Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we come from so many different places this morning. Some of us come eager and waiting to hear a word from you, some of us come joyfully and grateful to sing together with the people of God, some of us come weary and waiting for relief, some of us come hurting and filled with doubts and fears.
Lord, would you come and meet us where we are, lead us where you want us to go, and draw us to you. As you do, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
The promised day has come near, are you ready?
The day we have long waited for is close, are you ready?
I don’t mean ‘Do you have your Christmas tree up? All the lights around the house, the decorations just so, and the traditional Christmas sweets all baked.’
I don’t mean, ‘Have you finished all your shopping for Sinterklaas or Christmas?’
I don’t mean, ‘Do you have your Christmas music playing? Are you feeling festive and full of holiday spirit?’
The promised day has come near, are you ready?
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, he spoke and waters pulled back, stars flew into the sky, plants and animals, birds and fish filled the earth. He made a man and a woman and placed them in a garden. But the man and the woman trusted the serpent, the deceiver, Satan, over God and ate what they should not eat, took what they should not take, and sent all humanity and all creation spiraling away from God. We know the story, we see it in our lives, in our neighborhoods, in our schools and workplaces, a world apart from, out of step with God. But as God came to our first parents in their sin, he made a promise, “I will put enmity between [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head and you will strike his heel.”
God promised that one day things would be made right. One day the serpent who was cursed to eat dust and has been devouring creatures made from the dust every since, one day a child of Eve will be born that will crush that serpent’s head. One day God will break this curse upon human flesh and set us free to walk again with him.
One day, so we waited and hoped. We hoped and waited. God was not done with us yet. With generation, with each child that was born, we wondered, “Is this the one?” First, it was Cain and Abel and Seth. Is this the one? Not yet, so we waited and hoped. We hoped and waited.
With Abram and Sarai we heard God’s promise of a child and waited the long years before the promise was kept. He is a child of promise, a blessing from the LORD, but it he the one? Not yet, so we waited and hoped. We hoped and waited.
Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his twelve brothers. The miraculous rescue of Moses. Is this the one? Not yet. Then God led us out of bondage in Egypt and promised one day that he would come and deliver us from a greater bondage, with a greater Exodus. So we waited and wondered, is this the child? Is this the day God promised?
Not yet, so we waited and hoped. We hoped and waited. God was not done with us yet.
Obed, father of Jesse, father of David, born of the emptiness of Ruth and Naomi filled by the grace of God. Is this the child? Is this the day God promised?
David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Josiah, Zerubabbel. On and on, is this the child? Is this the day God promised, the day we would set things right and make us new?
Not yet, so we waited and hoped. We hoped and waited.
Until finally, the day came. The long promised day of the Lord, the time of redemption and salvation was dawning.
The promised day has come near, are you ready?
When that day began to dawn, it went like this. Listen to these words from the book that we love:
Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events which have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided after investigating everything carefully from the very first to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.
In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people were praying outside. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before he is born he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah, he will 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.” Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man and my wife is getting on in years.” The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of the Lord and I have been sent to speak to you and to give you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”
Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them and they realized he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them, but remained unable to speak. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have suffered among my people.”
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
That was Luke 1:1-25, the opening words of Luke’s account of the Gospel.
The promised day has come near, are you ready?
When Luke talked to eyewitnesses, investigated carefully all the accounts of the life and witness of Jesus Christ, and decided to write down the trust story of what had happened in history, he began with Zechariah, Elizabeth, and John.
Before he shows us Jesus, before we hear of Mary and Joseph, of virgin wombs filled, of shepherds rushing to mangers, Luke shows us Zechariah, Elizabeth, and John.
I believe Luke starts here because Zechariah and Elizabeth were done, but God was not done with them.
Luke leaves us with no doubt about the kind of people Zechariah and Elizabeth are. Zechariah was a priest, part of the 8th out of 24th different orders of priests, each of whom served in the temple about one week a year. His wife, Elizabeth, was also a member of the line of Aaron, the high priest. Both were faithful, God-honoring people. Luke even goes so far as to say they were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
So they waited and hoped. They hoped and waited. Like all faithful Israel, they were waiting and praying for God’s great day of redemption, but they also had a personal waiting, a long, painful ache as they hoped for a child, but remained empty.
There was no retirement age for priests, so we do not know how old Zechariah and Elizabeth were, but we are told they were well past child-bearing. Years of waiting for their child mirrors the centuries of God’s people waiting for the child, the day God had finally promised.
They were done. Too old, too worn out. They were done. Maybe you have felt the same way. You given and served for many years, but now that time seems over. You aren’t sure exactly what remains as you wait to see Jesus face-to-face. But maybe, just maybe, God is not done with you yet. Or maybe you are feeling done – burned and worn out, done with the pain, done with disappointment, done with the church, done with it all. But maybe, just maybe, God is not done with you yet.
