The farm lay between two mountain ranges, with rolling hills in every direction. A river ran at the back of the thousand acres, wide and beautiful. Barbed-wire fences separated fields, all designated by names for the various pastures or corn fields.
The farmhouse was a dream come true. Since my earliest memories of the times spent at my grandparents’ and other family members’ homes, farming had been a constant love. It was so deep in my soul that it was part of my “bucket list” long before the term was invented. It was my answer every year for what I wanted for Christmas: a farm.
Graduation came and college was on the horizon. My focus got off-whack, and I ended up choosing a path that was vastly different from the one that I had had all my life. I didn’t get my farm at that time due to my own choices.
Years went by, and it was my solace at night as I drifted off to sleep to imagine “my” farm, complete with orchards, barns, cattle and gardens. I can still see the one I invented every night until sleep overtook me. Life and years kept passing by. Eventually my husband was transferred, and on the trip to a state a thousand miles away that would become our new home, looking to rent a home until we knew if we would stay in that area, I scanned the “For Rent” ads. There, newly placed that day, was a farm. As I drove up the long drive to the house, I felt I had come home.
Recently a Christmas party was held. As is common in situations like that, you circulate among people that are casually known, but conversations are surface: the weather, the job, children, previous places of residence. As I spoke to one couple, older than middle age, but not “old,” I asked about children. The pain in the woman’s eyes immediately seared my heart: I had stepped on an issue better to have left unasked. “We never had any,” she replied, and there was no mistaking the pain she felt, even after decades of barrenness. We who have had no problem conceiving seldom think about the pain and suffering couples go through when they cannot have children. I was so sorry I asked. At the Christmas season, with the focus on the manager of Christ, babies mean even more than at other times. And we all know that prayers don’t always get answered. The subject was changed.
The move to the farm was everything I hoped and dreamed it would be. All the years of longing were like flowers bursting forth, and I became a person obsessed. I couldn’t get enough of the outdoors, the work, the completeness to my life. Soon it began to be an idol. I stopped going to church on Wednesday nights so I could work outside. Having resided in hot Florida for many years, just being outdoors was a joy in itself. Adding the farm was better than winning the lottery. But the day arrived when I “came to myself,” just as the prodigal son did. I cried out to God to take me away from the place that I had always wanted to be. The next day, He did.
The lady at the Christmas party soon started sharing her memories of the years they had tried to have a baby. It was plain that she felt that God had completely let her down. She had probably been angry in the past, but that anger had cooled to a feeling of disinterest: God was not interested in her feelings, so she would write Him off. There was no opening to share His love for her at the party. In the same way, although I had cried out to God for a way of escape from the very thing I had wanted all my life, I saw it becoming more important to me than my heavenly Father, so you would have thought I would be happy now. Not so. My anger was so hot that He had given me what I wanted more than anything, and now I was having to give it up. That it was my own prayer to Him didn’t matter. I screamed at Him until I lost my voice. It took several years before I was able to appreciate that what He had given me in the deepest part of my being–a calling to be a farmer–was something I had to give up because it became an idol. Does that make sense? My relationship to Him had to come first. Now, all I can hope for is that someday, perhaps in heaven, He will have a farm for me, but if not, He knows best.
That is probably how Elizabeth and Zacharias felt those two thousand years ago, when for decades they cried out for a child. In their culture, to be childless was a stigma, and to not have a son to carry on one’s work was painful. Elizabeth carried sorrow in her heart daily, but at the same time, she and her husband had a faith so huge that they were able to trust that God knew best in His plan for their lives. We might be angry, but they were not. They were righteous in God’s sight. Would that I had been!
Get your notebook, a pen, perhaps something hot on a cold winter–almost Christmas–day, and sit down and watch the sermon preached at Thomas Road Baptist Church on Sunday, December 18, 2016 (if you didn’t see it already). If you have time, watch and sing with the congregation as they worship. Then get ready to do the study below, answering questions and digging deeply to discover how different our lives would be today if Elizabeth, and then Mary, had not borne these two special babies. Above all, appreciate the sacrifice Jesus Christ made when He came to this earth to offer salvation to all of us. Click on the link http://www.trbc.org/sermons and hit the play button in the center. Enjoy the study! If you have friends, family or a group, take as long as you’d like to finish, but let it be your “daily Bread” of life that God has given you today.
Self on the Shelf: The Christmas Calling, Matt Willmington, Dec. 18, 2016
If you have lived very long, you have seen the word “calling” constantly change to mean many different actions. Write out as many examples as you can think of!
During this Christmas season, we have attempted through this sermon series to take the focus off ourselves and concentrate on the true message of Christmas. It is the time of year when we reflect most on the coming of Jesus the King, who left heaven to enter the world as a baby, being born of a virgin. We began this series studying the birth of another baby three months earlier, that of John the Baptist, who was the one God had chosen to announce the coming of the Messiah.
Focal Passages: Luke 1:57-80
Think About or Discuss:
Answer God’s Call
- Take a few moments and re-read the earlier verses of Luke 1, writing down or discussing the events that took place when Zacharias and Elizabeth learned they would be parents. Can you envision their surprise? How would she tell her friends? What about her family? Do you think she understood who John would be?
- Read Isaiah 40:3. What had been prophesied of John, about 700 years before his birth?
- When he was born (verses 67-75), what did his father say of him in verses 76-79?
- Have you ever felt God moving in your life, so that you knew how to respond in a particular situation? Zacharias and Elizabeth knew this baby was special.
- What was John’s “calling?” How did this fulfill God’s purpose for him to be born at this time in history?
- Was John’s childhood very different than that of Jesus’ (verse 80 compared to Luke 2:40, 52)?
- In Matthew 28:19-20, how does John’s calling differ from yours? What do you think your calling may be?
Accept His Timing
- Think back to the years when Zacharias and Elizabeth were of child-bearing age and praying constantly that God would bless them with a child; what if John had been born then? Was Mary even alive then? About how long would it have been before Jesus would be born?
- What do you find yourself doing when God’s timing is not yours? Do you usually take over and try to manipulate circumstances, or patiently wait for Him to act?
- What season are you in now—a waiting period, or is everything going well?
It is a magnificent lesson to all of us to reflect on the high calling of John the Baptist. In Esther 4:14, it was pointed out to her that she was possibly raised up for the time that she would be needed to save her people from annihilation. John was born at a time in history in order to fulfill prophecy that he would be the one who would announce that the Messiah had come to Israel. But think of his parents: they had prayed long and hard—for many years—for a child, and still Elizabeth remained barren. Did they think God had forgotten them? They kept their faith, but sorrow still had to have been present in her heart. Yet had she been able to see her role from God’s perspective, she would have realized she was going to bear the forerunner to Jesus Christ, and that joy would have taken away all her pain! Perhaps when we have prayers that are not answered in a timely manner, we need to read this passage, asking God for the patience and trust to believe He is working out purposes that are far beyond our ability to grasp, and have faith that He is arranging everything for the good of those we love. Pray for the insight to have a great confidence in Him who created you! And realize that, like John, you have been called to announce to your world the good news of Jesus Christ. What a mighty message you have!
Memory Verse: Luke 1:76: “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways.”
Focal Passages: Luke 1:57-80, Isaiah 40:3, Malachi 3:1 and 4:5.