On Sunday, December 3, Pastor Jeff McLain started our Advent series, Do Not Fear. This sermon focused on the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth in Luke 1:1-25. In Luke 1:1-25, God asks Zechariah and Elizabeth to step out in faith, despite the discouraging moment they were already facing. Zechariah and Elizabeth's story, emphasizes the importance of holding onto hope and trust in God's plan during challenging moments where weariness, discouragement and apathy can settle in.
Do Not Fear Sermon Series
Our Do Not Fear Sermon Series on Sunday mornings at River Corner Church, is a spiritual pilgrimage behind all that is merry and bright, and into the very real story of Advent. This series explores the four places the main characters of the Advent story are gripped by fear and are told, "do not fear." This annual spiritual pilgrimage involves immersing oneself in the profound narrative of Jesus' birth—a story of transformation that calls those in the story (and us) to step out in faith, even when we are already discouraged, to experience eternal hope, peace, joy, and love.
Who we are together.
River Corner Church is a growing church community of everyday people who gather to worship God, follow Jesus, and journey through life together.
What we practice together.
Our small church community is uniquely caring, simple, laid-back, and intergenerational. As a church, we want to be a welcoming, safe, and healing community for those who are seeking, hurting, or need a place to belong. Our practices are contemplative (reflective) charismatic (Spirit-driven), conversational, and informative. The times we share together are intentional and intimate, and a mix between modern and traditional. We want to be a place in which love and honor are lived out, where humility is central, and where hospitality is woven into the threads of our community. There is room at the table.
When we gather together.
River Corner Church gathers weekly on Sunday mornings at 10:00 AM to worship and experience God, study the scriptures, journey through life together, and partner with the Holy Spirit. We meet in a simple worship meeting house at 524 River Corner Road in Conestoga, Pennsylvania. You are welcome as you are, just be yourself. There are other times that we hold small groups, events, and more.
Our Pastoral Leader.
Jeff McLain has served as our pastoral leader since April 2022. He is currently a doctoral student at Fuller Seminary, where he also has earned two master's degrees - one in Theology and Ministry and another in Leadership. Jeff also holds a Graduate Certificate in Non-profit Management from City Vision University. In addition to serving River Corner Church, Jeff serves full-time as the Director of Pastoral Ministries at Water Street Mission. In addition to over 13 years of pastoral ministry, Jeff has enjoyed event promotion, leadership coaching, blogging, and podcasting. For over 17 years, Jeff has been happily married to Katie. Jeff, Katie, and their three wander-filled daughters are avid fans of road trips, baseball, boardwalks, beaches, and books.
Learn more about us at rivercornerchurch.com.
This morning, we begin a spiritual pilgrimage together on Sunday mornings.
Our spiritual pilgrimage will lead us into one of the greatest stories ever told.
This ancient story continues to transform the world around us into silver and gold.
It converts our homes into all things that are merry and bright.
At this time of the year, it seems the whole world believes Christmas can save us.
It’s amazing to think that one of the most humble and most normal everyday moments, a poor birth, has rewritten the story of the world around us, for believer and unbeliever.
For a thousand years, the church has given the name Advent to our annual spiritual pilgrimage into the nativity and the story of Jesus Birth.
Advent, a word that has stemmed from the Latin word, Adventus, is a word that means coming or arrival, especially the coming or arrival of a notable person or thing.
As followers of Jesus, Advent is an annual spiritual pilgrimage into the first Christmas story, into a dry and dusty barnyard scene. It is a journey we take each year to remember and celebrate the fulfillment of God’s promises, the adventure in which the story of Jesus’ birth gives us as followers of Jesus, and we to look forward to what God has promised us yet to come.
Advent is a time in which we celebrate the coming of the Messiah, Jesus, and the arrival of God’s rule and reign, the Kingdom of God.
In the Christmas story we remember that God chooses to work through humble people in humble places in tough moments.
The fact that God can use the most broken and humble people to change situations, regions and the world should bring hope to each one of us.
In the Christmas story we remember that God chooses to work through not the powerful, critically affirmed, accomplished, and acquired but rather those just willing to live simply but faithfully.
The reality that all it takes for God to work in, with, and through us is simplicity and living faithfully, should bring a sense of peace to each of us.
In the Christmas story, we remember that God has not forsaken humanity in their troubles. Into a time of history when mankind felt abandoned by God, like God had become quiet, God break though into the troubles of humanity and spoke.
