Preparing the way.
Are you ready for Christmas? What does it mean to be ready for Christmas? What do you do to prepare yourself for the Christmas season? Do you decorate, or risk your life to put up lights, or maybe you make cookies and play some Bing Crosby, or Michael Buble? Me, I am partial to a Peppermint Chocolate Chip Milk Shake. That really gets me into the season.
Now, I noticed something this week as my wife was bringing out the decorations and setting up the nativity scene. this may or may not be true in your house, but it is in ours, I thought it a good illustration of what we must do in our hearts this season of advent, and really any week as Christians. What Rebekah did to prepare the house for decorations to get us into the Christmas spirit was this, she put things away. You see there are things that are typically out on our mantle, and our little table and elsewhere that needed to be put away in order to make room for Christmas decorations. That may sound kind of elementary right? If you are going to display something, you need to prepare by taking away something that was previously displayed to make room for the new. This metaphor is true for just about anything that happens in life. We cannot simply add onto what is already there, we must make room for whatever is coming. That is exactly what God did as He prepared the Way for His son to come into the world. That is what we are going to read about this morning, and what I hope we apply to our lives this week. Lets read from the book of Luke, Chapter 1, verses 5-25.
In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah,fn of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 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. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 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. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 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.”
18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 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. 20 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.” 21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 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. 23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Let your longings drive you to the true Legacy.
Here in this story of the foretelling of John the Baptist’s birth we see something that takes place on a regular basis in scripture, especially in the narratives in scripture. We see a narrative story, with characters and people, who are in the midst of a larger story. You see, the sovereignty of God is so amazingly vast and intricate, that He can tie together the answer to an individual prayer in a single family’s life with the longings, prayers and expectations of the world.
He is so vast in His wisdom and understanding that the answer to your prayer or longing, can be the answer to a hundred other people’s prayer and longing at the very same moment. So, before we go any further in looking at the text and applying it to our lives, I want you to write something down. Answer this question… What are you longing for? Think about it for a minute, and pick one longing. If you are like me, you may have several things that you are longing for. You may not think of them every day, maybe you do. Maybe for you it is that job, or that raise. Or maybe it is a grandchild, or healing for a family member. I know for me there are a number of things that I can think of right off the bat. I would love to be able to work as a pastor full time, without having to do construction. I have a longing to see my children grow up to be faithful men and women of God. I have a longing to see ministries spring out of our body, and lives transformed by the Gospel. OK, so pick one of those longings and write it down. we will get back to it later.
The Longing And the Legacy… So, what we have here in this story of Zachariah, and Elizabeth is a story of longing, and legacy. We see a couple who has been married for quite some time unable to conceive a child, barren. This couple follows hard after the Lord, they are blameless it says in regard to God statutes. Zach is a priest before the Lord, and is chosen to enter the temple and burn incense. While he is inside the temple, there is a whole multitude of people it says praying as he is in there. While he is in there, he sees an angel. Who tells him what? “Your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son.” So, here we see the interaction of Gods sovereign hand, and man’s prayers. God sends a messenger to tell Zach that God has heard his prayer, He has heard the longings of Zach and Liz’s hearts. Let that sink in for a minute before we move on. God hears your prayers. God delights to hear your prayers, and He delights to answer them according to His will. He knows all of your deepest longings and desires. So lets look for a minute at the longings in Zach and Liz’s hearts.
The Longing of Zachariah and Elizabeth… Childlessness in this time was considered a disgrace. We see in verse 25 that Elizabeth had felt a reproach from the people around her. Well meaning people, asking probing questions as to why she had not had any children. Difficult questions and probably some accusations about sin that God was punishing by making her barren. She felt alone, and vulnerable. Zachariah no doubt also was concerned for his wife, but also he wanted a legacy for his family. No doubt he wanted to have offspring to pass on his blood and heritage to. So, there was a longing in his heart. A longing for life. A longing for a future for his family.
