Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who with the Holy Spirit is Three-in-one.
As we continue to wait upon the Lord this Advent, we remember the many gifts that we should be thankful for. So far we touched on the gifts of Hope, Faith and Joy and today we end with Gratitude, not just for these gifts but for the countless others we have been blessed to receive throughout our lifetime.
God has given to each of us a bounty of goodness so abundant we tend to take it for granted. We have all become rich for the many blessings. It’s a wonder that so many of us still live as if our blessings have been few.
Hetty Green died in 1916. The people who knew her called her “The Witch of Wall Street.” When she died she left behind an estate valued at over one billion dollars. That’s billion with a “b” as in boy that’s a lot of money. But get this. Every morning Hetty Green ate her breakfast cold because she didn’t want to pay to heat her oatmeal. And Hetty’s son had to have his leg amputated because she didn’t want to pay to take him to the doctor. Hetty Green was very, very rich, but if you saw her, you’d swear that she was dirt poor.
Hetty is like a lot of people. We are rich in Jesus Christ! But most of the time you’d swear we were dirt poor. Poor me! Look at my health.” Poor me! Look at my finances. Poor me! Look at my Job, my house, my car! It reminds me of the Shania Twain song of the same name from a few years ago that says it all, “Poor me this, poor me that. Why do I keep looking back?”
In our Gospel lesson for today, Zechariah was also singing a sorry song. We’ve all heard his story. Finally, even in his old age, he was going to be a father. But what did old Zechariah say after hearing the good news from the angel Gabriel? “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” Finally, Zechariah’s prayers had been answered. He was about to be the father of a healthy baby boy. Zechariah was rich, but he responds as if he’s dirt poor.
All of that changed, though, when Zechariah’s son, John, was born, the one who would one day become John the Baptist. That’s why Zechariah sings. This old man and new father sings about His spiritual riches in a song of gratitude.
His song comes in two parts. First Luke 1:68-75 gives thanks for what God has done in the past, while verses 76-79 give thanks for what God will do in the future. In the past? “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people.”
In the future” “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.” Do you see the central theme of Zechariah’s song? The theme is forgiveness. Forgiveness in the past. Forgiveness in the future. Forgiveness makes us exceedingly rich!
A few years ago, Cheryl and I were blessed enough to go to New York City and we really enjoyed it. The people were much nicer than what we had been told. We stayed at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, just one of many landmarks you will find.
Many people will tell you that if you want to see the skyline of New York, you need to visit the Brooklyn Bridge. If you want entertainment, you go to Broadway. If you want to be inspired you can visit the Statue of Liberty and if you want to shop, you go to 5th avenue. There is much to see.
One place I would not recommend you visit is located on West 44th Street. That’s where you’ll find a sign twenty-five feet wide that weighs over 1500 pounds and uses 306 light bulbs. It’s the national debt clock. It constantly and mercilessly announces the US debt and each family’s share.
My first question is, “why would you want to remind people of this? It’s hard enough watching our own personal debt clocks, not to mention the clock that counts our insults, our ugly words, our evil acts, our raised fists, our cold shoulders and all our failed promises. If we could see the numbers all added up, I’m sure we would all cower at the merciless announcement.
Thank God, though, that we are rich in divine forgiveness. God’s forgiveness not only lays at the heart of Zechariah’s song, it frames all of Luke’s Gospel. In Luke 3:3, John the Baptist announces, “A Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” In Luke 24:47, at the end of the Gospel, Jesus announces to His disciples “That repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations.”
The debt we owe God has been paid in full. The shortfall has been covered by Jesus. We no longer need to cower in shame because our debt has gotten out of hand. On Calvary’s mountain Christ paid for every sin. Completely! Lovingly! Eternally! And for that we say Hallelujah! Our riches in Christ Jesus abound and overflow!
I once heard of a little boy who was visiting Washington D.C. He walked up to a park ranger and says, “I want to buy the Washington Monument.”
The park ranger thought he’d have a little fun, so he said, “How much have you got?” The little boy pulled out $1.87. The ranger said, “Let me tell you three facts. Number one, it’s not for sale. Number two, even if it were for sale you couldn’t afford it. And number three, since you’re an American, it already belongs to you.”
These same three facts are true of God’s forgiveness. Number one, it’s not for sale. Number two, even if forgiveness were for sale, we couldn’t afford it. And number three, it already belongs to us….Christ’s forgiveness completely belongs to us! Lock, stock and barrel!
Were not spiritually bankrupt or stuck in spiritual poverty, we are rich with Gospel wealth. That’s the heart of Zechariah’s song. He states in verse 79 “To guide our feet into the way of peace.” The way of peace is the way of forgiveness, sharing Gospel riches with people who have hurt us.
C.S Lewis writes, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until there’s something to forgive.” That’s why some seek revenge. Others give up on relationships. Still others allow resentment to eat them up until it destroys them. I say this not to point fingers but because, like you, I have lived it.
I’ve done it all and it’s eaten me up at times. I know how hard forgiveness can be. Like you, I struggle sometimes to offer the gift of forgiveness to someone I don’t think deserves it.
But forgiveness, I have learned, is the only way to heal after a hurt. It doesn’t mean I forget what has been done. Forgiveness means I stop my accusations, my temper tantrums and my harsh judgements. Forgiveness means I resign as judge, jury and prosecuting attorney.
Why do that? Because were rich! Ephesians 1:7 states that in Christ, …we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” Zechariah says that we should share the riches of God’s forgiveness so that we might walk in the way of peace.
Once I let my anger overcome me, but I have since realized the wisdom in God’s plan. I have learned that the only way to true peace is to share Christ’s forgiveness with people who have disappointed. Forgiveness isn’t a feeling. Let’s be honest. If we wait until we feel like forgiving, we will never forgive because forgiveness is an act of the will. Forgiveness is something that must come from a conscience decision. Forgiveness is sharing the wealth God has freely given me in Christ. And, even more importantly, it’s a way of offering thanksgiving to God.
Forgiveness is also not analysis. Analysis looks to learn. Forgiveness looks to leave. Does that mean I forgive a cheating spouse? Yes. The criminal? Yes. The lying executive? Yes. The bully? Yes. The distant parent? Yes. The greedy corporation, the corrupt government, the hostile nation? Yes.
I will warn you. Forgiveness isn’t an instant solution to hurt and pain. Forgiveness, though, is the only solution to hurt and pain. It really works! And for that we are truly grateful to God. Wait and thank. God’s blessings of peace in Him and freedom from sin will come at long last through the power of forgiveness.
How often do we miss out on the riches of God? How often to do we find ourselves saying, “Poor me this” and “Poor me that?” Why do we always seem to be looking back? There is a better way. Zechariah eventually saw this and so can we. Together we can sing our song of gratitude for all the riches God has given us. Then what?
Eventually our poor me attitude will leave the same way as our resentments. Eventually we’ll stop focusing on what is behind us and find our excitement in what lies ahead. Eventually we will come to trust fully on the one who has made us rich beyond measure, in every way that is important – Jesus!
Take time during this last week in Advent, as your waiting for Christmas joy, to give thanks for the richness we have through Christ’s forgiveness, and to further show gratitude by sharing our forgiveness with others. What a thankful way to wait. Amen.