Because the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth and the miraculous birth of John tells of a God who brings new life where people do not think it possible, a God who does something new in people who are done and beyond expecting anything, a God who is not done with two old people, who is not done with Israel, until redemption comes upon them.
And maybe, just maybe, this is not just Zechariah and Elizabeth’s story. It is yours. It is ours. God is not done with us yet.
Once when it was Zechariah’s turn to serve in the temple, when it was the one week a year that the order of Abijah would serve in the temple, Zechariah was chosen. This was a once-in-a-lifetime honor, to go into the holy place and stand at the altar of incense, before the veil into the holy of holies. For anyone but the high priest, it was the closest one would ever get to the place God had promised to dwell. Most priests would only get this opportunity once in their lives. They would go into the holy place while the people prayed, offer prayers and then place incense on the coals of the altar to symbolize the prayers of God’s people rising like sweet-smelling incense before God.
As Zechariah went in and prayed, did he pray for a child? Did he pray that Elizabeth might give them a son? Maybe. He would certainly have prayed this over and over in his life. He might have believed that at the incense altar was not the place for such personal prayers, but we do not know. He might have thought this was far beyond possible anymore. Would Zechariah have prayed for a child? Maybe. Would he have prayed for the day of God’s redemption, for the day God’s people had hope for generation after generation? Absolutely.
As he stands at the altar an angel appears. Zechariah is terrified, but the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before he is born he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah, he will 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.”
Wow. The promised day has come near, are you ready, Zechariah? The day where the hearts of the people will be brought near to the Lord, where those who walk in disobedience will be turn back to the Lord, where children and parents who have been estranged will be reconciled, where the Lord himself will come. The promised day has come hear, are you ready, Zechariah?
Zechariah was not ready. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe and trust in God. But for all his praying and hope and waiting, when God sent an angel and said, your prayer has been heard, Zechariah couldn’t believe it. The day is finally here and you get to be a part of it, Zechariah wasn’t ready. While on the surface, his response is similar to many others in the Bible, the angel’s words reveal that God saw something different in his heart. He wasn’t ready. What he had hoped for was finally coming, his long years of prayer was finally being answered, and he wasn’t ready.
God was bringing something new into the life of Zechariah – John, whose name means the Lord is gracious. This new thing God was bringing into the life of Zechariah and Elizabeth was the fulfillment of their personal hopes, but it was also so much bigger. The life God caused to grow in Elizabeth’s womb was a joy and gladness that filled her, but it was also so much bigger than her.
The same is true for you. What God is doing in you, in this church, in this world, is deeply connected with your story, but is also so much bigger than that. God is not done with you yet. Even if, like Zechariah, you aren’t ready. Even if, like Elizabeth, you are too old. Even if you feel like you are done with God is not done with you. And this God who not only sent John, but came himself as the man Jesus Christ for you, for us, for the world is the same God who enters your story and invites you into the wide open country of salvation, into the biggest story, his story. God is redeeming the world. This is the announcement of the angel to Zechariah. “I have been sent to speak to you and to bring your good news.” God is redeeming the world and Zechariah and Elizabeth get to be a part of it.
Zechariah was not ready. He dropped the ball. We need to be honest and see that he was rebuked for it. But in the graciousness of God, God doesn’t wait until Zechariah is ready to keep his promises. God doesn’t tell Zechariah that once he finally believes God’s word, then he will give him a child or that once he trusts him enough, then God will work to bring about redemption.
Even as God calls us to be ready, he doesn’t wait until we are. Even when we are not ready, even when we are not sure and fumble around trying to figure what God is doing, he is still working. He is still keeping his promises. He is not done with us yet. Even when we were not ready, he still sent John to prepare the way for Jesus. Even when we were not ready, the Lord still came as the man Jesus Christ and lived a perfect life, died a perfect death, rose to life again and went up into heaven where he reigns forever and ever and sends his Spirit upon us, so that he could free us from sin and give us his righteousness and be both Lord and Savior of the world. Even when we were not ready, Christ did all this for us.
Even as he calls us to be ready, God doesn’t wait for us to be ready. He comes, the one we have been waiting for. But the question still stands before us: The promised day has come, are you ready? If we wait until we have it all figured out, we will never receive him, never receive the joy and gladness of the gospel. If we wait until everything seems clear and all our questions have been answered, we will never receive him. Even when we are filled with doubts, filled with pain, weighed down with waiting, God comes to us. He doesn’t wait for us to be ready, but when he comes, we must be ready to receive him.
The promised day has come, are you ready?
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.