The Longing of Israel… Now what is not recorded in this text, but is known from the code for the priests is that when Zach went into the temple to pray, he was to pray not merely for his family. His main role was to pray for the nation of Israel. He was to pray for the messiah, for deliverance, for an end to oppression, and forgiveness of sin. Israel’s longing goes back way farther than this time. You see, it had been 400 years since the Lord had spoken through a prophet to His people. 400 years of waiting, and praying, and longing and expecting. Way more than 400 years of oppression and injustice at the hands of their rulers. There was a deep longing. A deep longing to be free from the yoke of slavery, free from the bondage, and free from the oppression. Israel’s longing was not unlike Zachariah’s it was a longing for God to take away the reproach of the nations.
The Legacy of Z and E… So, for Zach and Liz, this news from the angel of the Lord is amazing right? They are going to have a child. The derision of her people will be silenced. The haters are going to be shut up, and Elizabeth can hold her head high in the market as she carries her child close and walks in the joy of knowing that the Lord has heard her prayer and answered her! What a joyful bit of news that is. If God had stopped there, what a great story that would be right, the woman and man of God prayed for a child, and He answered, and all is well right? Well, lets not forget the legacy for Israel too.
The Legacy of Israel… Whats amazing about the birth of John is more than just that his mother was barren and God opened her womb. What is amazing about John is that he was a man who was selected by God from before his birth to prepare the way of the messiah. I don’t know what was in Zachariah’s prayer, but I am pretty sure that goes above and beyond anything he was hoping for. Now, me, my greatest hope and prayer for my children is that they become Christians. So how amazing would it be that your child was filled with the Holy Spirit while in the womb, and popped out as a believer? Wow!! But it didn’t even stop there for John, he was chosen by God to prepare the way of Jesus! He was chosen to “make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
Now, here is where I want to bring out some of the more difficult aspects of John’s life. Aspects that may have been difficult for Zachariah and Elizabeth to understand as his parents. Where did John live? The wilderness. What did he eat? Locusts and wild Honey. What was his main “occupation”? Calling people to repentance. How did he end up? With his head on a platter. Why did I say that? well, simply put, the longings you have in life, if they are God given longings, are not about you. They are about the bigger narrative that we all find ourselves in. The longings that God gives us, aren’t meant to terminate on us. They are part of a bigger design, a grander plan, a larger picture of redemption. Those longings are there not for us to be fulfilled in the small answer to the longing, they are meant to push us to see the greater fulfillment in Christ. He is the ultimate answer to all of our longings. All of our deepest longings can only be fulfilled in Him. And we need to be ok with that, even as we long for those things.
That brings us to what we need to do in the advent season, and really every day to make room for the messiah.
Make room for your longings… By this I mean, understand them, dwell on them, and most importantly, take them to The Lord for Him to deal with. Do you ever wonder if your longings are from God? Do you ever ask Him to take them away? Sometimes that is needed…
Make room for disappointment… You know, in fulfilling the longings of Zachariah, and Elizabeth, God did not grant every desire. John did not have an earthly legacy. He had no children, he was killed at the whim of a wicked woman. There are aspects of our longings that go beyond Gods plans of fulfillment, and we need to be ok with that…because God is using them in the bigger narrative.
Make room to be amazed… In all the prayers of the Israelites, they were mostly looking for political relief, a governmental savior. But what God sent instead was the only one who could save them from their spiritual oppression, and slavery. He sent His spotless son, not to rule from a throne, but a cross, not to take on the Roman government, but to destroy the powers of darkness in this present age. Not a warrior to free Israel from the chains of physical oppression and occupation, but to purchase freedom from slavery to sin, and rebellion. Not a king to save the lives of people who were dying, but a savior, to bring the dead to life! Ultimately, Jesus is the fulfillment of all longing! There is no longing that ends on itself, except the longing to be with Jesus!
So, look back at your longing for a minute. Now ask yourself these questions:
Is this longing from The Lord?
How can I make room for God to fulfill this longing, and use it for His legacy?
Does this longing end with Jesus?