A People Prepared
November 30, 2015, 3:56 PM

New Life Presbyterian Church
November 29, 2015
Advent Week #1
Love Came Down

By Cameron Smith

Luke 1:5-25


My friends, over two thousand years ago, the Messiah was born in Bethlehem. The focus of the prophets of old, and the hope of the people of God. As the Advent video proclaimed at the top of our service, a “Small glimmer of hope for a world trapped in darkness.” The baby was promised to a young virgin, then conceived in her womb through the Holy Spirit. God the Son wrapped in human flesh. The divine mystery: In Jesus of Nazareth, a true human being in every aspect except sin; and yet the very face of God. In Bethlehem, Love Came Down.

This is what we celebrate.

This Advent season, we will be moving through the opening of the Gospel of Luke, as we trace the steps of this divine drama of salvation. Looking back at the manger while anticipating a greater advent when Messiah comes back, not in a manger, but in heavenly splendor when heaven and earth will become one, once again, this time forever more. No sin. No fall.

Into the Text

At the outset of his Gospel, Luke informs his reader, a man by the name of Theophilus, that he is writ[ing] an orderly account for you [In other words, meticulously, well-researched; a factual account of the historical events surrounding the coming of Jesus]…that you [and all of us!] may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. (Lk. 1:3-4 ESV).

And so, Luke begins his account in the Jerusalem temple with a godly priest named Zechariah. A good man. His wife, Elizabeth, is noted for her love of God, as well. Luke says they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. (1:6 ESV).

There was a problem right off, though. They had no child. Elizabeth was barren, unable to bear children. And they were advanced in years, with no prospect now of ever having children.

You’ll have to hold that thought for a few moments.

The story continues with Zechariah fulfilling his priestly responsibilities in the Jerusalem temple. (1:8-10). He was of the division of Abijah -- one of 24 priestly divisions in Israel. According to rabbinic records, there were 1000 priests in each division with 500 of them coming to serve at the temple and its services.

These priests were responsible for officiating at worship, burning incense, hearing confessions, accepting sacrificial offerings and the major labor of preparing the sacrificial animals. It is reported that during the festival of Passover, it “required the slaughter of no fewer than 100,000 lambs in the temple within the period of a few hours.” It’s hardly surprising that “the work of slaughtering, skinning, and processing animal sacrifices occasionally overwhelmed the priests[!]” cf. 2 Chron. 29:34. (From James Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke, Pillar, p.33).

Zechariah is chosen by lot to go in to the Most Holy Place to offer incense on the altar of Incense, which is right in front of the curtain separating the Most Holy Place from the Holy of Holies where the Ark of God and Cherubim are set apart. The incense represented not only the prayers of God’s people going up before the presence of God, but the smoke also acted as a natural shield from wandering human eyes.

As Zechariah walked in before the altar with his lidded ladle with approximately a gallon of incense when something extraordinary happened to him (1:11-12).

The angel Gabriel appeared at the right side of the altar, in the place of privilege; the place where one has God’s ear, so to speak. God speaks and Gabriel then speaks what God says.

Gabriel tells Zechariah that Elizabeth will give birth to a son. His name will be John. His coming will be news of joy to many. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb – no need for alcohol for this prophet! “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.” (1:16-17 ESV).

This child will announce the coming Kingdom of God.

This child will stir complacency with his passion.

This child will ready the people of God with his baptism of repentance.

He will call out a new people for God. A godly remnant of Israel.

Zechariah is skeptical. He refuses to believe this unbelievable news. He repeats the words of Abraham and Sarah of old: “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” (Gen. 17:17 ESV). Zechariah says, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” (1:18 ESV).

Zechariah is stricken with silence until the birth of John, what some theologians call a “severe mercy” in that he encountered God and left with a reminder of his encounter, much like Jacob had wrestled with God and walked away with a limp.

However, this parallel with the lives of Abraham and Sarah is significant here. With Abraham, God promised that through his “seed,” the nations would be blessed. A new world order would rise from the womb of his barren, past child-bearing age wife, Sarah.

The same is true of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Elizabeth, like Sarah, barren. Like Sarah, well past child-bearing age. Through these impossible circumstances, God brings in a new world order.

Luke begins his narrative hearkening back to the original story in Abraham’s miracle heir that would pave the lineage highway for the Messiah. This miracle birth of John the Baptist is the other end of the Messianic road.

It is evident that God is demonstrating his sovereignty over his creation.

Only God can initiate such a grand salvation plan.

Only God can make it happen.

Only God can make ready a new people for his glory.

Only God can take the humanly impossible and makes it possible.
(Because all things are possible with God.)

As John the Baptist grew up to prepare the way for the coming of the Kingdom of God in Jesus; so we here and now make the same call to our churches during the Advent. Jesus has come in Bethlehem. Jesus will come again in Glory. It is time to wake up. It is time to wrest ourselves from passivity. God has done great things. Indeed!

You have heard the Word of God. Please consider it well.   Amen.

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