The fact that God never abandons his people to the tough situations around us should bring joy to us.
The word advent is closely related to the word adventure. Both in English and it’s original Latin context, the root words of Advent and adventure are actually not so different.
I like seeing Advent as an adventure. The Christmas story, Advent, takes us on an adventure, first through the fulfillment of God’s promises from generations before, but also onto the memorable journey to Bethlehem where a new way of living with God is birthed.
Each chapter of the story is full of adventure.
The Christmas story opens with an older couple who is invited into a younger person’s adventure. It then follows two younger individuals who are invited to step out in faith in a way that will create tension in every area of their life. The story also invites society’s rejects, the shepherds, to know and carry the transformative message of God. The story also invites those from a total other walk of life, outside the belief in God, into the story.
From this story, faith invites us on an adventure to personally discover the eternal promises of peace, hope, joy, and love that emerge from this story. Think about it, these four themes have continued to shape the narrative, songs, and spirit of the Christmas holiday season.
Throughout our Advent Series, we will be looking at how the birth of Jesus gives promises to these four promises.
The promise of hope.
The promise of peace.
The promise of joy.
The promise of love.
The first week, we will look at Luke 1:1-24. In this story, the Priest Zechariah has an encounter with an angel, and God plants hope, reversing the disgrace a family felt, and giving hope for the human condition.
The second week, we will look at Luke 1:26-38. In this story, an angel appears to Mary, and tells her that she will give birth to the Messiah. Though their young woman is called to walk a difficult journey, she carries with her a peace that goes beyond all understanding, and gives the promise of peace by filling “the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:53).
The third week, we will look at Matthew 1:18-25. In this story, God uses an angel of the Lord to appear to Joseph, and tells him to take Mary as his wife. We will see the way God plan to save his people and bring forgiveness, honor, and power to his people.
The fourth week, we will look at Luke 2:1-21. In this story, Jesus is born, and the angels declare the act of love that God has brought to the world.
If you know these four passages, there is a reoccurring statement that appears in each of these four stories. In each of these four chapters of the Christmas story, we hear the statement repeated, “Do not be afraid.”
Do not be afraid.
This is our spiritual pilgrimage behind all that is merry and bright, and through the advent story.
Do not be afraid of what God is doing. There is no reason to fear.
In the Christmas story, God is initiating a new thing, a profound and unprecedented historic moment by sending Jesus, the Messiah, to be born as a humble baby in Bethlehem. This act represents a new covenanted relationship with God and a new radical expression of divine love, offering humanity a path to redemption, to restoration and eternal life.
In the scriptures, it seems that whenever God does a new thing, it is usually at a moment in which life is rough, dry, troubling and tense for the people involved.
If you are in a place of life where life or your faith feels rough, dry, troubling or tense, you are in good company. The advent story is full of people in a similar spot.
The Christmas story though reminds us that sometimes, even when we are in a rough season, that God may have some big asks for us. When God asks to step out in faith, it is not to be mean, abusive, vindictive, or to oppress us. However, it is in these moments that God invites us to grow with him in the midst of our suffering.
It is in those tough and trying moments that God often calls his people to step out in faith, and in these moments it can be quite unnerving. Stepping out in faith in the moments is risky.
I have shared it before, but the founder of the Vineyard Movement, John Wimber, used to say, “Faith is spelled R I S K.” The truth is that throughout the scriptures, in those tense moments that God calls his people into risky situations, faith truly is R I S K, but for those willing there is a reward. There is greater intimacy with God. There is deeper sense of identity, meaning and purpose. There is a greater sense of forgiveness, of honor, or power in God’s Spirit.
In the Christmas story, the characters accepted the invitation to be part of God’s story, to step out in faith, even though they were gripped in fear and the drama of their situations.
Years later, Paul explains this idea of pushing through tense moments to experience reward, to the Galatian church when he tells them, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
These characters in the Christmas story found God sustaining them in their journey. Our faith and world has changed as a result. They experience God working in, with and through them in new ways, and as a result we can too.
The truth is that in moments where life is tough, though God asks us to step out in faith, when God calls us to R I S K, it is hard. It costs us something. It may cost our reputation, or the stuff we amassed, or it may call us to move to unfamiliar places. It may cost us to step out in faith in ways we don’t look like the best candidate for. God does this and more throughout the Christmas story. In the moments in which we are feeling gripped in the state or condition of our life, there is usually a feeling that in these moments that we have so little already, but God is asking for more. It seems like God is asking us to give more, to trust more, to be more patient and so on. Truthfully, sometimes it feels a little more than we are willing to give. Sometimes we wonder if such surrender is really what God is asking of us.
