“The Child Who Is Zechariah’s Hope” (Luke 1:5-25)

Midweek Advent Vespers
Wednesday, December 5, 2018

“The Child Who Is Zechariah’s Hope” (Luke 1:5-25)

“What Child Is This?” That’s the theme of our midweek Advent series this year, picking up on the title of the hymn we sang. “What Child Is This?” Of course, the child we sing about in that hymn is the Christ child, Jesus, the Savior sent from heaven. But there is another child we consider first, one who prepares the way for Jesus, both later on in his ministry, but also even here in his birth. And that child is John, John the Baptist. And because our text today is about John the Baptist, it is therefore about Jesus. Because John’s whole purpose in life was to point people to Jesus. And God arranged for John to do that, even in his birth.

Our text is the story of the angel Gabriel announcing to Zechariah that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son with that special purpose in life, to prepare the way of the Lord. Zechariah faltered at believing that message, and so the Lord struck him unable to speak for a time. But the Lord did not cast Zechariah aside or give up on him. For the child to be born after John, Jesus, would be the one who forgives Zechariah’s sins–and ours too–and restores us and gives us hope. So our message tonight is really about Jesus, “The Child Who Is Zechariah’s Hope.”

We are introduced to a man by the name of Zechariah. He and his wife Elizabeth are portrayed as righteous people, devout, and now they’re getting up there in years. The way they’re described reminds us of that Old Testament couple, Abraham and Sarah, even down to the fact that they have not been able to have children, and now the wife is well past childbearing age.

Zechariah is a priest, taking his turn at serving in the temple. And like the Lord had had a special announcement for old Abraham, now he has a big surprise for Zechariah. Suddenly an angel appears to Zechariah. He’s frightened, of course. Everyone in the Bible is frightened when an angel appears to them. “Fear not, Zechariah,” the angel assures him. “I’m not here to zap you. I’m here to bring you good news! The Lord is bringing his plan of salvation to fulfillment. And guess what? You’re going to be part of it! You and your wife, Elizabeth. God is going to do another ‘Abraham and Sarah’ thing: a child will be born when you wouldn’t think it could happen. And this time, you are the ones he’s going to do it with. Yes, you’re going to have a baby! A son, and you’re going to name him John.”

The angel tells Zechariah about this child’s special destiny: “You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord.” Not just Zechariah, but lots of folks will be blessed by this child. He will be especially dedicated and devoted to the service of the Lord. He will be empowered by God for his ministry.

And this is what he will do: “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.” Wow! What a ministry! John will call God’s people back to the Lord. Uniting them, uniting their hearts in wisdom and righteousness. Preparing the way for the Lord, before the Lord himself comes and visits them in a special way. That’s what John will do.

But Zechariah can’t believe it. He’s stunned. He’s in disbelief. “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” Well, yeah, Zechariah. But wasn’t that the case for Abraham and Sarah? God does these sorts of things, you know. You of all people should know this–you’re a priest, for goodness’ sake! And here is an angel, talking to you in the temple! If that doesn’t get your attention, I don’t know what will.

So the angel has to emphasize the point: “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.” Gabriel is the special messenger the Lord sends to announce this. And the Lord’s messenger comes bringing good news, news of salvation. But Zechariah, who should have known better, doesn’t believe it.

Aren’t we a little like Zechariah? Here we are, we who should know better, and the Lord sends us a messenger to come and talk to us in the temple–that is, a pastor–and yet we have trouble believing what the Lord tells us. God tells us that he is our kind and loving Father, who will take care of us in all our needs. And yet we don’t trust God. We think he’s holding out on us. God tells us the right way to live, devoted to God’s word, loving and serving our neighbor. And yet we want to walk our own way, going down strange paths that God has warned us against. God tells us that our true life is found in Christ, in his life, death, resurrection, and coming again. And yet we find that message boring, and we’re indifferent about going to church to hear it. How like Zechariah we are! We should know better, but we don’t believe.

