Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Advent 2013, Week 2: Peace for the Waiting

He sat slumped in his chair in the corner, for the first time since I have known him unable to summon a smile. "It's been two years now," he said softly.

She sent me a note. The birth mother had changed her mind: 

Just a bit ago we got a call from [her] birth mom, and she's reconsidering, and wants to come pick [her] up tomorrow. Throughout this whole process I've guarded my heart so carefully, and I do feel like even last night The Lord reminded me that we only have any child for the days he numbers.. But this is really hard, and our hearts are a mess right now. We appreciate your prayers, and really long to be able to say that all the time The Lord is good. Thanks for interceding for us. It's really hard to right now.

Last month Dad spoke to a local congregation, a message he entitled Here and Now. (To hear the whole thing, click here and then scroll over until you see Dr. Allan Ironside 11-17-13; follow that link).

Here speaks to place; now speaks to time, Dad prefaced his sermon. We all live in a here and a now.

He turned our attention toward the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1, to the story of an elderly couple whose names were Elisabeth and Zechariah. Their here and now was Jerusalem in the rule of one of the terrible despot Herods. It was an awful time to be living, and yet despite everything they carried on with their lives and their callings.

Dad broke it down quite simply as follows:

Their character: In spite of their surroundings and difficulties, both Elisabeth and Zechariah were righteous before God. Zechariah was actually a priest in the temple.

Their problem: 1) Elisabeth is unable to have a child; and 2) they are both old.

"Consider what Elisabeth experienced!" Dad exclaimed. Verse 25 speaks of her reproach - for all those years she lived under a cloud of shame and disgrace. Very often in eastern cultures, even today, a woman who fails to bear a child is almost a pariah. "Elisabeth lives with this, and Zechariah feels it," Dad reminded us. 

Zechariah had been praying for years that they would have a child, but to no avail. "Sometimes we have to face delays in our lives: this was no yellow light - it was a red light." There was a sense of failure, a cloud of sorrow and helplessness in their home. 

And yet, through it all, the two of them remained righteous and blameless before God. They carried on loving him and serving him despite the burden they bore ...

Dad then got us to turn to Isaiah 28:23-29, where the prophet is insistent that we pay attention to what God is saying. "Give ear!" he urges. "Hear my voice! Hearken! Hear my speech!" We are to listen carefully and with intelligence; we are to respond with obedience.

Then the prophet talks about the different stages of growing a crop. First the soil must be prepared - but that is not forever. The land must be tilled. Next the seed appropriate to the soil is planted - not all the same seed.  And when it comes time to harvest, the crop is not extracted the same way - it depends on the crop itself.

God is the one who instructs this farmer on how to proceed, on how to make the best decisions for the most abundant crop. God wants what is best for us and he is wonderful in his leading. We ourselves might not understand his purposes; we might be confused as to what it is he is doing in our lives; but we have to believe that he wants the very best for us.

These verses in Isaiah tell us that God knows the best PLACE and the best TIME and MEANS to attain his purpose in our lives. And because we are all different, he deals with us in the best way for us.

Back to Zechariah and Elisabeth: Zechariah is serving in the temple when the angel makes the announcement that the elderly Zechariah and Elisabeth will have a child.

Six months later, the angel comes to a teenage girl and tells her that she, too, will be having a child. "Your cousin Elisabeth is also pregnant," the angel assures her. "With God, nothing is impossible."

And Mary decides to go visit her cousin. It would have been a long journey for a sheltered, frightened girl. But suddenly, one day, she was at Elisabeth's house - what a wonderful surprise for Elisabeth!

What was even more amazing were the words that tumbled from Elisabeth's wise old mouth when she saw this young cousin of hers:

Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord. (Luke 1:42-45)

These words could never have been uttered by Elisabeth if she had not had to undergo all the pain, the disappointment, the waiting, the scorn, that she had spent decades of her life living with.

Listen to Zechariah when John, their son, was born:

68 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has visited and redeemed his people
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
    in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we should be saved from our enemies
    and from the hand of all who hate us;
72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers
    and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
74     that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
75     in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    in the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
    whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:68-79)

Their extraordinary gift of a son, the one who would come to be known as John the Baptizer, the one who proclaimed the coming of the Messiah, his cousin and Lord, Jesus.

John had been born at the exact right time. If Elisabeth had had him when she was a young woman - if she had not had to wait for God's time and place - there would have been no special encouragement for Mary in her unique situation, no extra measure of understanding and joy from her cousin. The words "with God nothing is impossible" would not have been uttered - they would not have been appropriate if John's was an ordinary birth.

Elisabeth and Zechariah could look back at the barren years culminating in their deepest heart's desire being fulfilled and say, "We just wanted a child. But think of what God has given us - far more than we could have imagined or hoped for!" 

It was all worth it.

Think for a moment of the mighty King David who, after coming through an inordinate amount of suffering and danger, exclaimed joyfully, "As for God, His way is perfect ... and He makes my way perfect" (2 Samuel 22:31-33).

Elisabeth and Zechariah: two people living in a real world with real problems and unbearable heartache. We may not have their burdens exactly; we may not understand why - though we pray and pray and try to live upright lives - our burdens don't go away, why it seems like God is not answering our prayer.

The old southern funeral hymn starts with these lines:

I like to think my Father knows,
My Father knows it all ...

That's the here and the now. We don't necessarily see the breaking up of the soil, the harrowing,  the seeding, the harvesting, the threshing out in our lives. But when the day comes that all is revealed, we will say, "This is far more than I could have imagined!"

The stories of my two friends mentioned at the beginning continue - he was asked for a continuance into the new year.

And she - there is another sweet baby, a little one determined to keep her cracked heart open and tender. Her beautiful son - she will love him as long as God gives her strength, as long as He gives her him.

Like Elisabeth, she will never entirely forget the anticipation and the sorrow, the high hopes and the ensuing pain that went before. But she can say with the wise author of Ecclesiastes: "He has made everything beautiful in his time(Ecclesiastes 3:11).

We just need to learn to rest, in peace, in Him.



  1. Thank you for this timely, clear message, dearest Dad. Thank you for sharing it so sweetly and from the heart, Karyn.

  2. Thanks Karyn. I'm crying--but blessed! God allowed me two wonderful weeks with those pictured above. D


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