Advent: No Time for Fear

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The four weeks of advent remind us to live in hope, not fear. Today’s post begins a four part series on the “fear nots” of the Advent season. This is an important reminder because fear is all around us these days. There seems to be a contagion of anxiety, panic attacks, and depression fueled by uncertainty about the COVID-19 pandemic. It has interrupted every aspect of our lives.

In Luke 1:13 the Jewish priest Zechariah had his religious duties interrupted by a message from God: “The angel said to him: ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, your prayer has been heard.'”

Amid the political reality of Roman oppression, the whispered threats of insurrection, the fevered atmosphere of prophetic expectation, Zechariah’s traditional religious observances must have provided him with a degree of comfort. He was offering incense and leading a gathered congregation in the prayers that were prescribed for that day on the Jewish calendar.

As the smoke curled from the censor, a symbol of prayers arising before the God of his fathers, and as Zechariah prayed for the deliverance of Israel and for the coming of the Messiah, suddenly an angel interrupted everything! This was not conventional, comfortable or customary. Verse 12 says “he was startled and gripped with fear.” Well who wouldn’t be?

No prophetic voice had been heard in Israel since the time of Malachi 400 years before this. God’s messenger appeared to Zechariah to tell him that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son who will be a prophet. He would grow to be a man who would be “great in the sight of the Lord.”

The angel said other things about this son of Zechariah. The most important thing he said may have been the statement that this son, John, would “make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17). This was a fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3-5 which tells of a forerunner for Messiah, “a voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; … And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.'”

John was to be the prophet who would prepare the people for the coming of the Christ!

Zechariah’s initial response was not praiseworthy. He questioned the word of the angel. For that he was silenced and sidelined for the next nine months. The Lord gave him time to grow in understanding as he watched the unfolding of these strange and startling events. The story ended well. If you read the first chapter of the gospel of Luke you may see how Zechariah overcame his fear and accepted God’s good news.

It was good news of acceptance and grace. John’s assigned name means “the Lord is gracious.” The name the Lord chose for John the Baptist was in itself a message of grace for Zechariah, for the nation Israel and for the rest of us. Grace is the theme of the New Testament. Grace was the message of Jesus.

It was the good news that God hears the prayers of his people: “Your prayer has been heard.” What prayer? It was the prayer that the priests and prophets and people of Israel had been praying for hundreds of years, a prayer for the coming of God’s anointed Messiah. God was now on the move, answering that prayer, fulfilling prophecy. It was time for the advent of the Messiah, the Son of God. Zechariah’s son John would prepare the way.

It was good news of salvation. Zechariah got his voice back when his son was born. He uttered a prophecy that John’s ministry would give the people “the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins” (Luke 1:77). This would be made possible through the merit and sacrifice of Jesus Christ and only because of the free grace of God.

It was the good news that Messiah’s coming would fulfill the ancient prophecy of Malachi: it would be like the rising of the sun (Luke 1:78; Malachi 4:2-5).

This good news freed Zechariah to serve God “without fear” (Luke 1:74). With this kind of good news for the Advent season, we have to conclude, this is no time for fear. Let’s ask God to liberate us from anxiety and replace fear with the truth that Jesus has come and he is coming again!

The same God who heard the prayers of Zechariah will hear our prayers too. Come, Lord Jesus!

Pastor Randy Faulkner



Giving Thanks in 2020

The artist Dante Gabriel Rosetti famously quipped, “The worst moment for an atheist is when he is genuinely thankful, but has nobody to thank.” I remember when President Ronald Reagan invited Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev to his California ranch for the Thanksgiving holiday. The Soviet leader, a professed atheist, declined the invitation. I thought at the time that the reason may have been that thanksgiving implies the existence of Someone to whom we should be thankful.

Well, yes. The eminent Czech composer Antonin Dvorak began writing his new music with the words, “with God” and ended with “God be thanked.” Johann Sebastian Bach wrote in the margins of his music “SDG” for Soli Deo Gloria, or “glory to God alone.”

