Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Advent Midweek 1

Advent Midweek 1 – December 4th, 2013 – Luke 1

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
          This Advent season we will be taking a look at some Angelic appearances.  Next week we will get the famous Annunciation, where Gabriel comes to Mary and tells her that she will be giving birth to Jesus.  The week after that we will hear the angel talk to Joseph.  And of course, the week after that, on Christmas Eve, we will get the Angel Hosts singing to the Shepherd of Bethlehem.  But tonight, to start, we have the often forgotten angelic appearance of the New Testament, Gabriel appearing to Zechariah in the temple.  So let us consider this appearance.

          In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest name Zechariah, of the divison 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 statues of the Lord.  But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.  And that’s the start of the whole story, the way Luke really begins his Gospel.  We see an old priest and his wife.  Nothing spectacular, nothing great or noteworthy.  Just a good, faithful old couple without a kid.  A priest getting long in the tooth, used to just letting the days go by, as they always had. 

Now, while he [that is, Zechariah] 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.  Now, just think for a moment about how normal, how typical this is.  This is just the normal stuff that goes on, a normal, everyday sort of thing.  It would be no more unusual than any service we have here – and that’s the thing.  Everything has been usual.  Everything has been typical and humdrum in Jerusalem.  They’ve been that way for quite some time.  There’s been no prophet for a good 400 years.  There really hasn’t been anything astonishing at least since the whole stuff that leads to Hanukah, the festival of lights, and that was a good 160 years ago.  That’s a long time – that’s like us talking about the Civil War.  It’s a while ago.  And nothing strange happens, and days just drag on into the next, and still Zechariah goes on with his long life, with his old wife, and they are just getting old together and that’s all there is, that’s all that ever happens.

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.  Well, that’s certainly different.  Zechariah’s no rookie, he’s not some wet-behind the ears priest offering up incense for the first time.  This sort of thing doesn’t happen… it’s not supposed to happen, and Zechariah is petrified.  Did you note this – Luke doubles up the description.  He’s troubled and fear falls upon him.  Zechariah assumes one and one thing only – that what is coming is going to be bad.  You break with the norm, and it’s going to be bad.

Of course, Gabriel comes with good news.  You’re going to have a son – Elizabeth is going to conceive.  But not only you, many will rejoice, for he is going to be a prophet.  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 not just a prophet – but the last prophet.  The final one, the one who will be preparing the way of the Messiah.  It’s all coming, and it’s really starting with your son, Zechariah, yes, your son.

But here’s the rub.  Zechariah doesn’t buy it.  And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this?  For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”  We don’t get what Zechariah is saying.  What he says here is basically, “Says who?”  I’m going to have a kid – says who?  Now, you listen up, I’m an old fogey and my wife is old too, and nothing happens to us – so there.  Now, all you angels get off of my lawn.  What he says is totally dismissive – because Zechariah knows the way things work – he’s been around the block far too many times, and stuff like this just doesn’t happen.  Now go away and bother someone else, because I ain’t buying it.  And this is why Gabriel lays the smack down on him.  And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stands 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.”  Do you get the irony of it.  Alright, you are here in the temple offering the incense in the presence of the Lord – hey buddy, I LIVE in the presence of God, not just when my lot turns up.  And pal, I was sent here to speak to you, but since you didn’t want to listen, just shut it.  Keep silent.  And it is totally ironic – John will come to turn the hearts of fathers to their children… but right now, papa Zechariah hadn’t had his heart turned towards John yet.  He was dismissive even of the idea.  The great prophet’s papa is render silent because he disbelieves the word.

But if God says something, it’s going to happen.  Zechariah finally comes out, and he is mute, and they realize he’s seen something – and probably messed it up because he can’t talk, and he goes home, and Elizabeth gets pregnant – although she keeps it hidden, she hides herself away.  It’s great, it’s wonderful, but it’s all still a little strange.

So, what do we learn, what do we take from this?  Zechariah serves as a warning for us.  He’s a good fellow, he’s blameless, he’s your good little Christian.  But, he’s just sort of run down.  He has just gotten so used to life as he knows it that he can’t believe or expect anything wondrous to happen to him – even when God sends him an angel.  Zechariah has fallen to the mundane.  Things are just how they are, and that’s all there is, end of story.  And this is a danger to us.  We live in a day and age of materialism and consumerism, where we are told to expect just the normal humdrum of life – where our thoughts on religion and God are pushed more and more into a little quiet corner of our lives.  And as such, we can be deluded into missing it when God Himself speaks to us.

No, I’m not telling you to be on guard for an angel – something better.  As Peter points out in His epistle, we have something better than an angel.  We have the Gospel of Christ Jesus – we know the story, we know that John comes and proclaims the coming of Christ Jesus, we know that this Jesus lives and suffers and dies for our sins, we know that He rises, we know that He come again.  And how do we know this?  Because God has given us the gift of His Word – the New Testament where everything confusing and hidden in the Old is revealed.  The coming of the Messiah that was longed for, it’s explained and revealed in Christ – and you and I hear it, and we know it.  And the danger is the world wants us to treat the hearing of the word as just another mundane thing.  But it’s not.  It is not the mere word of an angel, as amazing as that is – it is the Word of Christ about Christ for you.  It is the word of your forgiveness.  Every Sunday, every service when we gather here, we aren’t just going through the motions, but rather once again God brings us life and Spirit and forgiveness and hope through His Word – even until He comes again.  God grant that we see and hear this great truth and wonder for what it is!

As for Zechariah, well, he does learn his lesson.  John is born, and Zechariah will speak again, he will open his mouth in praise.  Blessed be the Lord God of Israel for He has visited and redeemed His people.  This is the great truth we celebrate and marvel whenever we gather here.  God grant that we see it, that we know it ever more.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +

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