than eyes could see. They heard more than ears could ever hear and they conceived more than any mind could ever conceive. Why? Because they embraced what God had prepared for those who love Him (1 Corinthians 2:9).
Shock waves of gifts eddied out from that manger into the lives of those worthy few. The Christmas story is filled with proffered gifts and acceptance because of the influence of the one true Gift. Some gifts were unsung, even in the lives of those worthy few. Some gifts were unseen and it is now, only in retrospect, that they are recognized. But some gifts were accepted and glory was given in the highest.
Advent is four weeks long for a reason. It gives us the gift of time to anticipate the Gift, to adore the Gift, and to fully accept the Gift. You and I look onto the very pages of Incarnation with the Holy Word at our fingertips and the Holy Spirit as our interpreter. We are blessed with such insightful gifts and yet, we often still make no room for the Gift in our inns, our lives, and our hearts.
Lord, I pray for your Spirit to work in ever-increasing ways. Show us your Gift. Show us your life. Help us to see the unseen, to hear the unheard, and to conceive the inconceivable. Precious Father, reveal to us the efficacy of the Gift in order that we can see all the myriad of gifts you extend to us through this Person of Jesus.
With that prayer having erupted from my soul, I ask God to spotlight the Gift of Jesus. May we not miss His impact. May we not be like the innkeepers or the townsfolk of Bethlehem that were clueless to the cataclysmic event happening in their midst. And because of that swaddled Gift that has moved directly into our spirits, may we make room in our lives for all the gifts God has to show us. May He reveal His perfect gifts from above (James 1:17).
Gifts Requiring Belief
Many gifts that are sprinkled throughout the Christmas story seem unbelievable. Angels appear to humans six times in this synchronized weaving of the Advent tale. And Gabriel, the very archangel that stands in the presence of God (Luke 1:19), makes two appearances, one to Mary and one to Zechariah. Choirs of angels burst upon a quiet and dark night bringing heaven down to earth. The various characters who saw these angels were terrified, but had the faith to accept these amazing beings as gifts.
On a number of occasions the angel appearances accompanied the mysterious gift of dreams. Joseph almost had the monopoly on these supernatural happenings. Five times in the story of Jesus’ birth, Joseph and the wise men had dreams. On three of those occasions the dreams were accompanied by clearly-stated appearances of an angel who both warned about Jesus’ safety and prophesied his birth.
In Matthew 1:21, Luke 1:13 and Luke 1:31 promises were given about two babies who would be born. Joseph and Mary received a prophetic promise about Jesus’ birth and Zechariah received a similar promise about John. These promises about their future children were gifts that required belief. Imagine the certainty they would have felt if they had just believed the promises: they would help conceive a child, their wives would endure a safe pregnancy and a safe delivery. These are facts of life that are not always truisms; they are supernatural gifts.
So many prophecies were given as gifts at Jesus’ birth. There are six direct quotes written out from Old Testament prophets, but scholars debate as to the actual number of prophecies that were fulfilled in Jesus’ birth. There could have been between six and twenty, depending on which Scriptures are used. To the Jew, and to us, the fulfillment of prophecy pointed to Christ as the Messiah. His coming fulfilled Scripture passages from centuries before, a supernatural miracle in and of itself.
Jesus’ mission was outlined in the words surrounding His birth. These statements about what He came to do for us require great faith, but in the believing, hope is born. He came to bring salvation from our sins (Matthew 1:21, Luke 1:47). He came to live with us as Immanuel (Matthew 1:23). He came to be a king, a ruler and a shepherd (Matthew 2:2, 6). He came to be great, to be the Son of the Most High. He came to take the throne of His father David and to reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end (Luke 1:32-33). He came to be the Mighty One that does great things for us (Luke 1:49). He came to bring down rulers and lift up the humble, to fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away empty (Luke 1:52-53). He came to bring glory to God and peace to men (Luke 2:14). He came to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace (Luke 1:79). And He came to be a revelation to the Gentiles and glory to Israel (Luke 2:32).
Certainly an unusual star that somehow alerted the wise men to an unusual happenstance was supernatural. That same star guiding those grown men over hundreds of miles to Jerusalem, to Bethlehem, and then to the house where Jesus lived was amazing. But it was no less amazing than the guidance that came through the warnings in a dream (Matthew 2:12), or the direction-pointing from a prophecy (Matthew 2:6), or even the guidance given through the throwing of a lot (Luke 1:8-9). Guidance of this kind is a gift, but only if it is accepted through heart-felt belief.
We have talked a lot about the Holy Spirit and His incredible orchestrations in this Christmas pageant, but I think it is important to realize that though He is supernatural, He is a marvelous gift to us. His coming upon Mary to impregnate her takes an enormous amount of belief, but it happened (Luke 1:35) . And a baby jumping in the womb of a woman six months pregnant as she is filled with the Spirit sounds unusual, because it is, but it happened (Luke 1:41). A father, whose lips were sealed in discipline by the Spirit, became profuse with Spirit-filled words after his action of faith (Luke 1:67). All the people who saw these amazing things wondered about them, but they happened. Simeon, a man full of the Holy Spirit, was led by the Holy Spirit to the very place where Jesus was being circumcised (Luke 2:25-27). It seems amazing, but it happened. Next to Jesus, the Holy Spirit is the biggest gift of Christmas.
