“To Make Ready a People Prepared” (Luke 1:1-25)

Midweek Advent Vespers
Wednesday, December 1, 2021

“To Make Ready a People Prepared” (Luke 1:1-25)

This past Sunday we began a whole new church year. And in our lectionary system of readings, this is the Year of St. Luke. The vast majority of Gospel readings for this church year will be from the Gospel according to St. Luke. And we’ll be really taking a deep dive into Luke’s gospel this year, most often preaching on those texts. In addition, yesterday we began a new Bible class on Luke, going verse by verse through this book of the Bible. All of this makes for a great opportunity for you to get into Luke’s gospel, so that, as Luke himself writes, “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”

Luke also is especially appropriate for us to dive into during this Advent season. Why? Well, Advent is a time for preparing for the coming of our Lord. Advent is the season leading up to Christmas. And Luke, more than any other gospel writer, has the most material on the events leading up to Christ’s birth. All of Luke chapter 1 is about just that. And that’s what we’re going to explore during these three midweek services and on the fourth Sunday in Advent. We’ll cover all of Luke 1, those events leading up to Christmas. And by the way, right after Advent, with Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the two Sundays after Christmas, we’ll cover all of Luke chapter 2.

Now an interesting feature of Luke’s infancy narrative is how Luke goes back and forth between two storylines: the birth of John the Baptist and the birth of Jesus Christ. John the Baptist prepares the way for Christ even in his birth. We’ll see that now in the first part of Luke chapter 1, where the angel Gabriel tells Zechariah that he will have a son named John, whose purpose in life will be “To Make Ready a People Prepared.”

Now the focus in Luke’s gospel, of course, is on Jesus Christ. But the first account we see here is not about Jesus. It’s about John the Baptist. But since it’s about John the Baptist, that means ultimately it’s about Jesus, because John himself is all about Jesus. That’s his whole purpose in life, to be the forerunner of Christ, to prepare the way of the Lord. So John’s story comes first. Before there’s an annunciation of Jesus’ birth to Mary, there’s an annunciation of John’s birth to Zechariah. That’s how Luke structures his narrative in these first couple of chapters. It runs on two tracks: some of John’s story first, then it switches over to Jesus’ story, back and forth it goes.

And it starts with the story of how John’s birth will come about. Immediately we are introduced to a man named Zechariah. He and his wife Elizabeth are portrayed as righteous Israelites, devout, and advanced in age. The way they’re described reminds us of the 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.

This man Zechariah is a priest, taking his turn serving in the temple. And as the Lord had a special announcement for Abraham, telling him that he and Sarah would have a child, now the Lord has a big surprise for Zechariah. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appears to him. Zechariah is frightened, of course, just like everybody else in the Bible is frightened whenever an angel appears to them. “Fear not, Zechariah,” the angel assures him. “I’m not here to zap you. No, I’m here to bring you good news. And this news will be of significance for all of God’s people. Because the Lord is bringing his plan of salvation to fulfillment. And guess what, Zechariah? It will involve you and your wife, Elizabeth. God is going to do another ‘Abraham and Sarah’-type miracle, bringing about the birth of a child when you wouldn’t think it could happen. And this time, you two are the ones he’s going to do it with. You’re going to have a son, and you will give him the name John.”

The angel then tells Zechariah about this child’s special destiny in life, the role set out for him: “And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord.” Lots of folks are going to be blessed by this baby boy. This child will be dedicated and devoted to the service of the Lord. He will be empowered by the Spirit for his ministry. And this will be his ministry: “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.”

This description of John’s ministry is a direct fulfillment of the prophecy we heard from Malachi. John is going to be another Elijah! Like Elijah, the great prophet and preacher of repentance, John will call God’s people back to the Lord. He will unite God’s people, fathers and children, uniting their hearts in wisdom and righteousness. John will prepare the way for the Lord, before the Lord himself comes in a great and awesome way. This is what John will grow up to do. It’s a marvelous mission for this child, who will be miraculously given to Zechariah and Elizabeth in their old age.

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 how it was for Abraham and Sarah? God can do this sort of thing, you know. You of all people ought to know this–you’re a priest, for goodness’ sake! And here’s an angel, talking to you in the temple! If that doesn’t grab your attention, what will?

So the angel emphasizes 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, whose name means “mighty man of God”–Gabriel is the messenger the Lord sends to announce this special birth. And he comes bringing good news, news of salvation. But Zechariah, who should know better, doesn’t believe it.

Friends, aren’t we a little like Zechariah? Here we are; we should know better. We should know always to trust God’s word. We’re Christians. We’ve been instructed in the faith. And the Lord even sends his own messenger to come and talk to us in the temple. It’s your pastor, who comes here bringing you God’s word. And yet we have trouble believing what the Lord says. God tells us that he is our kind and loving Father, who will take care of us at all times, in all of our needs. And yet we don’t trust God as we ought. We think God is holding out on us. We think we have to take matters into our own hands. God tells us the right way to live, the way that’s best for us–being devoted to God and his word, loving and serving our neighbor. And yet we want to walk our own way. We go down strange paths that God warns us are wrong turns. God tells us that our true life is found in Christ, in his life and death and resurrection and his coming again. And yet we find that message boring and not worthy of our attention. We spend our time and our attention on other things. How like Zechariah we are! We should know better, but we don’t believe God’s word.

Zechariah had to be struck mute for a time, for his own chastisement, to teach him a lesson. “Take a time-out, Zechariah–oh, say, for nine months while you can’t speak. This will give you plenty of time to think about these things.” But the point here is that God didn’t give up on Zechariah. The angel Gabriel, that mighty man of God, does not strike him down and zap him. Now God may discipline you and me for our good, but he does not zap us. He does not condemn us or destroy us. And this is a good thing. Thank God for his mercy and forbearance!

Because really, God’s mercy and forbearance is what this is all about. That’s what John the Baptist would come to preach to us–the forgiveness of sins. And that’s what the second child, the one coming after John–that’s what Jesus will come to accomplish. Brothers and sisters, like Gabriel I’ve been sent to speak to you today and to bring you good news. Here it is: Your sins are forgiven, because of the Lord whose way John prepared. Your sins of unbelief, your lack of trust in the goodness of God, your balking at the word declared to you in God’s temple by God’s messenger. All these sins Christ atoned for, when he went to the altar of the cross and offered up the perfect sacrifice for your sins. This is the good news for you today! Believe it, it’s true!

Dear friends, the Holy Spirit had St. Luke write his gospel so “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” And what Luke tells us here in chapter 1 is that what was foretold of John is still being accomplished among us today: God’s people are being turned back to the Lord in repentance and faith. Our hearts are being united in wisdom and righteousness. Why? To make ready a people prepared.

Published in: on December 1, 2021 at 11:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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