The Call Interupts

This Christmas we saw four instances of God sending Angels to visit people and give them some news. Let’s look back at those people the Angels appeared to.

First, there was Zechariah.

God wanted someone to let the people know His Son was coming. He chose John the Baptist.

Sometimes, God’s plans are not so straightforward. He often takes a roundabout way to get his message out. God sees the big picture.

God’s big picture plan is to give Mary’s cousin Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah a son named John. He will become John the Baptist…the voice in the wilderness calling people to repentance and heralding the coming of the Son of God.

We often think of the angel visiting Mary as the beginning of the Christmas story, but an angel visited Zechariah six months before that.  Yet no one puts out a Zechariah figurine at Christmas!

Zechariah and Elizabeth had been trying have children for years. Now, they were old and beyond hope of ever having them. Zechariah is called to offer incense and pray in the temple. He is living out what God created him to do. Serving the God, he loved even though that God had not provided him with children.  He was faithful in his service and faithful in his prayers.

There…in the temple, Zechariah was in his quiet place. He was in prayer. When he is called to a much longer quiet time.

The Olympics were all over the TV this summer. It doesn’t matter what sport was your favorite, swimming, running, fencing; there is a moment in each event where you hear the buzzer that says, get ready and then comes a second buzzer that means go. I wonder how long that time span seems to those about to jump into the water or start running. How much goes through your head in those few seconds?

Zechariah and Elizabeth are asked to live in that moment. A nine-month long pause from the “get ready” to the “go.” What thoughts ran through their heads? Then, that fateful day comes when John the Baptist is born.  God was preparing their lives, preparing their hearts for something wonderful.

In Matthew chapter 13, Jesus tells a story about a farmer who goes out to sow seed. Some of it falls on rocks, and some fall on the path, and some of the seeds are eaten by birds…you know the story. What if we look at this parable from a different perspective? What if we look at the story as a story about preparation? What if Jesus is saying “If you have rocks in the field MOVE THE ROCKS, so the seed has somewhere to land. What if the message is “Make the soil ready?” What if the parable is “put up a scarecrow and get the birds out of your field” What if He is calling us to be prepared?

I find it interesting that Zechariah’s “call” is about preparation and yet the first thing God does is make him silent.

Perhaps silence, in this case, is the preparation. If you have a problem with your computer or phone, the first thing the IT team will say is “Shut it down, unplug it or restart it. Let it rest for a few minutes then boot it up again.” It’s amazing how often this fixes a problem. The same holds true for us.

Yet Christmas time is the hardest time to be still. It is the hardest time to find silence. Maybe…. just maybe during the hustle and bustle of the Christmas celebration we need to take a moment and be silent, prepare ourselves, and be ready for the miracle.

 

And then Mary…

There really is no way Mary had any idea what she was in for. Women were not taught in the temples, but Mary was a smart girl. She must have had brothers. Mary listened. Did she know the prophecy?

Did mothers in that time tell their daughters “Be a good girl and maybe God will choose you?” If Mary knew…did Mary know this was the Messiah and that he would be the “lamb” to be “sacrificed.”

What an amazing woman she was!

If you are an organ donor, and you get into an accident, and someone needs a heart…it is someone’s job to make sure the heart gets put into a cooler and taken to the hospital. Massive amounts of things must happen right away. Someone must make sure the heart gets there. What a job that would be?

The Bible says we all need a spiritual heart transplant. Jesus was the one who would provide a way to take care of our broken hearts. Mary’s job was to take care of Jesus from inception, through childhood and adolescence until he was a grown man. What A Job!

When called, Mary does not hesitate. Even though she has no idea how this is all going to happen, she simply says, “I am the Lord’s servant”.  In other words, “Here am I Lord…send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)

Notice the message was not “Do this and I will bless you.” It was “You have been blessed. Do this.” What if we could look at every opportunity to serve God, to make a sacrifice for God as confirmation that we have been blessed.

Mary was called to provide. She was to provide for God in the flesh when He had made himself a helpless baby. She provided a place for Him to grow. She provided transportation when He could not walk. She provided education when he could not talk. She provided loving arms that only a mother can provide.

And then Joseph.

For Joseph, the call was an interruption. He had his life planned. He was a carpenter.

Measure twice cut once. Joseph was a planner and he knew the plan. Get married. Have children. Live a life that is honorable. He had found a Godly woman to be his wife and the plan was going just as…well, just as he planned!

Have you ever noticed that the call that comes in at 7:00 am is louder than the one in the middle of the afternoon? It’s a hard ring, isn’t it? Someone got bad news and had to tell you but decided not to wake you up, so they waited until first thing. You hear the ring and your first thought is “Oh no.”

Joseph’s life gets interrupted, and his response is “Oh no.”

There’s a great axiom: “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.”

Joseph received a call to live a different life than the one he had planned. This would not be the life of a quiet carpenter. This would be a life of protecting a woman who is highly favored by God and protecting the son of God. That is a tall order. This is not just a change of God. This is a calling to run from a crazy king, accept gifts from strangers, try to explain why your son is different from the other boys. This was not a part of his plan…. but it was a part of God’s plan all along. You see, when God calls us to change our plans, He is just asking us to join Him in His plan.

The call interrupts. He’s called to protect. The call changes everything. And finally, we have the shepherds. I don’t know about you, but I want the shepherds to have names. Somewhere along the way, someone came up with names for the Wisemen even though they aren’t named in the scriptures. I want the shepherds to have names. Bert and Ernie or Andy and Barney or Jake and Elwood.