Ability to Prophesy
The ability to prophesy is a supernatural gift. It takes great faith to believe a word has come from the Lord and it takes great faith to accept that same word. Zechariah prophesied over his newborn son amazing promises about what John would become and about the mission of the Messiah (Luke 1:67-79). Simeon, also, while filled with the Spirit, prophesied over Jesus and spoke to Mary about what was to come in her future as a result of being the Messiah’s mother (Luke 2:29-35). Prophecy in Scripture has two functions: forthtelling and foretelling. Both of these prophetical functions are seen in the Christmas story as the Word of God is shared and the future is foretold, but it only becomes believable if the truths are accepted in the heart.
Two final gifts in the supernatural category include God’s glory and lack of fear. The glory of the Lord is certainly immeasurable, yet is creates awe and reverence. When the angel appeared to the shepherds, the glory of the Lord shone around them (Luke 2:9). This was an incredible gift of God, one that Moses cried out for, “Show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18). For Moses, God’s glory was a still, small voice expounding words about His character. For the shepherds, it was blinding light. But for both of them, it was an amazing gift.
Lack of Fear
Courage is a supernatural gift. We will speak about this a lot more next week, but there was a lot of fear exposed in the Christmas story and each time the angel said, “Do not fear” (Luke 2:10 for instance). By themselves, the shepherds could not have withstood the glory of the Lord, but I believe they were given a holy courage, a heavenly gift from God.
The Christmas story is full of supernatural events and I think that we often respond to that in a complacent way. We think to ourselves, There is no way those kinds of things could ever happen in my life. All those angels and stars and glory and prophecy…They do not apply to me at all. I believe they happened because, well, Jesus died for me, but I do not believe they apply to me at all.
I want to challenge you that this kind of thinking is just not true. Angels do appear to people in these days. My language teacher came to the know the Lord by a theophany of Christ in her bedroom. Dreams are still used by God to show us the way we should go. God has used dreams in my life to show sin in people around me and I have parented by those dreams on a number of occasions.
The promises of God, in all of their wonder, still apply to you and me today. When the Lord asks me to do something, I often request a promise from Him to go with that calling. That promise sustains me for the long haul. Prophecies, given and fulfilled, apply to you and me everyday. We are living in an age of fulfilling prophecy.
Jesus’ mission, as seen in many statements surrounding His birth, still apply to us today. He is still saving, still revealing, still shining His light. He is living in us, ruling over us, and shepherding us and our families. He still fills the hungry and brings peace to those in great consternation. The words about Jesus’ mission are actually the bedrock of our own individual missions. Those gifts are still spilling out in our lives and in the lives of those we touch.
You and I may not see a star in the sky that guides us, but we do receive supernatural guidance throughout our lives. Personally, I have been guided by the Word of God, by His voice in my spirit, through godly sermons, through worship songs, through spoken words accompanied by dance, through conversations with friends, through the advice of godly people, and by the Holy Spirit’s illumination of seemingly ordinary events. All of these are “stars” from God; they are supernatural gifts.
The glory of the Lord still shines around us. When a passage of Scripture jumps off of the page, God’s glory accompanies that Holy-Spirit driven work. When a musical number moves me to tears of gratitude, I know that the glory of the Lord is in it. When a concept from Scripture connects with my heart so that there is a soul-shift in my belief system, there is also the glory of God. God’s glory is the weight of His “Godness” and it is given to us sometimes as a miraculous gift.
The last supernatural gift I gleaned from Matthew and Luke involves peace. In the midst of circumstances that should derail our faith, God gives us a wonderful gift, the ability to lean on Him and not fear. Over and over in my life I have experienced situations that brought me great fear and as I turned to the Lord, He gave me a supernatural peace. In those moments of terror, God’s supernatural gift enabled me to trust Him and move forward with faith and courage.
My friend, in lieu of popular Christian opinion, supernatural gifts are given to many believers…and often. We just need to be the worthy few who look, seek, accept and find them.
As I was searching for the gifts God chooses to proffer in the Christmas, I noticed a category of gifts that are often taken for granted. My prayer is that highlighting this short list of unnoticed gifts will cause a sense of gratitude to well up in you. Many times we forget that everything in our lives – even our very breath – is a treasure from God. Just because we tend to overlook them does not make them less valuable.
Pregnancy and Birth
Two women in the Christmas story gave birth to a baby (Matthew 1:18, Luke 2:36-37). A healthy pregnancy and birth are an unbelievable gift from God. Jesus is described as a child who grew in strength wisdom and grace (Luke 2:40). When our children grow up healthy and strong, that is a gift. When they display wisdom from God and understanding of our training, that is a great gift. And when they demonstrate God’s grace to others, that is a miraculous gift.
