Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Preparation: Part 3—Discipline

Midweek Advent 3
December 16, 2009
Luke 1:57-80

Listening and humility go together. That’s what we have seen in our learning of preparation from Luke’s account of the events that preceded Christ’s birth. Now we see another element in preparation, discipline. Discipline is where listening and humility bring us.

It is in the consistent doing of something worthwhile that we begin to see that it’s good for us. In the going through of it we come to points where we see that we’d just as soon give it up, or that it be easier in some way, that’s when we can come to see that in the continuing to go through with it we are better off because of it.

These midweek Advent worship services are an exercise in discipline. Aren’t there times when you’re at home and you would be much more comfortable staying home for the evening than coming all the way over here for the midweek worship service? Then the questions come. Why is it we do this? It’s not required. We’re not less of Christians if we don’t come. Are we really better off if we do? But when we think these things and still come we begin to see that the discipline of it brings more to our lives than if we keep it out of our lives.

Think about the people of God prior to Jesus’ birth. They were waiting. They were holding on to the hope of the coming of the Savior. The discipline of holding on to this hope, of being patient year after year, century after century, certainly caused them to wonder at times why they were doing it rather than just giving up on it all.

But that’s where the listening comes in. That’s where the humility keeps you in the state you need to be in. Listening to the Word of God, week after week, year after year, decade after decade, and for the Church, across the centuries. Humbling yourself to submit to the will of God as you come to know it through His Word. These things form the basis of discipline. When you enter into a pattern of discipline you also learn more and more of listening and humility.

So when you come to that point where you’d just as soon do the comfortable thing, you instead do the thing you need and come to church so that you may hear the Word of God and pray with your brother and sister Christians in a setting that gives you a glimpse of eternity.

This really is just following the pattern shown in the Scriptures. The people of God have always gathered around His Word and the blessings He imparts through the means He has promised to work through. This is brought home in the account of the birth of John the Baptist. The birth of Christ is not gotten to in Luke’s Gospel account without the discipline of rehearsing the salvation history of God for His people and giving the prelude of Jesus’ birth in the birth of His Forerunner, John.

Even with the pregnancy of Elizabeth itself you have a discipline. In nine months of pregnancy you learn the discipline of patience. Especially if it’s an uncomfortable or painful pregnancy. Those nine months are a long and arduous nine months. You can only hold out hope that in the worth of it all in the beautiful life that is born at the end of it. In discipline we learn about the mercy of the Lord, that’s what Elizabeth’s neighbor’s rejoiced in: “her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.”

There is the further discipline of simply doing things the way God has set them out: “And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child.” This is the way God had promised to keep His people in His covenant, and so this is what Zechariah and Elizabeth did with their son. Discipline further calls for keeping with the plan and not the tide of public opinion or feelings. Or even your own. “And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, ‘No; he shall be called John.’ And they said to her, ‘None of your relatives is called by this name.’ And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And they all wondered.”

Discipline gives the greater blessings. “And immediately [Zechariah’s] mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, ‘What then will this child be?’ For the hand of the Lord was with him.”

Zechariah puts this all into perspective in his response to the birth of his son and the wondering of the neighbors: “His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.’” Zechariah goes on to lay out how God made His promises in the Old Testament. How he was now bringing these promises about in the events that were happening. For centuries the people of God kept the faith—it had now brought them to this point.

Zechariah continued: “…to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the oath that He swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Listening, humility, and discipline had brought them to this point where they could rejoice. Luke closes out our look at the events that preceded the birth of Christ with these words: “And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.” What was ahead for John the Baptist was discipline. His discipline would always be focused on Christ. On the day of his public appearance he would point people to the one who came to suffer on behalf of the world, for salvation for the world. This is our Advent preparation, our lifelong preparation, and our eternal joy. Amen.


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