In all of the main characters in the Christmas story, though they are part of the greatest story ever told, they are asked to step out in faith in a risky way. When God reveals what he is asking of them, they all become gripped by their own fear.
To which the messenger tells them, “Do not fear.”
Throughout this Advent series, as we adventure into the Christmas story on this annual pilgrimage, we will celebrate the coming of the Messiah, Jesus, and the arrival of God’s rule and reign, the Kingdom of God. However, we will be looking at the Christmas story to see not only the glorious arrival of our Humble King, but also about what this story has to teach us about stepping out in faith with the new things God longs to do in our lives.
The Christmas story is a story, like the life of Jesus, and the revelation of John, continues to show us that God is doing a new thing.
At Christmas time, I love nostalgic films. There is not a year goes by that I don’t watch White Christmas feat. Bing Cosby and Danny Kaye, or National Lampoons Christmas Vacation, featuring Chevy Chase. I love classics like Yogi’ Bear’s First Christmas, The Nativity, and Miracle on 34th Street. Though, one of my favorite annual movies is the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life.
"It's a Wonderful Life" is a heartwarming classic from 1946, that follows the life of George Bailey, a compassionate man who faces hardship at every corner and stage of his life. George always gives to others, even at the cost of his own dreams and family. Eventually, there is a traumatic event that grips George with fear, and he cannot see what God is doing, questions God, and is ready to give up on life. He no longer has what is needed to persevere through life. He was give into the weariness. An angel named Clarence intervenes, showing George the profound impact he's had on others' lives. Through this transformative experience, George gains a newfound appreciation for his own life and the joy he brings to those around him.
It’s a great movie.
A must see at Christmas time to reorient us into what really matters.
However, in the beginning of the movie, as angels are giving an overview of George’s life to the angel that will help him, we get one of my favorite conversations in the movie.
Clarence, the angel receiving the assignment to help George says, “Splendid. Is he sick?” To which the Senior Angel answers, “No, worse. He's discouraged.”
Can you relate?
Sometimes there is nothing more disheartening than the way discouragement grips us with fear, discontent, worry, and weariness.
Discouragement often takes the forms of persistent setbacks and failures we experience in life. There is discouragement if we are in a place where we doubt our abilities or have lost motivation. Sometimes we feel like we don't measure up to where we want to be or where everyone else is. As a result, our comparison to others, in our discontent, causes us to become discouraged. Sometimes it is our spiritual state, our physical health, our relationships, our intellectual capacity, our finances - and so on.
Often, in discouragement, it just feels like the one thing that will make us happy is just too far out of reach. Then we settle. We give up. We give into discouragement.
When we give into discouragement, our mindset becomes clouded with negativity, hindering our ability to see opportunities and solutions. It saps our motivation and resilience, making it harder to overcome challenges. Ultimately, succumbing to discouragement can stall personal growth and limit our potential. We become impatient with others, we lose passion, we stop trying, we become apathetic.
In fact, apathy starts to define our life. Becoming apathetic in life feels like we are constantly navigating through a fog of indifference. The vibrancy and passion that once fueled our lives- our hopes and dreams - fade away, leaving a sense of detachment and disinterest. Life's colors become muted, and the pursuit of goals loses its spark, creating a boring landscape devoid of emotional investment.
The Holidays, a time in which all is merry and bright, silver and gold, are often a time in which we come face-to-face with our weariness, discouragement, and apathy.
What weariness are you carrying this morning? What discouragement? What apathy?
Where are you gripped by your fear and circumstances?
In Luke 1:1-25, we encounter as a preface to the Christmas story, the tale of tow individuals who certainly were gripped by their circumstances.
A couple in which what they always wanted, felt out of reach. They settled. They gave up. Weariness, discouragement and apathy certainly moved into their life.
In Luke 1:1-25 we read -
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.
Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”
Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.
When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion.
“The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”
In Luke 1:1-25, we meet Zechariah and Elizabeth. They have become big characters in the Christmas story, but ironically though we know some intimate details of their life, we don’t know a lot about them. They weren’t among the famous people remembered by historians of their day.