Zechariah, Elizabeth and Anna were first introduced in this story by their lineage, which included lists of people who followed God (Luke 1:5, 2:36). Having a godly heritage is a great gift, one that many in this world do not experience. Scripture describes Joseph in glowing terms, calling him a righteous man (Matthew 1:19). If you are married to a godly spouse, count your heavenly blessings for that is a miraculous gift from God.
Prayer and Other “Incidentals”
While Zechariah was in the Holy Place, there were worshipers outside praying (Luke 1:10). Any time there are people in your life praying for you, you have been granted a marvelous gift. Zechariah’s service ended and in that small sentence is another gift (Luke 1:23) If you are involved in ministry, God often grants times of service breaks. Recognize the value of these seemingly small gifts of rest. After Zechariah finished his work in the temple, he went home (Luke 1:23). Have you ever considered the value of owning a house? A home is a gift many people, including myself, do not own. Additionally, the shepherds were out in a field watching their flocks (Luke 2:7-8). Their having sheep gave them both a job and some measure of significance. Have you considered the “flocks” in your keeping: children, disciples, jobs, ministries, money, toys, cars and I could go on and on? God has been very gracious in filling our lives with many types of flocks – all of them precious gifts from above.
After Mary received the news that Elizabeth was pregnant, she went to her house to be with her (Luke 1:39-40). Scripture tells us that Elizabeth was a relative of hers and their close family connection enabled them to encourage and comfort one another. When John was born, Elizabeth was surrounded by friends and family (Luke 2:58). Friends, relatives, and neighbors are incalculable gifts, especially in times of trouble or celebration.
I want to pull one more unvalued gift out of Luke 1:26-28 and 30. Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her that she was highly favored and that the Lord was with her. Later, after she showed concern as to what kind of greeting this was, Gabriel again said, “you have found favor with God.” Mary’s response to the angel’s greeting shows me that this was not a gift she realized, let alone valued. It took some explanation by the angel for Mary to accept this gift. Did you know that if you are faithfully following God, He finds great favor in you? This is a gift many of us hardly even adopt, let alone accept or believe. God’s favor is an incredible gift to us who have faith that he exists and rewards those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).
When our eldest son David was born, he had an inexhaustible amount of health problems, most of them stemming from G.I. issues and allergies. David struggled to nurse and would not eat solid food. He rarely slept more than three hours at a shot at night. He did not develop normally: there was no crawling, no walking, no talking, no putting anything into his mouth. All he did was cry and scratch until he bled. Over the course of David’s first two years of life, I dragged him to about fifteen different specialists. We had feeding technicians in the house for a year along with developmental and occupational therapists, but no one could help him – or us – at all.
For almost two years I walked through this nightmare alone. Barely surviving, running on fumes, sleep-deprived and exceedingly discouraged, I was aware enough to know that I was very close to a nervous breakdown. With that desperate knowledge, I came before the Lord one day and begged Him for help. I knew I would never make it if God did not show up. And gift of all gifts, He did, and He has kept on showing up through all these last nineteen hard years.
I would never choose to live through those tormenting and devastating years ever again, but in retrospect, I would never trade them either. I consider that arduous ordeal to be the refining of a new faith; my second salvation, so to speak. David’s early years were pure torture for me, but they were also God’s gift of grace. I would not have a lover relationship with my Lord today if God had not given me that terrible trial, for it became the crucible in which an intimate relationship with my God was formed. It was both horrific and very, very beautiful.
James understood this paradox and yet he still wrote, “Every good gift and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17 – ESV). The words good and perfect need a heavenly interpretation. We see good things, perfect things, as being positive to our well-being: good health, perfect ministry, good house, perfect life partner, good financial return, and perfectly behaved children.
But God has a different take on what is good and perfect. He knows the things that are beneficial to our spiritual well-being as well as those things which will complete us and bring us to maturity in Christ (these are the meanings of these two words). What seems personally superior to us may be very inferior in God’s economy.
I know this because James 1:17 ends a chapter that speaks of being joyful in some really awful circumstances. Is it a good thing to encounter trials (v2), to have your faith tested, to struggle along in dark times without wisdom (v5)? Is it perfect for you and me when doubt seems to reign (vv 7-8), when the rich get richer and the poor people get poorer (vv 9-10)? Does goodness and perfection equal trials that require steadfastness and perseverance (v12)? How about when there is great temptation (v13) and an opportunity for great deception (v16)? These do not seem good and perfect by our standards, but the result is seen in the last verse, “He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of all his creatures” (v18 – MSG).
Do you see God’s goal, His spiritual aim? He is aiming for goodness and perfection: bringing us to life, using His Word, showing us off as we pass His tests with flying colors, and crowning us as His most beloved creatures. We are His prized possessions (NLT), the firstfruits of all that He created (NIV). The gifts that He extends, though often badly misinterpreted by our finite, human minds, are the best gifts He can offer to make us more like Christ.
