Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Blessed Advent! Last Sunday we began our journey through the Advent season. During our midweek services we will be making this journey alongside the people who were part of this miraculous event. We will be stepping into their world, their experiences, as they express and declare the work of God through an outburst of joyous song. Tonight, we encounter Zechariah.
As we read, Zechariah and his wife were righteous and walked blamelessly before the Lord. Yet one thing was lacking from their life. They were childless and well beyond the age to conceive. This brought great shame and heartache, and children were considered the blessings and favor of the Lord. Little did they know that God had already set into motion His plan of salvation, and that plan included them!
One day when Zechariah’s division was serving in the temple, Zechariah was chosen to offer the incense in the Holy Place. This was once in a life time opportunity! This was the closest anyone ever got to the Most Holy Place, the place where the Spirit of God rested as He dwelled with His people. All that would separate Zechariah from the presence of God was a thin curtain. Though this was a high privilege and honor, nothing out of the ordinary was expected to take place and it didn’t last long.
So when Zechariah was taking longer than expected, people began wondering what was happening. Their imaginations could have only run wild with what was happening inside the temple. When Zechariah finally emerged, he was unable to speak. When the others saw this they knew that something had happened to him in the temple, that he must have seen a vision and that God was at work.
We have the privilege of knowing just what happened to Zechariah as he was offering incense to God. Gabriel appeared and him the good news that Elizabeth was to give birth. He told Zechariah to be name the child John, and told him that John will be great before the Lord. Filled with the Holy Spirit, he would turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, making ready for the Lord a people prepared.
This news was almost too much for Zechariah. Although he wanted to believe, human reason told him it was impossible, so he doubted. He asked, “How could this possibly be? We are MUCH too old to have children!” Gabriel reminded him, “Do you not know who I am and where I come from? I am Gabriel, and I stand in the presence of God Himself! It is He who has told me to bring you this good news!” But because Zechariah doubted God’s words, his own words were taken from him and he was unable to speak until God’s work had been fulfilled.
Soon after, Elizabeth did conceive and gave birth to a son. Remembering Gabriel’s words, Zechariah named him John. When this was done, Zechariah’s tongue was loosed and Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old.” Out of all the things he could have said, the first thing out of Zechariah’s mouth was a praise and blessing to the very God that rendered him mute. Yet he knew that what was happening was much bigger than him. He knew that the Lord their God was coming to His people.
Like Zechariah’s silence, God had been silent for over 400 years! The last prophet, Malachi spoke around 430 BC. In His letter, God rebuked the priests for despising His Word and not trusting in His promise. They should have guarded the true knowledge of God, but instead by their instruction they lead many astray and caused many to stumble. Yet the Lord is the Lord of Hosts and the King of the Nations and the Father to all the world. Malachi warns them of the coming judgment in the Day of the Lord. Yet before that happens, God promises to send a messenger, one who will preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins to prepare the way before Him. Until the time of his coming, the Lord would remain silent.
Yet God opened the mouth of Zechariah and he prophesied. This was it! Zechariah knew God’s promise! He heard the words of Gabriel! The time was here, God was returning to His people and it is Zechariah’s son who is His messenger, His great prophet who is to go before Him to prepare the way of the Lord. No wonder these were the first words out of his mouth. His silence was over, but even more importantly God’s silence was over. The day of His salvation is near.
For in that day, “we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” On the day of His salvation, God will wipe away all our enemies, including sin, death, and the devil! He will show us His mercy and deliver us from our sins, so that we will serve him in all holiness and righteousness without fear forever. What a great and awesome God and Father we have! Though we are unfaithful, He remains faithful. Though we are wavering, He remains steadfast. He has come to his people once again!
Zechariah turns from his praise of God to his own son, the one who was chosen by God to be His messenger. “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Though the priests of old by their instruction led people astray and caused them to stumble, this child would bring people to true knowledge of their God, to the knowledge of their salvation! He would preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins, calling them from the darkness and the shadow of death, guiding them to the light, for God is merciful to those who call upon His name.
That light, dear Christians, we know is Christ Jesus. He is our salvation, He is the light of the world. Jesus Christ, became flesh for our sake, to fulfill the Law for us, take our sin upon Himself and make the ultimate sacrifice, so that we who trust in Him are called the children of the Most Holy God, and He is our Father. So in this Advent season, we cling to the promise of His salvation and join Zechariah in singing praise to the God of Israel.