Zechariah came from a long line of Priests. Some have pointed out that a priest might marry only a woman of absolutely pure Jewish lineage and that it was specially meritorious to marry a woman who was also a descendant of Aaron, as was Elizabeth.
We see dedication and commitment at play in the life of Zechariah.
The scriptures share that both of them were dedicated and committed to the works, ways, and words of God.
Zechariah is responsible to enter the Temple to burn incense on the Altar of Incense. It was a small table, a design directed by God in the Old Testament. It appeared right before the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies in the Temple - and the Tabernacle before. On the other side of the veil, was the Ark of the Testimony, where the presence of God was believed to sit. In Exodus 30:7, we read that "Aaron must burn incense on the altar every morning when he tends the lamps." In fact, he was to do it twice a day as a regular offering to God. There was a certain way God told Aaron to make this incense and told him that no other type could be burned on the altar. The fire for the burning of the incense was to be taken from the burnt offering outside the sanctuary. Incense was an offering and it was also something that symbolically represented the presence of God. Throughout the Old Testament it is also representative of prayer. A Priest entering this responsibility would have prepared himself spiritually, and entered in a state of prayer, with prayer, and praying. There was often hope, hope that God would reveal himself to the Priest in some way.
Each morning and evening of the Passover, Pentecost, and Feast of Tabernacles holidays the Priests did this. A sacrifice was made for the whole name, a burnt offering of a male lamb, which had to be one year old and without spot or blemish. There was also offerings made of meat, flour, oil, and wine.
The incense was burned before the morning sacrifice and after the evening sacrifice, to wrap the sacrifices in a sweet-smelling incense.
Because every direct descendent of Aaron was automatically a Priest, there was a lot of Priests by this time. They had become divided into sections. Luke, who has researched the story well, and mentions that at the time of his writing there are many still living who the account can be confirmed by, shares that Zechariah came from a specific section of Priests. Giving credibility to the story, and the ability for the reader to find out for themselves.
All together there were 24-sections of Priests, I understand. Priests only served on those holidays, so for about two weeks a year. However, these holidays, and the service required during them because the highlight of their lives.
Growing up, I loved watching the Jetsons. This cartoon of the future and what the writers of that show thought the future might before. George Jetson, a spaceman, is whole job was to push one button, one time a day. A job he often messed up.
These Priests prepared themselves all year for these tasks of intercession and celebration.
Some scholars said their might have been as many as 18,000-20,000 priests at this time. Easily making close to 1,000 priests in each division. For this reason, it was quite possible that a priest may never get the opportunity to burn incense. Each year lot decided who went in. For that person that went in, William Barclay remarks that “that day was the greatest day in all his life, the day he long for and dreamed of.”
Lot may have made the decision for Zechariah, but God knew it and used that by-chance method to reveal himself to Zechariah. God had chose Zechariah, not just the priest that would enter that day. It doesn’t matter if it looks like your getting passed by as you wait for God to show up in some area of your life, God’s plan for you isn’t detoured by the ways of man.
There was often an expectation or hope that an encounter might happen as a Priest went into the Temple. In the book of Zechariah, we find the story of the accuser appearing o the high priest, to accuse him, but is defended by the angel of the Lord and who give s prophetic word to the Priest.
As a hopeful and expectant Zechariah enters the Altar of Incense, the rest of the priests stayed outside and interceded for him and for all of Israel. I love that sense. Even as one person is fulfilling their duty, the rest of the community is praying for him. An important image for the church. With intercession like that maybe we would experience greater revelation from God too.
It is there that “an angel of the Lord” appears to Zechariah. It says Zechariah was startled and even gripped with fear.
A few years ago, I worked at a drug and alcohol rehab. We worked with an older lady who was so easy to get with pranks. One day I hid in the bathroom and laid against the door, and as she opened the door I allowed my body to fall out as if dead. I think I even had ketchup to make it look bloody. She totally freaked. Grabbed her heart, and told me (after I came too)I could have gave an old lady a heart attack.
I love that God has the same sense of humor I do.
The Angel Startles Zechariah. Zechariah is gripped with fear.
The story is not merry and bright to years later.
Take note, People always seem to react to fear, in both the Old and New Testament, when encountering Angels or other revelation from God. This fear overtakes him. It grips him.
God’s asks are usually overwhelming and surprising when they show up. Even for Zechariah who was hopeful and expectant as he did his duties.