The Christmas story reveals some of these often – misinterpreted gifts. Would you look at these with me to notice the gifts behind the tableau of angst, the treasures in the darkness? For you and I may run across these offerings of God and we will have a choice. Will we notice the good and perfect plan God has for us in these gifts or will we act out our unbelief and become bitter or worse yet, throw in the spiritual towel?
The Magi traveled from the East, Scripture says. Many references about the East refer to Mesopotamia, but if the Magi were connected to Balaam, as many believe, they would have traveled from Syria. If this is true, the wise men would have traveled about 400 miles to get to Bethlehem. On camels, this could have taken about two weeks. On foot, about a month. But if they needed to follow the star at night, their trip could have taken a lot longer (bibleask.org/far-magi-travel-see-jesus).
You might be wondering why I am bringing this up. Imagine if you saw a star and knew its relevance, that it was the Messiah’s star. People in Jerusalem would know about their Messiah so you would head to the source of information. On this one-month or even two-month journey, just imagine the thoughts that would be rolling around in your mind. You would have all kinds of questions and sure enough, the first item of business for the Magi when they arrived in Jerusalem was finding the answer to one of those questions, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2)?
All Those Weeks of Travel
All those moments of self-doubt. All that conjured-up humility to ask. It seems to me to be a sure-fire opportunity to pack up and go home and that is what we often do. When there is a long wait or time for doubts to settle in, when there are more questions than answers, we often quit.
But there is a gift here shown to us by the Magi which you and I must see. Darkness can be discouraging, but without darkness, stars cannot be seen. Stars do not talk, and yet if studied and discussed, they often reveal more questions. And questions, as frustrating as they might be, lead to the Source of all answers.
You may be in a season of darkness. I believe that God is telling you through the example of the wise men that you are to wait for a star. It may lead to more questions, but the ability to ask is a precursor to having answers given to you (Matthew 7:7). It is an invaluable gift, one that engages God at a heart level and opens up dialogue between heaven and earth. Do not be afraid of God’s gift of questions. Like a carrot on the end of a string, following a trail of questions leads you on a quest where you will one day find and have the door opened to you. And as you engage the gift of questions, not shying away, but boldly pursuing, you will eventually find the Gift.
Duties and Lots
Zechariah was a priest belonging to the priestly division of Abijah, which was the eighth division of twenty-four. Each division was on duty twice a year, for a week on each occasion. Since there were so many priests and not enough sacred duties for them all, lots were cast to see who would perform each function.
This information is background to Luke 1:8. Zechariah was at the temple site for one week, serving, performing his duties. The prestige of serving as a priest was considerable; it was an honorable position. Zechariah came from really good stock, and having a wife from a priestly line was nothing to sneeze at either. But I imagine that sometimes the duties that priests had to perform were quite mundane: lighting candles, changing the shewbread, mixing incense and other not-so-glamorous jobs. But in the mundane, Zechariah was faithful. We know this because he was described as a “righteous man before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord” (Luke 1:6). Even in the mundane, innocuous, even seemingly ineffective jobs, there was an underlying and powerful gift: they were performed in the temple, the very presence of God.
Luke 1:8 states that “once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense.” And in the duties, sometimes there is another transformative gift; a lot, so to speak.
Casting lots was a method used to determine God’s will about a matter. Lots could be sticks with special markings or stones with symbols on them. They were thrown and the result would have interpreted (carm.org/what-casting-lots-in-the-bible). In this case, the lot that was cast indicated that Zechariah was go to into the temple. Now you need to know that a priest could only offer incense once in his lifetime (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries) so this moment for Zechariah was one of the most important moments in his whole life.
The gift of the lot indicated a soul-shift opportunity for Zechariah. Unfortunately, because of unbelief, he blew his biggest opportunity, but the moment was not all lost, for it started him on a pilgrimage of faith that changed the trajectory of his walk with the Lord.
You and I tend to duties every day of our lives. Some are significant; some, not so much, but in all of the tending and unseen serving, we need to remember the gift that brother Lawrence knew: even washing dishes, a very menial task, can become a worship moment. The gift in the mundane is the opportunity to practice the presence of God. And in the faithful serving in the presence of God, sometimes God’s will is for you to be given a greater gift, a gift from heaven that will change your life.
Duties come before lots; faithfulness in serving comes before greater revelation. There are godly gifts in both of these opportunities. Zechariah appreciated the gift of duty but he misinterpreted the gift of the lot. You and I can choose to see the gifts in both the routines of life and in the spectacular revelations of God, but I daresay God will proffer His lots to those who are faithful in the repetition. Let’s not be like Zechariah who did not believe God’s lot for his life and thereby, misinterpreted his gift.
