In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah,to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying,“Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
This weekend, the Christian calendar tells us that we begin the first of the four weekends of Advent. Advent, formed from the Latin word means “coming” or “arrival”, is about the coming of Christ. Advent is the traditional celebration of the first advent of Jesus and the anxious awaiting of His second. The season is a time for remembering and rejoicing, watching and waiting, and a time to reflect upon the promises of God and to anticipate the fulfillment of those promises with patience, prayer and preparedness.
Christmas in our modern context is often a season of excess. This year, the National Retail Federation is projecting that Americans will spend more than 600 billion dollars just on Christmas. We have developed an insatiable appetite for material things in hope that they will satisfy us. If the Christmas season heightens your expectations of satisfaction, let’s discover how you can find joy, hope, and peace promised by the Savior whose birth we celebrate. We can do that by entering the original Christmas story.
Our text today tells the story of the birth of John the Baptist. John the Baptist would play a massive role in paving the way for Jesus. His parents Zechariah (a Jewish priest) and Elizabeth (also a daughter of a priest) were feeling majorly forgotten.
Luke 1:5-7 of our text tells us that it wasn’t easy to be alive in the days of Herod. This is the world that Jesus was born into. Zechariah and Elizabeth were seriously committed to the Lord. They were “righteous before God”. They had a heartache – a hearts cry – there was a huge hole in their heart…they had no children. She was infertile and they were now too old. They no doubt felt a little forgotten. A repeated prayer had gone unanswered.
Luke 1:8-10 shows us that Zechariah and Elizabeth didn’t put serving God on hold in spite of their disappointment. Zechariah gets the very rare privilege as one of 8,000 priests to perform the twice-daily routine of changing and burning incense in the Temple. This was a huge day in his life. In the midst of his needs, his unanswered prayers, his weak moments Zechariah is working for the Lord – being faithful. When you are serving God faithfully and have unanswered prayers – you can begin to think that there is no reward for your efforts.
It is one thing to be forgotten for a day or even a week or a month. But it is another thing to feel forgotten for years! You talk to God and things still do not change. Zechariah and Elizabeth were both advanced in years (verses 7 & 18). We have a lot to look forward to even when we feel forgotten. Regardless of your age or years of unanswered prayer – God still has a plan for you.
How should we deal with the feelings of being forgotten? Fill up with joy!
Luke 1:11-13 sheds light on Zechariah’s experience in the Temple. An angel appeared to him. He was troubled and full of fear. There is a natural human response when we are faced with the reality of God’s holiness and our sinfulness. Today, the Holy Spirit reveals His presence to us. In spite of this initial response, Zechariah is about to experience the greatest news of joy that he has ever experienced to this point of his life. Psalm 16:11 states:
In Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Joy is an inner supernatural delight in God, His purposes (ways), and in His people. This joy marks people of faith regardless of their life’s circumstances.
Luke 1:13-14 shows God’s desire to comfort His people. Zechariah is told, “don’t fear – your prayer has been heard – you will have a son – you will be filled with great joy and gladness”. God provided! Luke 1:15-17 details the life of this promised son. They are to call him John. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord – Jesus. Do you want more joy? Find it by detailing how God has provided for you in the past.
The name John meant, “the Lord has been gracious”. If you feel forgotten, if you are longing and hoping for an answer that hasn’t come, fill up with joy in spite of your disappointment. God has been gracious. Zechariah did not embrace what God was doing for him (Luke 1:18-20). He didn’t embrace the Lord’s graciousness. He paid a price for it by not being able to speak until the baby was born. Nine months of being speechless during the most exciting time of his life.
Your ability to experience joy this Christmas is directly related to your willingness to embrace God’s graciousness. Don’t doubt. Don’t despair. Don’t forget His grace in your life every day!
Luke 1:57-64 tells of the promise fulfilled for Zechariah and Elizabeth. This time Zechariah got it right. He named the baby John, “The Lord has been gracious”.
Do you want to feel joy even when you feel forgotten? Don’t fall into the temptation of trying to fill your heartache with material things that won’t satisfy. Jesus – Emmanuel, God with us, revealed in us, has been given. In Him there is much Joy! Joy to the world, the Lord has come! We need to say with our lips and mean it with our heart,
This week, as you reflect on the message, utilize this section to help you apply what has been taught to your life. Think of friends, co-workers, neighbors, family etc., that you could meet with to have a time of mutual sharing as you open God’s Word together.
This simple acronym (BLESS, B - Bless, L - Listen, E - Eat, S - Speak, S - Sabbath) should help you to frame your life according to the great commandment “love God” (Matthew 22:37) and the new commandment “love your neighbor” (John 13:34). Each time you meet, start by discussing the rhythms of your life according to B.L.E.S.S.
Intentionally bless: Christ-followers, non-believers and those different than you.
Listen to what God is saying to you, through His Word and others.
Share a meal with a Christ-follower and also a non-believer.
Talk to God through prayer and to others about Jesus through witness.
Be intentional about taking time to both rest and recreate.
Read: Luke 1:5-25
As you prepare for the Christmas season, what are some traditions that help focus your attention on the two advents of Christ (His first and second coming)?
How does this moment in our text anticipate the coming of the Messiah?
In what ways does this text remind you of the goodness of the Gospel?
How has your thinking concerning Christmas evolved over the years? In what ways do you find yourself connecting the thankfulness of Thanksgiving and Christmas to what you’ve experienced in the payment of Christ for your sin and the gift of His righteousness to you?