Augustine described the Christian life as an “alleluia from head to foot.” The seventeenth-century Anglican poet George Herbert included a prayer in one of his poems, “You have given so much to me. Give me one thing more — a grateful heart.” Os Guinness wrote that “gratitude must be our first and constant response to God.”

This year has been a difficult one for our nation. People  are out of work. The pandemic is still spreading. Children cannot attend school in the normal way. We have just had a contentious election. Riots, racial hatred, and political extremists have threatened public order. It is easy to forget that there is still much for which to be thankful.

A recent column by Jonah Goldberg, titled “It’s a Great Time to be Alive,” elaborated on this theme. Despite the fact that we seem only to hear bad news, we should be thankful for the under-reported good news. He says the situation is far better than pundits and politicians often claim.

For example, over the past thirty years, worldwide poverty has been on the decline. Global GDP has increased by 621%. Literacy, infant mortality, hunger, work-related deaths and other benchmarks of human misery have been improving for years. Goldberg says this is because of public health and anti-poverty programs, the expansion of international trade, liberty and technological innovation.

In America, we still enjoy relative peace, freedom, and a prosperity unprecedented in world history.

His article concluded, “None of this is to say that we don’t have problems. But when all we hear about are the problems, it’s not surprising that people think that all we have are problems.” He didn’t say it, but as Thanksgiving Day approaches, these are reasons to speak words of appreciation to that Great Someone from whom all blessings flow.

Jesus certainly did. As an observant Jew, he no doubt thanked God before and after every meal. He would have prayed the great thanksgiving psalms with deep gratitude for God’s love and faithfulness. In his hymn of jubilation (Luke 10:21) he prayed, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, this is what you were pleased to do.”

In the upper room, with his imminent death heavy on his heart, he took bread and “when he had given thanks” (Luke 22:19), he gave it to his disciples. If the Lord Jesus could give thanks in the darkest moments of his life, then you and I can find many reasons to give thanks, even in the year 2020.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

The Sense of Someone There

I witnessed a scene in a restaurant that reminded me of an incident from my childhood. A dad and mom had come in with two small children. The young father went on a scouting expedition to find a high chair. His little boy looked around for his daddy and not seeing him, began to cry. His dad had disappeared and the little guy was inconsolable.

I remembered the feeling. Once my mother and I were separated in a crowded department store and I panicked! I felt alone in the universe. It was scary.

There are times in our lives when we feel a sense of spiritual loneliness, like frightened children. We try to mask our fears and salve our hurting hearts with superficial talk, religious cliches, or mind-numbing entertainments. We sometimes forget that God is a living presence in our everyday lives.

The Bible says that God will be active in the future in a decisive way. Christians believe in the second coming of Jesus Christ. We are taught to pray for his kingdom to come.

We read with faith what the Bible says about God’s great acts in the past. We believe in God’s interventions in the history of  Israel and of the holy apostles of the early church. These stories amaze us but we secretly suspect that those people were somehow different and God does not show himself today. As a result we feel spiritually lonely, like lost children.

The answer is to remember and believe that the God of the past and future is also the God of the present. He is the God who said to Joshua, “Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you” (Joshua 1:5).  The God of ancient Israel and the God of the early Christians is also our God. He wants us to believe him when he tells us, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

When I, as a young child, cried out for my mother in that strange and crowded place, she reappeared. She had never left me. I didn’t see her for a moment, but she had never taken her eye off me. She was there.

When you and I grasp the truth of the timelessness and eternal compassion of God, we will, in the words of A.W. Tozer, “begin to think of him as always being there.”

in troubled times, when we need to feel his presence, we may call out to him. He will be there. We may “know God with a vital awareness that goes beyond words” as we live in the intimacy of personal communion with him.

It is the sense of Someone there.

Pastor Randy Faulkner