Zechariah, not having a son, put him as a disadvantage in life. Sons were responsible to care for their parents. Zechariah’s responsibility was only two weeks a year. The tithes that were to support priests couldn’t support that many priests. Plus, with the injustice of the day, just like today, some people seemed to have it all and others none.
Most scholars believe Zechariah would have had a small farmette to survive and support himself, somewhere out in the countrysides of Judah.
I wonder if Zechariah didn’t go in to the Temple worried about having a baby anymore, but feeling the shame and his desire to be able to survive financially. Perhaps these are the prayers in which the Angel has said, “God has heard.”
The Angel gives a name and a vision for the son Zechariah will have. We find this in several stories in the Old Testament.
Even more, we see that he will be a prophetic individual, because like Samson, as Nazirite from birth, he will be to abstain from strong drink, and instead be filled with a unique relationship with the Spirit of God, which in these moments was often connected to a Spirit of Prophecy - both foretelling and forthtelling.
He will be like Elijah. There was prophetic expectation that Elijah would return before the day of the Lord. One of the things he would do is turn the father’s hearts to the children, or reconciliation of families. In that moment Zechariah hears God’s promise of a long prophetic expectation and he hears an answer and an ask that just seems too big.
As most of us would do, Zechariah questions. Still probably gripping his hand, Did I hear you right? How do I know that I am not losing it, that this is not some form of dementia setting in?
In response the Angel identifies himself as Gabriel. Now, in this day Judaism had developed a long list of angelic names but only two appear in the Old Testament, Michael and Gabriel. These were considered to be more significant than many other angels. They were thought of as Chief Angels.
God doesn’t just give Zechariah a present. He wraps it up with his best. Gives it surprisingly, and abundantly.
The burning of incense took time, but there seems to be enough delay here for the crowd that they began to worry. For Zechariah, he had waited his whole life for some answers. God doesn’t answer ever in our time but his own. For Zechariah I am sure this encounter felt like a whirlwind and a lifetime at the sometime. However, for the outsiders who were praying, they began to run out of things to pray about.
They probably began to assume the worse - he died of old age, something about him sacrifice God rejected and killed him, or there is trouble inside. Craig Keener also points out that there was probably a selfishness that arose in them thinking, “If Zechariah’s offering had failed, then their prayers were also in jeopardy.”
However, Zechariah emerges, mute - a term that can mean both deafness of the mouth and hears, but can also just mean of the speech. Zechariah emerges with the promise that he will have joy through the thing that has eluded him his whole life. But Zechariah is not instantly caught up in the fufillment of that joy. The Angel tells him it will happen in the appointed time, and Zechariah’s doubt took his speech from him, which left him unable to proclaim the good news to those outside the temple.
They knew something happened, but in the moment, when he would normally engage with the crowd, he went home - looking like a crazy person (try sign language).
Elizabeth though understands. She uses a statement that was common in the stories of old in which God did similar miracles. She proclaims like Rachel, “God has removed my disgrace.”
In hindsight we can look at this story and end with the miracle God does and consider how great that is. However, I am sure it was a big ask. God had already asked a lot of them. Childlessness was not only considered a shame by God in their day, but it could lead to separation. God now gives them the thing they want, it looks unlike what they wanted it to look like, and well along in years they are now going to have to parent a baby, to challenge societal expectations in ways that will be uncomfortable.
Those of us who perhaps have felt they have heard the voice of God or encountered him in otherworldly ways - dreams or visions - know how unnerving this can be. It doesn't just go away and stop making you shaky when it's over. Zechariah's understanding of the natural order of things has just been shaken in supernatural ways. It will require him to trust in a miraculous intervention that others will see as downright weird and impossible. The days ahead will be uncomfortable and fearful.
Zechariah is given a name for his son that goes against the cultural tradition, and his son won't be a priest of the same order, carrying on the family name and tradition. His son is certainly going to break many societal norms. Their son will have a specific purpose that will weigh heavy on them as they bring him up. Even more, I am sure they are aware that as often the case, they will not see all that is promised for their faith, for their son. They will most likely die well before his teens.
I don’t think the angel was the only thing that gripped them that morning. This ask from God had a lot wrapped up in it.
When God asks us to step out in faith, in moments where life is already hurting us, where we don’t feel capable, these moments can feel overwhelming.
However, Zechariah has hope.
Hope is a dangerous weapon.
A few years ago, the Star Wars franchise released some new films, and some of my favorite quotes on hope came from these two movies.
