Advent: Hope, Peace, Joy & Love. It is all about God glory, and this is part of the back story… We celebrate the Advent of Glory, God’s ultimate glory: JESUS CHRIST!
The story of this glory is full of revelation about God and about US! The Biblical narrative is about the preparation that went into the preparation for the advent of our Lord! This greatest of all stories has quite a back story, we refer to it as the Hebrew Scriptures or The Old Testament. The back story has lessons for us if we desire to be used by God for HIS glory. Part of our celebration of Advent and Christmas is learning about God and about ourselves. The back story of God’s ultimate glory is all about humble people who believed God was who HE says HE is. That is who Zach and Beth were…
Luke 1:5-25 & 39-45
5 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. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.
- They were righteous in God’s sight yet childless
- The culture at that time saw children as a blessing from God
- Since they had no child their neighbors would view them as disobedient to God
8 Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
- Priests lived all over Israel and would travel to Jerusalem to serve a period
- A group would serve for a week and some would get to do special things
- Worship and prayer took place durning the ceremony of burning incense
- Incense symbolized the prayers and praise going up to God (pleasing aroma)
11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 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. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.
- We can’t comprehend what it is like to see an Angel (it always causes fear)
- There is a difference between feeling afraid and BEING afraid
- More than 200 times in scripture God says: ‘Do not be afraid’
- A child, and specifically a son, must have been a focus of Zach’s prayer life
- The answered prayer will be a great joy for Zach & Beth that many will share in
- The child that the Angel is foretelling will be great in the sight of the Lord
- Notice the distinction between being great to people & being great to God
- Jesus confirms his cousin John’s status in Luke 7:28
- “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 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.”
- Aspects of the Nazarite Vow regarding alcoholic beverages
- Filled with the Holy Spirit even while still in the womb (must be a person)
- We will explore this term ‘Filled with The Holy Spirit’ later in the text
- He will lead Jews to reconnect with God (lots of disconnection is present)
- He is to set the stage for the coming of the Lord
- How to find God: Gratitude for what HE gives & desiring HIS wisdom
- These 2 PRACTICES (giving God gratitude & seeking God’s wisdom) Biblical paths to God
18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” 19 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. 20 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.”
- Zacheriah asks the question we all ask: ‘How can I be sure of this’
- This is an expression of our desire for control
- Even those who are righteous in God’s sight can doubt revelation from God
- Gabe says: Look I am an Archangel, I hang with God and do HIS business
- You can be sure of what I tell you because I am a projection of God’s will
- As a lesson, Zach is struck speechless until the birth of the child
- My guess is that he never doubted God again…or maybe he did (only human)
21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 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.
- The people gather at the temple for these daily sacrifices.
- The incense burning only took a couple minutes, what was the hold up?
- He was able to communicate that something had happened with gestures
- Why is Zach disciplined and yet Mary will not be?
23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “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.”
- Once he is reunited with Beth they conceive
- Perhaps she thinks she is pregnant but waits to be sure (no ultrasound)
- It is a good practice to be sure of what God is doing before we declare it
- Beth recognizes that God has in this act declared HIS favor for Zach & Beth
- Since the disgrace was removed that means it must have been there
- People had judged what God thought of Zach & Beth based on circumstances
- People who serve God suffer; it is part of the deal
- Their years of suffering through childlessness prepared them for this
Then Gabriel visits Mary (Luke 26-38)
Guess what Mary, you are going to give birth to God!!!
You will have a child even though you are a virgin, even your relative Beth (cousin or aunt) who was thought to be barren has conceived, because God can do anything!
39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
- Right away (at that time) Mary goes to see the one person who will understand
- Once Mary (and Jesus) were in Beth’s (and John’s) presence sparks fly!
- John in her womb was already ‘Filled with The Holy Spirit’; now Beth is also
- What does ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ mean?
- Luke uses this term ‘Filled’ here and in the book of Acts
42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”
- When ‘filled’ with the Holy Spirit she speaks with His voice
- The filling of the Holy Spirit always results in God being glorified (Acts 4 & 13)
God’s favor is not equal to earthly prosperity. In Scripture, God’s eternal grace is not always displayed in earthly circumstances. This ‘long-suffering’ couple is used to birth the greatest human ever…God’s blessings are not denoted by worldly success.
Zach & Beth are model servants, observing God’s Word blamelessly for decades, even though their dreams of a family go unrealized. God will refine willing vessels by hardship and faithful obedience, and then use them for HIS glory!
As spiritually mature as Zach was, he still doubted God’s messenger; all of us humans doubt. Obedience over time lays the groundwork to overcome doubt. This season is given by God to encourage us, even when we doubt. It is hard to doubt when you rejoice!
God fills HIS people with HIS Spirit creating focus and connection to participate in what HE is doing.
This text is just a chapter of the story of how God HIMSELF came to earth without comfort, acceptance or accolades. HE was unappreciated, un-thanked and to many, HE seemed cursed not blessed! The ONE who appeared to this world as most despised is in fact, the definition of blessing, the definition of love, the definition of Grace and Mercy and Forgiveness!
HE did not strive for a successful career or family or empire or office or travel or the accumulation of things …. He was born into lowliness and died in lowliness… for you and I. Born in a cave! Killed on a cross! That you and I might be united with God! Might we surrender our lives more fully to HIM today!
And THIS SEASON we get to celebrate this REALITY, God with us! Not just today but for weeks!
What circumstances in your life keep you from fully obeying and serving the Lord?
When you have doubts about God how do you go about alleviating them?
What are the eternal blessings that you count on to get you through tough times?
VISION & PRACTICE:
When we focus on what God has done and what He is doing, HE will lead us to belief in HIS favor for us. Let us intentionally celebrate HIM this Christmas and rejoice in our belief in God’s grace to us in Christ.