The angel told Zechariah that his prayers had been heard and that he was going to bear a son. He proceeded to regale the old priest with all the amazing things John would do in his lifetime, but Zechariah was not really listening. Perhaps the years of unanswered prayers had taken their toll. Possibly the hurt in his heart and his lack of an heir dulled the perception he needed to accept this gift fully. What we do know is that Zechariah did not believe Gabriel’s words.
The angel, shocked at his unbelief said, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time” (Luke 1:19-20). It almost seemed as if Gabriel was exasperated with the doubt in Zechariah’s heart so that he gave Zechariah a proverbial verbal spanking and a silence sentence.
That discipline was the greatest gift Zechariah could have received. For almost ten months, Zechariah was unable to speak a word. All he could do was watch, wait, pray, and cultivate his belief system. His wife’s growing belly fueled his faith, but he could not speak of it; not to his wife, not to his friends, or his family members. He could only talk to God in his heart about his doubts, his fears, his joys, and his excitement. That inner ten-month dialogue with God blossomed into a great faith that acted with confidence when the moment arrived to test it (Luke 1:63).
The psalmist knew about the gift of discipline personally: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word” (Psalm 119:67); “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees” (Psalm 119:71); and “I know, O Lord, that your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me” (Psalm 119:75). Discipline is the gift that keeps on giving: obedience to the Word, learning God’s decrees, and experiencing the faithfulness of God.
You may someday experience this gift. Accept it for what it is: the faithful, loving hand of a God who wants the best for you. Learn to be in the Word while you are undergoing discipline. Learn about God’s ways and learn, truly understand, His faithfulness to you so that your doubts can grow into belief. “It is written: ‘I believed; therefore I have spoken.’ With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak…” (2 Corinthians 4:13). Like Zechariah, there may come a time when you will have to speak out the faith that is cultivated in the womb of discipline. Will you pass that test? I pray you will not misunderstand this gift, but will be able to believe and then speak.
Twice in the Christmas story, babies experienced a circumcision. Neighbors came to administer this important rite to John on his eighth day in the world (Luke 1:59). Likewise, Jesus was taken to the temple to be circumcised (Luke 2:21) on his eighth day. This tradition was meaningful, both in tradition and in significance.
Circumcision was a sign in the flesh of the covenant between Abram and God. Abram’s part was to walk before God and be blameless (Genesis 17:1). God’s part was much bigger. He would make Abram the father of many nations. This was confirmed by changing his name, and promising to make him fruitful, both of nations and kings. He covenanted to be his God and the God of all his descendants and lastly, He promised to give Abram and his descendants the land of Canaan (Genesis 17:3-9). Circumcision in the flesh of a male was a sign of the covenant between God and the Jews and this painful rite occurred on the eighth day of life (Genesis 17:11-12).
It is interesting to me that God changed Abraham’s name to Abram when he was circumcised. This renaming outwardly is a sign of an inward shift toward God. The Christmas story mirrors this ritual for when the neighbors came to circumcise the the child, they were going to name him after his father, but Elizabeth spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John” (Luke 1:60). Not content with her vehement answer, they made signs to Zechariah to find out what he thought the baby should be named. He wrote on a writing tablet, “His name is John.” Similarly, when the Christ child was taken to be circumcised, Luke makes it clear that he received the name “Jesus” at that very time. This was the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived” (Luke 2:21).
Circumcision does not have the same meaning to us in these days. In New Testament times and onward, circumcision was of the heart, by the Spirit, not in the flesh (Rom. 2:29). This is a fulfillment of Ezekiel 36:26-27, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”
So what is circumcision of the heart? It means that we partner with God in His work of becoming separated unto Him, of having a pure heart. Jacqueline Robertson states this beautifully, “Circumcision of the heart is what happens in the process of sanctification. As we grow in the knowledge of God we surrender the things of this world, our fleshly desires which wage war against the Spirit of God. Circumcision can be painful just as circumcision of the flesh is painful; however the fruit of circumcision brings us into a closer relationship with God. If we want to walk in the will of God we need this to be our daily prayer. Lord, circumcise my heart because only God knows the things that hold us back from all God has for us. God himself changes us from one glory to the next” (ebible.com/questions/284-what-is-circumcision-of-the-heart).
Sanctification requires an initial cutting away of flesh. We call this surrender or brokenness and in that surrender, our names are changed from lost to found, from dark to light, and from hopeless to hopeful. There are subsequent circumcisions of the heart throughout one’s lifetime and these continue to be painful, but in that pain, there is a gift: God promises to be our God if we will just follow Him and obey. The gift of the sanctification process is often badly misinterpreted, but you need to realize that without this gift, there would be no overcoming and no new name given in heaven (Revelation 2:17).
Laws, Cloths, and Mangers
Luke 2 begins with these words, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world” (v1). As a result, Joseph had to load a very pregnant Mary on a donkey for a ninety-mile trip down around the Jordan river, west over the hills surrounding Jerusalem and then on into Bethlehem. It is believed that the couple could have only traveled about 10 miles a day due to her condition, so this trip probably took them about 1½ weeks.
