People busily prepare their homes for Christmas with bright lights and myriads of decorations. I’m not good at decorating my home for Christmas. Still I like to try. But I do want to prepare my heart for Christmas. Luke’s account of the coming of Messiah gives us glimpses of how to prepare for and experience the hope born with the birth of our Savior.
Luke begins with Zacharias, a priest and his wife, Elisabeth.
“And they were both righteous before God,
walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren,
and they both were now well stricken in years.” Luke 1:6-7
Preparing the heart for celebrating the coming of the Lord begins with self-examination. Do we stand righteous before him?
whether ye be in the faith;
prove your own selves.
Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you,
except ye be reprobates?”
2 Corinthians 13:5
May we pray with David in Psalm 17.
“Hear the right, O LORD, attend unto my cry,
give ear unto my prayer, that goeth not out of feigned lips.
Let my sentence come forth from thy presence …
Thou hast proved mine heart;
thou hast visited me in the night;
thou hast tried me, and shalt fine nothing;
I am purposed that my mouth shall not transgress …
As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness:
I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.”
(from verses 1 – 3, 15)
There is only one way to stand before the Lord God in righteousness.
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done,
but according to his mercy he saved us,
by the washing of regeneration,
and renewing of the Holy Ghost;
Which he shed on us abundantly
through Jesus Christ our Saviour;
That being justified by his grace,
we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
This particular year the elderly priest experienced the privilege of burning incense in the Lord’s temple. Burning incense may not seem a big deal to us today but strict guidelines were given to the priestly line of Aaron in Exodus 29: 38-42. This offering would be done every morning and every evening continually. It took place in the temple in front of the veil dividing the holy place from the Holy of Holies. Here God would meet the people as the priest offered up his prayers.
While Zacharias prayed alone in the holy place, we are told –
“And the whole multitude of the people
were praying without at the time of incense.”
For four hundred years there had been no word from the Lord God – no whisper from heaven. Scripture doesn’t tell us but it’s not hard to believe that Zacharias and Elisabeth had prayed many a prayer before this day for Elisabeth to bear a son. Now they were old, past child bearing age. Why had God not answered? He had a better plan. Zacharias’s long forsaken prayers for a son were about to be fulfilled – as well as the prayers all Israel prayed for another son.
“For unto us a child is born,
unto us a son is given:
and the government shall be upon his shoulder:
and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor,
The mighty God, The everlasting Father,
The Prince of Peace.”
Not even Zacharias’s disbelief at the angel Gabriel’s message would keep God from answering these prayers. His prayers would be answered in a way Zacharias could never have imagined.
We, as Zacharias, are made priests and kings unto our God. In preparing for Christmas may we join David when he cried unto the Lord and said,
“Let my payer be set forth before thee as incense:
and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.”
The majority of Israel missed the answer to their prayer for the coming Messiah. He walked among them but they did not receive him. As they prayed for his first coming may we pray for his second coming when righteousness and peace not only reigns in the hearts of the people but in his kingdom. No one will miss his second coming. Some will rejoice and receive everlasting life with him. Others will be cast into outer darkness forever. May our prayer rise before the Father as we pray,
“Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth,
as it is in heaven.”
And may the answer begin now in my heart and yours. What steps do you take in preparing for the celebration of our Lord’s birth?