Zechariah and Elizabeth are the main characters used by God in this year’s Christmas messages. They are faithful servants of God, living in Israel, he is a priest. Something is missing ~ they are getting older and have no children. Zechariah prays to the Lord. Even though Zechariah appears to pray without the full conviction of believing God will answer the prayer, he still prays for the Lord to do something. Zechariah expects great things from God. We can do no better than to expect great things…
I am choosing today to be optimistic… perhaps in today’s vulnerable world there is no greater gift than that of hope… the promise of peace. I choose to be optimistic that in the end it will all work out… but this is no wishful thinking, my optimism is based on the character and power of God! If not optimism, what’s the alternative? I’m not sure I like where pessimism gets you… Here are two people’s opposite reactions…
A family had twin boys whose only resemblance to each other was their looks. If one felt it was too hot, the other thought it was too cold. If one said the TV was too loud, the other claimed the volume needed to be turned up. Opposite in every way, one was an eternal optimist, the other a doom and gloom pessimist. To see what would happen, on the twins' birthday, their father loaded the pessimist's room with every imaginable toy and game. The optimist's room he loaded with horse manure. That night the father passed by the pessimist's room and found him sitting amid his new gifts crying bitterly.
"Why are you crying?" the father asked. "Because my friends will be jealous, I'll have to read all these instructions before I can do anything with this stuff, I'll constantly need batteries, and my toys will eventually get broken." answered the pessimist.
Passing the optimist twin's room, the father found him dancing for joy in the pile of manure. "What are you so happy about?" he asked. To which his optimist twin replied, "There's got to be a pony in here somewhere!"
The optimistic person looks for the pony!
God floods Zechariah with a litany of great things that will come from the good news of the birth of a coming son. The angel is saying to Zechariah: “Expect great things ~ Look for the pony!” Zechariah is alone inside the sanctuary when the angel speaks … the crowd is outside as Zechariah lights the incense. In the quietness of your heart, let the Lord speak ~ let him speak into your life a transforming vision of what will be, a message of hope, a message of peace. Listen for the voice of God filling your heart with blessings. As we read of the Connecticut shooting, there is surely a time of grief, but wait, what marvelous headlines: “stories of heroism.” “My teacher saved me.” “A community coming together…” There’s a pony somewhere in the manure.
God floods Zechariah with a litany of great things:
READ Luke 1:14. Good is coming… good is coming… good is coming… celebration… reassurance… The Lord’s blessings are coming and will be a delight, a joy, a celebration. For Zechariah and Elizabeth the joy of a child is theirs. Whatever the gift of God to you will be a joy and a delight. Expect great things and when you receive them, a simple a joy, a simple celebration. I’m reminded of that wonderful Shaker song: “Simple Gifts”:
Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right '
Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When the Lord pours into your heart his blessings, the foundation is laid for transformation as you simply enjoy the Lord’s blessings. The Bible speaks of joy as one of the marks of a Christian that loves the Lord, the satisfaction. The blessings of God poured into your life give you joy and satisfaction.
Expect great things of the child himself: READ Luke 1:15… the blessing of a child is also for others. When God blesses you, the blessing will overflow to others. Expect great things, and when they come, you will enjoy them, but so will others be blessed. We are to have high standards when the Lord blesses us… for John, it talks about a particular traditional ritual of no alcohol… the larger principle: God’s blessings are holy, set apart, and your life will be changed…when the Lord gives you a second chance and yur life changes, you are now holy, set apart for the Lord. You are now called to live for Christ and that means you will never be the same. As a Christian you are called to live by the standards of God and no longer live by the standards of the world. Expecting great things from God is a holy request… put aside the unhealthy patterns, the bad choices, and live a life fitting of the blessings the Lord bestows upon you.