In addition to the length of the trip and the hilly terrain, they were required to travel in winter, where the weather can be below freezing and very rainy; all in all, they would have been miserable. In the forests around the Jordan valley, there were lions, bears and wild boars. Bandits were also common hazards along this trip (http://articles.latimes.com/1995-12-23/local/me-17102_1_gospel-accounts). And on top of that, Mary would have been nine months pregnant and may have been experiencing Braxton-Hicks contractions. At the least, she would have felt exhausted and uncomfortable. At the most, abysmally wretched.
Then to arrive in Bethlehem and find no room to stay because of this census, must have been so discouraging. Imagine Joseph’s angst at being unable to provide even a room for his young, miserable wife. It must have been very tempting to curse the census and Caesar Augustus along with it.
When the time was ripe, Mary “gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:6). Imagine Mary’s frustration. No place to deliver but a cave. No onesies or booties. No crib for his head. Just straw, animals and blood. How horrible! How shocking! How appalling! Yet in all of this dreadful lack, there was a gift.
Fast forward to the scene of the shepherds, who were in the fields watching their flocks. The angel makes a great announcement to them of great news and he ends his speech with these words, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. this will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:11-12).
Do you see the gift? All of this meandering through the cold, traversing the hills, and fending off wild animals was due to a census, a census that incidentally, brought Mary and Joseph to the “town of David.” Finding no room in an inn was imperative to fulfilling prophecy, for all that uncomfortable, bearing down in pain in that stable or cave, as some believe, culminated in a baby “wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” The senseless census, the unwelcoming town, the lack of accommodations, and the spartan birth became the very signs that spurred the shepherds on their faith quest.
You and I often go through senseless events: taxes, job transfers, demotions, job losses, bumped flights, and even accidents. In those bizarre and seemingly meaningless circumstances, do we see the hand of God? Do we look for the meaning behind the consternation or do we misunderstand the gift? These cleverly-disguised treasures may be the very momentum needed to move us into God’s plan, push us into the path of someone’s need or orchestrate a surrender that becomes a sign for another’s weak faith. Laws, cloths and mangers are the tapestry upon which God draws all His plans together. Do you want to participate in some divine art? Look for the gift behind the inconvenience.
Empty Hands and Hearts
I could literally go on and on reciting misinterpreted gifts for you, but this devotional is beginning to get away from me. With that said, let me pare down my list and end this section with one more thought about emptiness.
In describing Zechariah and Elizabeth, Luke mentions that they had no children because Elizabeth was barren (Luke 1:7) Later when we meet Anna, she is described as living with her husband “seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four” (Luke 2:37). Both of these stations in life describe a lot of pain in a few short words. The inability to bear children describes the sadness of empty hands and the lack of a husband the trauma of an empty heart. For those of you who are single and looking to be married, you may feel this empty loss very keenly, for you fall into both of these categories: having no husband and having no children.
At the risk of rubbing salt in a painful wound, let me tentatively suggest that singleness, childlessness, and widowhood may be misunderstood. In all the wanting and longing and yearning, it is quite easy to miss what God is doing. I am not single, so I cannot speak to that particular pain nor am not childless, although sometimes I wish I were. Children can be a pain of another matter. Tongue-in-cheek aside, may I suggest to you that .you have been given a gift by God.
My sister is single and greatly desires to be married and have her own home. But through this frustration in life, I do remind her that she is a fantastic first grade teacher and that God took her back to school later in life to train her for this very ministry. If she had a family at this juncture, all that training would go to the back burner; she would be so busy managing her own family and all of her first graders could not experience one of the greatest teachers they might ever know. Her singleness is actually a gift.
Another single friend of mine has greatly amended this desire. She sees how tired I am along with her other mommy friends. She sees that I have no free time to call my own and she sees how I have to say “no” to ministry a lot because I have obligations in the family. I challenged her to see her singleness as a gift: she has a plethora of free time she can give away, she has a lot of energy to share, and she has no one vying for her ministry interests. She has taken up that challenge and is mentoring a number of younger women and even ministering to me every now and then by watching Timmy overnight.
As a widow, Anna had a lot of extra time on her hands. She spent that gift wisely, training herself in godliness. She became an expert at worship, fasting and praying and God used her as a prophetess who then told all that she saw about the Christchild (Luke 2:36-37). Another woman, Dorcas, spent her time always doing good and helping the poor. She had a special ministry to widows, making robes and clothes for them (Acts 9:39). Scripture does not say that she was a widow herself, but the context makes me believe that to be true.
You may be experiencing the emptiness that comes with barrenness or widowhood. If you are not now, you may in the future. Know this: God sets the lonely in families (Psalm 68:6a) and the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children (Psalm 113:9). Family and parenting may not look quite like you want it. Perhaps you will run an orphanage or teach a class. Maybe you will train younger women or foster children. I do not know what God has in store for you, but I do know that God’s plans are good and perfect, both for you and for the ones to whom you are called to minister out of this precious gift of time and energy and love.