Zechariah didn’t believe the word he was given, and so he was struck mute for a time, as a chastisement–to teach him a lesson, if you will. The silencing of Zechariah is quite an extraordinary scene. You see, Zechariah was a priest. That meant he made his living with his voice. His vocation was to bless, to pray, to teach. And yet, there he stood, voiceless in the temple, unable to finish his temple service with the customary blessing. What’s more, Zechariah was a descendant of the priestly line of Aaron, the brother of Moses. Aaron’s part in the exodus from Egypt was to speak eloquently. But there was Zechariah, a priest descended from Aaron, and he could not utter a word.

Another irony: Zechariah’s own name should have helped him believe the news he received that day. His name, “Zechariah,” means “The Lord remembers.” And when Gabriel told Zechariah that Elizabeth would have a child, even in her old age, the Lord was remembering his covenant, his promise to his people. You see, when the Lord remembers, he’s not simply rummaging around in his memory bank. When the Lord remembers, he acts. And so God remembered his people that day, when Gabriel told Zechariah he would have this son who would prepare the way for the promised Messiah. God’s promise that day in the temple was about fulfilling Zechariah’s name, “The Lord remembers.” But Zechariah did not believe that God was about to act. He forgot. He forgot God’s wondrous actions of old. He forgot what God did for Abraham and Sarah. He forgot just how good God is, and he doubted God’s word.

Zechariah and Elizabeth are described as “righteous before God.” That’s because their hope was in the Lord and his promise to act and send the Messiah. Zechariah prayed regularly for this. Yet when the Lord answered his prayer, he doubted the word the angel brought. His offense was not in expecting too much from the Lord. It was in expecting too little.

Our God is generous. He gives us exceedingly great and precious promises. He invites us to ask and has promised to answer. God gives us more than we deserve. He is exceedingly generous. That’s who he is. But we so easily forget that. That’s who we are.

Like Zechariah, we too easily forget. God has made us his priestly people, a royal priesthood, in Holy Baptism. God has set apart our mouths to do priestly work–to pray, to bless, to forgive, to proclaim God’s goodness. Through Christ, we have every reason to be bold and confident in our prayers. But instead, we’ve doubted this and thought, “What good will my prayers do?” We’ve doubted that God knows what he’s doing. We live and think and pray like God is stingy and disinclined to help. Like Zechariah, we so easily forget God’s fatherly goodness.

We may forget, but the Lord remembers. He remembers his promises. He remembers his people. He remembers his priests. He remembered Zechariah’s prayer and acted. God gave him way more than he expected. Zechariah had hoped he and Elizabeth might have a child. Well, God gave him a great child–John, the forerunner of the greater Child, who was God in the flesh. The ultimate instance of God remembering his promises was to send the Savior to whom John pointed, the one who would be the greatest and most faithful priest ever, Jesus.

Yes, we have a “great high priest,” as the Book of Hebrews says. And great he is. Jesus used his voice mightily to bless, to pray, to teach, and to forgive. Jesus is the greater Aaron, stretching out his arms like a priest in prayer, from the cross uttering an eloquent absolution: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus is your eternal High Priest, risen from the dead and now seated at God’s right hand as your intercessor and advocate.

And so there is hope for sinners like Zechariah. When Zechariah doubted God’s word, he was struck mute for a time. But God didn’t give up on Zechariah. The angel Gabriel did not strike him down and zap him. And God may discipline us for our good, but he does not zap us. He does not cast us aside. He does not give up on us. This is a good thing. Thank God for his mercy and forbearance!

God’s mercy and forbearance is really what this is all about. That’s what John the Baptist would preach, and that’s what the second child, Jesus, would accomplish. I’ve got good news for you today: Your sins are forgiven, because of the Savior whose way John the Baptist prepared. Your sins of unbelief, your doubts, your lack of trust in the goodness of God, your balking at the word declared to you in God’s temple: these are what Christ, our great High Priest atoned for, when he went to the altar of the cross and offered up the perfect sacrifice for sins in his own body. Believe this good news today, it is for you!

Your sin and doubt, God will forgive. Your faltering faith, God will strengthen and make firm. He did it for Zechariah. He’ll do it for you. And the reason is the child who would follow John. “What Child Is This?” He is Jesus, Zechariah’s hope and ours.

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Published in: on December 5, 2018 at 8:26 pm  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Thanks for posting your sermons.

    ……“What Child Is This?” He is Jesus, Zechariah’s hope and ours!

    Kim,
    Gresham, OR


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