The morning Scripture: Scripture Luke 1: 57-65 NIV 57 When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy. 59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, 60 but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.” 61 They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.” 62 Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. 63 He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” 64 Immediately his mouth was opened, and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. 66 Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.
Today is the fourth week in Advent. Christmas is less than a week away. I cannot believe how fast time is moving. During our time in Advent this year, we have been exploring waiting on the action to occur — the coming of the Christ Child. As we know waiting is very hard to do. While we are waiting, we get distracted. We have to play with our phone – the phone is a significant distraction to us.
Can you imagine just how hard it is for Zachariah? He gets distracted in the Temple. He has been about his priestly duties in the Temple. Lighting the incense near the sacred altar that contains the 10 Commandments. A routine role for a priest who has been selected for that chance to be near the most sacred items of the Jewish people. Zachariah is an old man – he has no successors to his linage. His wife is old also as has not been able to conceive a baby.
Suddenly, the angel Gabriel appears and announces to Zechariah that Elizabeth is to conceive and that the baby – a son — has a special assignment in God’s unfolding plan for humanity. Gabriel says that the son will be a joy and delight to you and that many will rejoice because of his birth. John will have a specific assignment in God’s plan. He is to prepare the way for the Lord who is coming.
Remember in Genesis, when God appeared to Abram and Sarah and said that they were going to have a child who would continue God’s plan. That this child would be the beginning of the covenant to show that God’s chosen people will populate the world as numerous as the stars. What was their reaction to this proclamation — the laughed? Not with joy, but with unbelief. How could an elderly couple have a baby? But it happened.
In this weekend comic, there is a short cartoon called Pickles. Pickles is about Earl and Opal —- Opal – says to Earl –“I am expecting!” And Earl goes ballistic – he cannot believe it. The last part of the cartoon has Opal saying – I am expecting Christmas! Wow! What a relief!
So, Gabriel tells Zechariah that Elizabeth will a son, and Zachariah says – How can I be sure of this? I am and old man and my wife is well along in years? With this, Gabriel says—because of Zachariah’s unbelief he will remail silent until the day of the birth.
Today’s Scripture is centered on the day of the birth of John. When the naming day comes, Zachariah takes a tablet and writes – His name is John. Now Zachariah is able to speak – and the later verse of Luke are Zachariah’s song of gratitude. And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven 79 to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” 80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.
Gratitude at Advent. Gratitude in waiting! I want to examine gratitude a little deeper. Over the years, we have looked at books by John Ortberg. He has written many challenging books on the Christian faith that takes the difficult questions we ask about the Christian faith and distills them into understandable English.
In one of his books Ortberg writes, “Gratitude is the ability to experience life as a gift. It opens us up to wonder, delight, and humility. It makes our hearts generous. It liberates us from the prison of self-preoccupation. Gratitude is the gift God gives us which enables us to be blessed by all God’s other gifts, the way our taste buds enable us to enjoy the gift of food. Without gratitude our lives degenerate into envy, dissatisfaction, and complaints, taking for granted what we have and always wanting more.”
So, gratitude is a way of orienting our spirits to experience life as a gift, while the alternative is being chronically discontent. Someone said, “It is not happy people who are thankful. It is thankful people who are happy.” “It is not happy people who are thankful. It is thankful people who are happy.”
Here are some attributes of grateful people: Express their joy. Celebrate all of God’s blessings. Remember who and what helped their lives turn for the best. Endure hardships with grateful hearts. Serve others with their talent, time and money. Value the small things in life. Spend time with loved ones and fiends.
I believe that gratitude is pretty much the secret to life: Gratitude is noticing God’s grace,
Gratitude is seeing God’s goodness, Gratitude is paying attention to God’s healing, Gratitude is stopping to take in the blessing, Gratitude is giving thanks for the ordinary and extraordinary graces of our life together.
Gratitude is the secret to a good life and the heart of saving faith. This is the secret to living completely whole and joyful no matter what circumstances comes your way. I have seen gratitude come forth from the small things that life throws at us. I know this because I’ve seen it. In new parents and those in Hospice care, in the face of a child receiving an unexpected treat as well as the expression of a very ill patient recognizing the extraordinary care of a nurse.
I’ve seen it in reverse as well. The lack of gratitude is shown in: The person who is never satisfied. The person who gets a break and complains it wasn’t bigger or better! The person who compares their lot in life to everyone else and is never satisfied because so and so has more…
True joy isn’t found comparing your situation to someone else’s but, rather in seeing the blessings you have as pure gifts from an amazing God who has given much more than you could ask for or ever deserve. Which is what I find so amazing – this gratitude which restores and heals and completes and saves… it’s available to us at every single moment of our lives. In our health or with those who are caring for us when we aren’t well. In those near and far who have contributed to who we are. In the fellowship we share in our congregation and for the people and programs that bring them to life. In both the rain and sunshine! – People who are filled with gratitude enjoy their lives.
So, there it is – the secret to a completely whole and joyful life, the heart of gratitude. I believe that the most joy filled people are those whose gratitude flows from their hearts. I believe that generous people are the most joy filled people. Generosity and abundant faith, and for our witnessing to the grace of God that not only showers us with blessing but gives us the eyes to see it and hearts eager to respond in gratitude and generosity.
God blesses us with so much and allows us the freedom to be grateful or not; to be generous or not. I try to count my blessings and remember to return to give Jesus my thanks every day. Will you?
Let’s pray: O Lord that we might be the hands and feet of Christ to the next generations of who are seeking faith and understanding. Help us O Lord to remember the ways in which others have witnessed to us and lead us in ways we can witness to others. May today mark a day of deep gratitude and the being of a thankful life.
Thanks be to God!