When the scriptures were written, people had no concept of a round earth and an infinite solar system riding on the outer spiral arm of a galaxy called the Milky Way. God was UP. God came DOWN to earth. Elijah was taken UP to God.

God was elsewhere. We were here and God was there. Wherever “there” was.

This “Call of Christmas” that the shepherds experience was not bringing God to us. Calling meant connecting with the God who was already here. Waking up the presence that already existed.

Maybe a better term instead of “the calling” would be “the pushing” or “the pulling.” God is with us moving us forward. God is in front of us bringing us to him. I love the image from the video of the shepherds running and the light chasing them. One is afraid, but the other is laughing. Isn’t that the way we respond to a calling? We are either afraid, or something sparks in us and we are filled with an overwhelming joy that God even thought of us! Life and the opportunity to respond to God’s callings in it is a roller coaster ride…the joy, the fear, the   excitement.

Praise is expressing our respect and gratitude to someone or something. That is the natural response to being called to anything. Those shepherds heard heaven praise God on the fateful night.

While they were called to “go and tell” keep in mind, this was not a call to change their vocation. More than likely the shepherds went back to shepherding after they saw the baby and shared it with others. The calling was a gift. “Go see the baby.” But the gift was not a one-time thing. It was a life changing event. Did it make shepherding easier? Probably not but they would never see anything the same way again.

We know these stories. We’ve heard them again and again. Every year that kid with the blue blanket comes on TV and tells us the story. “Unto you is born this day…”

The scripture says, “THIS day.” The angel that came to the shepherds said: “It’s now.” This is no longer about preparation. This is happening now. GO.

We would do well to contemplate how God is calling each of us this Christmas:
Maybe He is calling you to get prepared. Maybe you need to learn to be silent. You spend so much time talking, texting, posting, proclaiming. Maybe as we experience this last week of the year, you are being called to be quiet.

Maybe He is calling you to provide. Jesus…the grown man, not the baby…. would say, “Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.” (Matthew 25) Maybe this Christmas,

God is calling you to start a life of giving rather than receiving. Could He be longing to hear from you, “I am the Lord’s servant” and then watching you follow through by providing food for the hungry, clothes for the needy, a home for the orphan, or simply a cold cup of water to someone in His name.

Maybe He is calling you to protect. Look, let’s be honest, God doesn’t need you for anything. So, if you are asking what would He want me to protect, then you’re missing the point. Maybe God wants you to help protect those who cannot protect themselves. To risk your livelihood for those who have no life. Maybe God’s calling you to protect yourself from an abusive lifestyle or relationship. Maybe God’s calling you to help protect His good name by being His hands and feet in this broken world. No matter what He may be calling you to protect, I am sure it will upset your plans. But good news…He loves you enough, He believes in you enough to ask you to let go of your plans and join Him in His plans.

Maybe God is calling you to praise Him! Not just to sing another song. Not just to attend church. Maybe God is calling you to really praise Him by taking steps of faith that show your respect and gratitude for our Lord.

Yes, calling is about interruption. Calling is about changing our lives in scary ways. But calling is always accompanied by joy and tears and passion and a sense of living life with purpose. What is your purpose this holiday? Better yet…what is your call this Christmas?



A Call to Praise

Have you ever been faced with something in your sight lines that took your breath away? Maybe it was the time you stepped to the edge of the Grand Canyon and surveyed the vastness of its textured landscape. Perhaps it was the moment you witnessed the sun rising from atop the Haleakala Volcano rim as it broke the clouds and left you feeling like you were standing on the moon instead of the island of Maui. Maybe you are one of the millions who have witnessed the night sky extravaganza inside the Magic Kingdom of Disney World with “ooooo’s” and “aaaaaahhhh’s” as the evening fireworks display a show and grand finale that is a sight to behold.  Each is a breathtaking experience.  Each is a memorable moment.

 But nothing this side of heaven could take the place of the shock and holy awe the shepherds experienced on the night that heaven came down and kissed the earth. The Magic Kingdom has nothing on the Kingdom of God when it comes to a heavenly host lighting up the night sky and blasting a chorus of praise that proclaimed the Call of Christmas.  It was a call to praise!

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Those were the words the angels proclaimed on the night when their eternal King who was and is and is to come, took on flesh and was born in a manger. As Earl Ellis described this unforgettable holy night, “The splendor of the vision is in sharp contrast to the commonness of the event.” A simple manger holding the Messiah coupled with a magnificent message from the angel that was magnified in song by the heavenly host.  “On earth as it is in heaven” became real.

Luke’s gospel sets the stage of this scene in and around the little town of Bethlehem. This is where the prophecies of long ago foretold that the Messiah would be born. The ruler of the day, Caesar Augustus, thought a census needed to be taken so that updated tax rolls could be formed as Jews frustratingly made their way back to their roots and hometowns. This decree of travel and registration from the highest office in Rome made the Jews furious as it reminded them of  their subjugation to Rome. That was the news of the day. But the Good News is that God sends Himself into our fury to bring us peace.

Little did Caesar Augustus know that God sovereignly was at work through his annoying Roman decree. But God has a way of moving through the affairs of nations to accomplish His own purposes. If you are feeling furious, annoyed, or downright frustrated this Christmas, take heart, God longs to insert Himself into your life situations to bring you peace and give you hope.

And God has a knack for using the ordinary to highlight the extraordinary. He stiil does . . . How does God want to use you this Christmas to bring Praise to His name?  How does God want to use you to tell others about Jesus? Just be open to being used! BE AVAILABLE!