THE SILENT YEARS

It had been four hundred years, four hundred silent years.  Four hundred years with no word from God.  We think of it as the intertestamentary period, that time between the Old and New Testaments.  In the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, we leave the remnant of Israel trying to restore Jerusalem, still under Persian domination and in a fallen spiritual condition.  For all practical purposes, Israel remained in exile.  The book of Malachi is an exhortation to return to the Covenant, with severe warnings for failure to do so.  And then, God quit speaking until the events surrounding the birth of Christ.  

Those were years with no fresh word from God.  It is hard for us to even imagine how that would be, with our access to so many different translations of the Bible and the presence of the Holy Spirit to breathe them alive to us.  But as we enter this season of Advent, let us try to put ourselves in the place of the ordinary Jew at this time in history.  In fact, my Advent challenge is to put myself in the place of all the characters in the Christmas story.  

Advent is a word I don’t hear very much in my Baptist church, but it is something I try to observe personally.  Oh I don’t do the wreath and the candles, but I do Advent readings in my quiet time.  For me, Advent is a time of preparing the manger of my heart for the coming of the Messiah.  Advent covers the four weeks leading up to Christmas, and this year, in 2020, Advent begins today, November 29.  We think 2020 has been a long and difficult year, and it has.  But try 400 long and difficult years!  And we have had the blessing of the Holy Spirit with us to help us navigate this year, to comfort us in our grief and to encourage us when we are afraid.  As we close this weekend of Thanksgiving, I am thanking God for access to His word and for the presence of the Holy Spirit, for the privilege of knowing Him.

Like many believers around the world, I have spent more time in prayer this year than ever before. And like many, I have clung to the words of 2 Chronicles 7:14:  

“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

We tend to hold on to the promise while glossing over the condition: if my people, who are called by my name.  We want God to heal our land, but surely it is those other people who need to repent.  This year I have repeatedly asked God to show me my wicked ways.  Don’t ask unless you are serious.  He has pulled off layer after layer of wicked ways.  It is a part of making room for Christ.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his Christmas sermons tells us that Advent “is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.”   I know I am poor and imperfect! 

So I put myself in the place of those post-exilic Jews who were waiting, because this has been a year of waiting.  Waiting for the virus to go away, waiting for a vaccine or a cure, waiting for schools to open, for jobs to return, for things to go back to normal.  But more than these things, like Bonhoeffer I am waiting for something greater to come.  I am waiting for a time when there will be no more death, nor more wars, no more hatred in our streets, no more broken families, no more children going hungry.  Though we strive to make these things happen (and we should), I don’t think we will see the complete realization until the Messiah returns.  While Israel waited for His first coming, we wait for Him to return in glory to establish His eternal kingdom.  Advent looks both back in time and forward.  We remember His first coming to earth as we celebrate Christmas.  But oh how we look forward to His second coming as we sing these familiar words:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel, 

That mourns in lonely exile here,

Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Easter…So What?

It is the Monday morning after Easter.  I hope you all had a glorious Easter Sunday celebrating the resurrection of our Lord. I hope you had the opportunity to attend a church service.  Our church was overflowing at each service, and I suppose your church was full also. Maybe the music was glorious, and moved you as you thought about the amazing sacrifice our Lord made for our sins. Maybe you got together with family and friends, everyone decked out in Easter finery.  I imagine there was good food, flowers, and children with Easter baskets, looking for eggs.

But today is Monday. Most of us had to get up and go back to our normal routines.  Maybe it’s another Monday of fighting traffic and getting into the Monday morning work grind. If you are a student, it is probably back to school, with finals looming around the corner.  Maybe you are a stay-at-home mom with a busy day ahead. The dishwasher and the washing machine are running, you are picking up Easter grass and candy wrappers, and mentally making a grocery list.  Easter is in the books for another year.  What does it have to do with my Monday?

I was eighteen when I received Christ as my Savior.  I knew I was a sinner, and I was grateful, so grateful, that through His death I could be forgiven.  I believed that I would go to Heaven when I died.  And that was it.  I compartmentalized that event and got on with my life.  It was about five years later when Jesus began to woo me into a Bible-teaching church.  It was there that I began to realize the claim that Jesus had on my life…my entire life, not just my Easter Sunday life.  And I also learned the rest of the story.  Christ didn’t just save me and leave me to navigate this life on my own. There are so many benefits to Easter in addition to salvation that I’m sure I will only scratch the surface naming them.  But even if salvation was the only gift, that would be amazing, incredible, and so much more than I deserve!  

  1. The first benefit that comes to mind is the gift of the Holy Spirit.  When we receive Christ, His Spirit comes to dwell in us.  Think of it…the third person of the Trinity living in me!  I talk to Him all day long.  And He talks to me though I don’t always listen, and sadly, do not always obey.  He guides my steps, He comforts me, and He interprets God’s word to me.  He leads me in my daily decisions.  If I need to buy a new air conditioner, He has ideas about that. If I am worried about my children, He reminds me that there is One who cares about them even more than I do.  When I am concerned about the future, He assures me that He is in control. 
  2. Access to the throne of God.  He hears my prayers.  Because of Christ’s death I have been reconciled to God.  We are no loner enemies.  And because that temple veil was torn from top to bottom, I can go straight to Him in prayer.  At any time, on any day.  I do not need a human mediator because I have a High Priest who sits at the right hand of God and intercedes for me.  I have the amazing privilege of prayer, and I confess that I am not very diligent about it. It is very hard for me to sit for an hour (or even a half hour) and pray. But I am really good at carrying on a continual conversation with the Lord.  We talk all day long.
  3. Death is not final.  I have the peace of knowing that when my appointment with death comes, I will slip from this life into the next.  And I will be reunited with family and friends who have passed before. How I look forward to that! Sometimes I ask God to deliver a message from me to them.  I’m not sure that is scriptural, but I do it anyway.  
  4. The church.  I have fellowship with other believers.  There is nothing like the body of Christ!  Not only can you share spiritual things, what God is doing in your life, and prayer concerns, but also your church family cares about your practical needs and will rally around you in days of trouble, sorrow, or joy. Church ladies excel at casseroles and pies!
  5. There are many more benefits, but I just want to name one more big one: The Bible.  What would I do without the Word?  It is full of God’s promises, it comforts me, and it is “a lamp unto my feet.” The Bible is the main way God speaks to me.  It is the story of redemption, for Genesis to Revelation.  And even though I’ve read it many times, it is always new!  I will never completely plumb the depths of God’s Word.

So today, as you are putting away the things of Easter, the dinnerware, the clothes, the baskets and bunnies, I hope you will put on all that Christ offers you because of Easter. As you go about your workday, on your commute to work or school, as you face the trials of this world, I hope you realize there is One who wants to be a part of every facet of your life.  I hope you can celebrate Easter 365 days a year. He is risen.  Hallelujah.