In the Christmas story, many gifts were given from God to man, from man to God, and from man to man. We have looked quite extensively at the gifts given to us by God, but what about those that we can give away? These gifts are often withheld in our vertical and horizontal relationships and just by a small measure of faith, you and I could extend these gifts and share God’s glory all around.
Zechariah blew his faith test the first time around. Instead of believing Gabriel, he chose to give in to doubt and was severely disciplined as a result. But in the process of watching his wife’s tummy growing larger, his faith also grew and in one short writing of a name on a tablet, his faith seed grew into a giant tree (Luke 1:63). Belief is a gift we often withhold from God and as a result, it is withheld from the body of believers. You and I love the Lord God when we simply trust Him, when we take Him at His Word. Our simple statements of faith can also buoy up the doubting spirit of a friend. Belief is an incredible gift we can offer our God and our fellow sojourners on this earth.
Two times in this story, we find Elizabeth and Simeon blessing Mary. Elizabeth blessed Mary with these words, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished” (Luke 1:45). Notice with me that the Holy Spirit tattled on Mary’s belief; He was so proud of her. And with that belief as her buoyancy, Elizabeth burst into blessing, which encouraged Mary to burst into praise. Simeon also spoke to Mary with a blessing, telling her the future of her son as well as the sorrow that might await her (Luke 2:35). Blessing is always truthful and in that truth, the glory of the Lord is revealed.
When blessing is turned heavenward, it is called praise. The angels praised God giving Him glory and telling others about His peace and favor (Luke 2:13-14). Later, Simeon praised God for fulfilling His promise to him (Luke 2:29-32). The angel’s praise moved the shepherds to go and see; praise moved them to acts of faith. Similarly, Simeon’s praise caused Joseph and Mary to marvel about their child. Really that is just another form of praise and while this praise session was going on, Anna was drawn into their circle of praise also. Blessing others and blessing God are two acts of faith that keep on blessing.
The shepherds did not withhold their special gift. I suppose the Magi shared this gift as they would have watched the skies, but Scripture uses a different word than in the shepherd’s story: the word ‘see.’ The shepherds, however, showed their faith in God by watching (Luke 2:7-8). Their watch was over some sheep, but by extension, they were really watching over their children, their wives, their prosperity, their livelihood, their friends’ needs and their future. Watching out for others, watching out for God to move – these are amazing gifts we often withhold, but will go a long way in blessing God and building up the church.
The shepherds are considered, by many, to be the first missionaries. As soon as they saw Jesus, they began to spread the word concerning Him (Luke 2:17). All who heard the news were amazed and that led to more praise on the part of the witnessing shepherds (Luke 2:20). When God does something great in our lives, we should witness about it to God – that’s praise – and to others. Then others will hear and be drawn to this God we serve. Witnessing is a gift we often choose to withhold despite its infectious ability to spread the Good News.
Waiting and Hoping
These last two gifts I will lump together. Simeon and Anna were very special people. Simeon gave the Lord his gift of waiting (Luke 2:25) and Anna proffered her gift of looking forward along with others who were doing the same (Luke 2 36-37). Who knows how long Simeon waited for God to fulfill His promise to him? Scripture does not say, but that waiting spirit he cultivated made room for the Holy Spirit to fill him (v25 also). God was pleased with this gift from Simeon and returned the favor with a gift of the Spirit.
Anna responded to seeing the Christ child by speaking about that gift to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:36-37). I am touched by the trust in this simple statement as I am sure God is as well. So many prophecies in the Old Testament told of the coming Messiah. Hundreds of years separated these Jews from those prophecies and yet, some of them refused to give up hope. They kept looking forward with anticipation to the time when God would fulfill His promises.
Zechariah 9 ends with the glorious prophecy about Zion’s coming king: “…See, your king comes to you…He will proclaim peace to the nations…As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit. Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you…” (Zechariah 9:9-12 – italics added). One of the best gifts we can give God and others is this move in our spirits from being prisoners of our circumstances to prisoners of hope.
The Face of Acceptance
How do you and I respond to the proffered Gift in the manger? In weeks past, I have suggested that we are to anticipate the Gift as well as adore Him. This week I urge you to accept the Gift along with all the other gifts that come down from the Father of heavenly lights; gifts that require belief, gifts that go relatively unnoticed, misinterpreted gifts and gifts that are often withheld. All of these are good and perfect gifts for you and me, depending on how we receive them.
There are two kinds of receivers in this Christmas story, two faces of acceptance: ones that responded positively to the Gift and others who responded negatively. I want to list the negative faces first as a blatant motive to prod you to think. Then I will list the positive receivers in order for you to see how you are accepting the gifts you receive from God.
Those who responded negatively were…
- Disturbed by the good news, which led to asking and secretly devising (Matthew 2:3-8).