It might be easy to overlook a most amazing promise: “and he will be filled by the Holy Spirit from birth.” Before the birth of Christ, the Holy Spirit was present, but as I read the Old Testament books, the Holy Spirit comes upon men and women for specific tasks/ periods. David danced before the Lord in the Spirit… prophets spoke in the spirit, miracles took place through the anointing of the spirit. After Jesus dies, is resurrected and ascends to heaven, his disciples gather together, and in what we now refer to as Pentecost (50 days after the resurrection), the Holy Spirit comes upon all the people gathered together thus fulfilling a wonderful prophecy from hundreds of years before: “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh” (Acts 2:17). This is a whole new concept of the Holy Spirit… The constant presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer is as significant as the birth of Jesus Christ. John is the first person from his birth to be filled with the Holy Spirit…John not only later is honored to announce the coming of Jesus Christ, he is also the forerunner of the wonderful Pentecost experience of living by the power of the Holy Spirit. What a tremendous blessing of God. Expect great things! There is none greater than the Holy Spirit in you, leading you, guiding you, empowering you, for when you accept Jesus Christ as your savior, you are a child of God.
The outpouring of blessings continues. Expect great things. It gets better and better. Look for the pony in the manure… READ Luke 1:16.
Do you get what is happening? I am choosing to be optimistic because I serve a great God. God is greater than any problem this old world can throw at us. I am expecting more and more people to give their heart to the Lord Jesus Christ. God is going to bring them back. One person pointed out to me that when the Connecticut shooting occurred the churches opened up their doors. There is a yearning for peace that will never go away, and that uneasiness can only be satisfied by God himself. Only God can touch us at the depths of our core. I am choosing to be optimistic that God will bring back more and more people to the Lord in Sumas, in Whatcom County, in Washington, in the U.S., in N. America, in the world. Luke 1:16 refers to God bringing back people to himself: that implies we have lost our way. I’m optimistic that nobody is so far gone that God cannot find them. I expect great things. I know there is a pony in the manure, and the pony is God turning the hearts of his people back to himself that are lost. He is going to do it. This is why the world needs us. If SACC can be used to simply be a voice of optimism for God in a hurting world, that’s enough. Let God find you…
Some people probably feel like the child that has found such a good hiding place the person who is searching will never find them. I remember doing that on occasion, climbing up in the crawl space…some out of the way place: if you hide too well you lose. so what does the child do that will never be found do? Start making noises. Move around. Give hints. God is going to find you….
One more promise. It is going to hit home again. It’s one thing for God to find people out there… but what about your own family. The deepest wounds of all are when family, those who you love the most, are divided from you. READ Luke 1:17. I expect great things, or I could not be a pastor. I am choosing to be an optimist. I believe the Bible, and the Bible tells me that the Lord will turn the hearts of fathers back to the children… in other words, reconciliation of families… restored love. The only thing sweeter than a first love, is a restored love. Renewal in your relationships. I’m optimistic: the Lord will renew your relationships, set things right between people, transformed… I expect great things: I know there is a pony in the manure of your life.
And once again, when God blesses, when God mend’s broken relationships, there is an even greater purpose that goes beyond the blessing of the restored relationship: the purpose? “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Expect great things of God! Decide now how you are going to face a crisis, because as long as we are on this side of eternity, crisis will always be a way of life. Will you be a pessimist or an optimist? God wants you to look for the pony in the manure. You will find joy and peace as his blessings unfold. You will never be the same for his blessings are holy and will change your life as you adopt new standards, new patterns to serve him. Expect great things for others, fully believing that God will turn many people back to himself ~ a crisis does that. Our society may be rejecting God, but when a crisis hits, the church is a refuge for the hurting. Expect great things: even family reconciliation. Choose to be optimistic, never give up hope even in the most difficult of situations…
I’d like to close with one more simple verse. You could say that the promises of today’s scripture is all for the great John the Baptist. I want to share with you what Jesus said about his cousin John, from Luke 7:28: “I tell you, among those born of women, there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” If you are in the Kingdom of God, then you are meant to be a greater source of blessing than John. Expect great things? As humbling as it sounds, God wants to use you to be a source of great blessings for his Kingdom work. Amen.
(Below is a YouTube video of "Simple Gifts" referenced above. In the chorus when it speaks of "turn, turn...will be our delight" the words are referring to allowing the Lord to transform and change you. "Bow" is an act of humility and submission. It's a beautiful expression of the simplicity of life in Christ.)