Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sermon for Dec 2

The First Midweek in Advent
December 2, 2009
Text: Luke 1:5-24

Dear Friends in Christ,
During this Advent season we will be looking at the three great announcements that preceded the birth of Christ. They were all announcements made by an angel. Two were made by the Angel Gabriel and the other is an unnamed angel, though one would tend to think it likely that this also was Gabriel.

What do we know about Gabriel? He is one to two archangels mentioned by name in Scripture - the other being Michael. Rafael is known from the Apocrypha. This also is considered reliable information. No other names of angels are known with any degree of certainty. That makes Gabriel remarkable in itself. His appearances in the New Testament are all connected with the birth of Christ. He also makes two appearances in the book of Daniel. In every one of these cases Gabriel does nothing other than speak. He is a messenger in the true sense. He comes to speak God’s Word, as his Master bids him. He is God’s herald of good news.

So where does Gabriel first present this good news? In the holy place of the temple. Zechariah was an elderly priest whose home was in the hill country of Judea. There were so many priests at this time they that they took turns serving in the temple. Zechariah was assigned the task of burning incense on the altar of incense in the Holy Place - that is inside the temple sanctuary. Many priests would never get to enter that building in their whole life. So this was a great honor. After he had done this, he was to come out and pronounce Aaron’s benediction over the people. Things didn’t go as planned.

Gabriel appeared to Zechariah. He was an elderly, childless man. Gabriel comes and tells him that he will have a child. Now that would be good news in itself. Then comes more good news. This would be the fulfillment of the final prophecy of the Old Testament, that Elijah would come and announce the coming of the Messiah. This is the part in our text about having the spirit and power of Elijah. Further, he was to be a Nazarite from birth. That meant that he would live his whole life under a vow to God, just as Sampson and Samuel did. Now Zechariah surely knew all the accounts of the Old Testament. He knew about all the special births including Isaac born of Abraham and Sarah in their old age. He knew about barren Hannah praying for son and promising him to God and how she was rewarded with several children, the first being Samuel. So of course Zechariah had no trouble believing the angel at all...

Well, actually, Zechariah, the learned priest had a great deal of trouble. Here is the odd part of the text. Zechariah of all people should have understood what the angel was saying and believed it. Instead he cannot accept what the angel is saying. This would be a miracle after all - but aren’t miracles part of the business priests are in? I remember a line from a movie where a bishop says “I believe in miracles, it’s part of my job.” Thus Zechariah was struck dumb by the angel. He would not be able to speak until after the child was born. Then he would say a great deal. He would sing the Benedictus. Here Zechariah shows that he truly did understand. For in the great song of Zechariah, he explains that John would be the forerunner of Christ who would come and take away the sins of the people. Zechariah finally shows that he knows what this is about - the forgiveness of sins. That’s what makes this good news. Christ was not coming to take an accounting. He wasn’t coming to see who was naughty or nice. He knew that already. He knew that the hearts of men are constantly inclined toward evil. Rather Christ was coming to bring forgiveness, which in turn would heal the relationship between God and man.

The Angel Gabriel came with good news. But that good news was not immediately greeted with joy. Sin and unbelief got in the way. Zechariah could not believe that he was at the center of a divine plan. Sadly, many people today allow sin and unbelief to rob them of this great news. For John would come as more than the fulfillment of an elderly couple’s hopes. John would preach repentance and warning. But he would will also draw people to God through the forgiveness that would be won by the Lamb of God. For this was John’s unique title for Christ. He wasn’t just the promised one. In this John displays his priestly heritage. For a priest dealt with God by means of sacrifices laid upon the altar. For John, Christ was the one perfect sacrifice that would end all sacrifices. Christ’s blood would truly atone for sin. This John would proclaim. That is good news indeed.

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