- Furious, even to the point of killing hundreds of babies (Matthew 2:16).
- Filled with fear or even terror, which led to acceptance or doubt (Luke 2:9, 12 etc).
- Full of unbelief (Luke 2:18).
There were basically two people who responded negatively in these stories of the Messiah’s birth: Zechariah and King Herod. Herod was so full of himself that he never recognized the proffered gift; instead, he sought to eradicate it because he thought it was a threat. To the end of his life, he never accepted this amazing Gift and died in poverty of spirit.
Zechariah initially doubted and disbelieved, but his heart was good. The discipline of the Lord drove that doubt far from him and he was able to finally accept the good gift from God. This led to speaking about it, praising it, prophesying about it, and being filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 2:64, 67). This is good news in and of itself, for it means that gifts can open up the heart to the Lord’s working. Gifts given in secret can soothe anger and wrath (Proverbs 21:14) and a gift can open the way for the giver and usher him into the presence of the great (Proverbs 18:16).
Those who responded positively were…
- Obedient to great and unusual lengths (Matthew 1:24-25 for example).
- Responsive in their hearts (Luke 2:15)
- Able to travel, see, give gifts of their own, worship, and experience great joy (Matthew 2:9-11).
- Moved to seclude themselves in the presence of God (Luke 1:25).
- Able to ask “How?” without being full of doubt or fear (Luke 1:34).
- Able to acquiesce to the Lord’s will as a servant (Luke 1:38).
- Humble and considered God’s gift as a favor (Luke 1:44-46).
- Full of praise (Luke 1:46-56).
- Able to share joy with others (Luke 1:58).
- Full of belief (Luke 1:60, 63).
- In awe and talked and wondered and meditated on God’s works (Luke 1:65-66)
- Filled with the Spirit and prophesied (Luke 1:67).
- Led to hurry off and find; they obeyed with their legs and their mouths (Luke 2:16).
- Led to witness to the miracle of these gifts (Luke 2:16).
- Amazed and treasured the impact of these things in their hearts (Luke 2:19).
- Able to give thanks to the Lord (Luke 2:38).
- Worshipers, adoring through fasting and praying (Luke 2:38).
- Able to truly hear the message of the Good News (Luke 2:38).
Most of the people being proffered the Gift and its various other forms accepted them with good intention and grace. They were good listeners with hearts open to the message. They were true believers and out of that belief came many actions of obedience, both toward God and toward their fellow-man.
James exhorts us that we should consider our trials pure joy (James 1:1). How is this even possible? How are widowhood, discipline, times with more questions than answers, and unending duties joy-inspiring? It is because the heart is open to the ways of God. A good listener – one with the bedrock foundation of belief at the heart’s core – is a godly “accepter.” That person will recognize God’s intentions for His gifts: perseverance, maturity, completeness, wisdom, and eventually a crown of life (James 1:2, 3, 5 12).
Do you find yourself wrestling with some “gifts” from God? Are you struggling to find the good and perfect gift amidst the wrapping of suffering, trauma, or even boredom? Are you, like Mephibosheth, crippled by your circumstances? According to 2 Samuel 9, let me tell you how God views you and how He desires to bless you.
The Beloved (“David”) eagerly acts to show His incredible kindness to you (v1, 7). He longs to bring you from your place of slavery (“Makir” – v5) into His very presence (v6). He wants to restore to you all that land you have lost in your struggle and invites you to eat at His table for the rest of your life (v7). Not only do these gifts await your acceptance, but He aspires to provide for your needs as well (v10). Just because a gift is wrapped in ugly paper by the world’s standards does not mean it is not intended to be your perfect gift.
Will you turn your nose up at the gifts God offers you, obscure and misinterpreted though they may be? Or will you bow in worship like Mephibosheth (v6), open your head to the possibilities that lameness can be good in God’s economy, surrender your heart’s desires to the greatest Giver you will ever know, and fully accept the gifts He proffers?
If you do, like the crippled son of “Jehovah has given” (the meaning of Jonathan), you will live in a covenant of peace (meaning of Jerusalem) and eat at the King’s table like one of His daughters for the rest of your life (v11).
Mary had one of the most beautiful acceptance speeches in all of the Christmas story. Faced with the news of a child….before she had married, before she had consummated the ceremony, before it was culturally appropriate, and at the risk of losing her husband-to-be and the trust of her family and the honor of her friends…she bowed her heart and accepted this Gift of God. “I am the Lord’s servant,” she answered. “May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38).
Dear one, Christmas Day is coming and with it approaches a day of great gifts. Anticipate Christ’s coming. Adore this One we call Immanuel. But most of all, accept His birth, accept His life, accept His example, accept His death and respond in obedience, both to His transformative incarnation and to all the gifts that ripple out from His transcendent Presence.
Would you repeat after me, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said?” And then, my dear and most amazed accepter, prepare to be astounded by God’s good and perfect gifts.