In the movie Rogue One, an actor facing the overwhelming state of things says,
“Rebellions are built on hope.”
God was beginning to write the Christmas story, in this story with Zechariah and Elizabeth. The Christmas story is one full of rebellion and insurrection. It will push back on the world and evil.
In the movie The Last Jedi, Princess Leia remarks, "Hope is like the sun. If you only believe it when you see it, you'll never make it through the night."
Zechariah and Elizabeth have made it this far, because they have had hope in some dark moments. Coming out of the Temple, Zechariah had a new hope that would sustain him.
This story communicates the power of hope that emerges in the Christmas story.
Their struggle until this point wasn’t a lack of faith. It wasn’t a lack of not doing enough for the Lord. It wasn’t a lack of being more. Rather, perhaps their situation was because God wanted to do something greater in, with and through them in that pain point.
So often our pain points, the places we carry weariness, discouragement and apathy, we see as a place in which God has injustices us, or wronged us, or ignored us, or won’t bless us because we must have something wrong in our life.
I am sure that Zechariah and Elizabeth had some of these same thoughts and questions. They are only human. Equally, I am sure they settled into a life of weariness, discouragement and apathy, grabbling with the disappointment of unfulfilled dreams.
They have accepted, the story shows a sense of disgrace.
God didn’t bring disgrace on them. They chose to accepted their pain point as a disgrace.
In the Greek, the word for disgrace implies not one put on us by anything but our personal sense of it.
Elizabeth had accepted disgrace or shame as her lot.
Is there a pain point in your life where you have accepted disgrace or shame?
When we feel disgraced, it often has profound emotional and psychological effects. Disgrace is a powerful emotion linked to feelings of shame, humiliation, and loss of honor or respect.
Disgrace leads to emotional pain and a sense of worthlessness. Disgrace leads us to withdraw from social interactions in fear of rejection or judgment. It increases struggles with anxiety and depression, it puts strains on our relationships with family, friends, and other members we are in community with. We begin to lack confidence. Sometimes insomnia, fatigues, dietary challenges manifest in our life. We might even explore unhealthy coping mechanisms, anything from avoidance to destructive and addictive behaviors. It can make us the person no one wants to be around at the water cooler.
It's important to note that individuals respond to disgrace differently, and the extent of its impact can vary. I don’t know how Elizabeth responded to her sense of disgrace. I do know she accepted disgrace and shame as her lot and that will snuff out hope if we allow it.
Despite their weariness, discouragement, and apathy - their disgrace - God intervenes, bringing hope and in this case reversing what they saw as their disgrace by giving them a sense of honor. Through an angel, God invites them to be part of the greatest story ever told. A couple that was beyond their prime, most likely not wealthy, somewhat weary, but a couple faithful with the small things, are the people that God invites to experience greater intimacy with him.
These are the type of people God works in, with, and through. It is people like you and I, who are tired, that if we can keep our eyes focused on God, can experience the hand of God in new ways.
God is doing a new thing in this story. God is doing something that God promised to do for generations, and I am sure this couple never believed they would be part of something like that. It will not be all merry and bright. It is a big ask.
And God doesn’t always answer prayers in the way we would like him too.
This is why we have prayers from David that say things like "My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest" (Psalm 22:2, NIV). Even Jesus himself in the garden "fell with his face to the ground and prayed, 'My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will" (Matthew 26:39).
Sometimes, despite our faith and faithfulness, we remain weary and discouraged. However, I believe it is up to us to accept disgrace or not in our life.
God may not always answer our pains in life the way we long him too. However, I do believe he is interested in bringing honor to the places we feel shamed.
Despite the area of your life that is barren or feels hopeless or insecure, I still believe that God wants to do new things in, with, and through you. God wants to birth something new through you. It is usually through the pain points in our life that God desires to do that the most.
What might God be wanting to do through you, that you never saw possible?
Is your discouragement in the way?
In this story we see a miraculous, otherworldly, divine intervention.
However, that is not always the case.
It’s easy to focus on the prayers of a barren woman who become answered in a miraculous and outrageous way.
Again, but that is not always the case.
Rebellions are built on hope, but you have to find a way to hold on to hope even when you don’t see it.
Do not accept disgrace, or weariness, discouragement and hope at the risk of losing hope.
The story serves as a prelude to the Christmas narrative, illustrating how God's transformative message can break through weariness, dispel discouragement, and rekindle a sense of hope, even in the most challenging circumstances.