Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Song of Zechariah

The Song of Zecheriah

Scripture: Luke 1

5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.
8 So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10 And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.
13 But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is 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 in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also 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 He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, 'to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,'[
b] and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."
18 And Zacharias said to the angel, "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years."
19 And the angel answered and said to him, "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. 20 But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time."
21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. 22 But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless.
23 So it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house. 24 Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, 25 "Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people."


 

57 Now Elizabeth's full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son. 58 When her neighbors and relatives heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her, they rejoiced with her.59 So it was, on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias. 60 His mother answered and said, "No; he shall be called John." 61 But they said to her, "There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name." 62 So they made signs to his father—what he would have him called.
63 And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, "His name is John." So they all marveled. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God. 65 Then fear came on all who dwelt around them; and all these sayings were discussed throughout all the hill country of Judea. 66 And all those who heard them kept them in their hearts, saying, "What kind of child will this be?" And the hand of the Lord was with him.

67 Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:
       68 " Blessed is the Lord God of Israel,
      For He has visited and redeemed His people,
       69 And has raised up a horn of salvation for us
      In the house of His servant David,
       70 As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets,
      Who have been since the world began,
       71 That we should be saved from our enemies
      And from the hand of all who hate us,
       72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers
      And to remember His holy covenant,
       73 The oath which He swore to our father Abraham:
       74 To grant us that we,
      Being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
      Might serve Him without fear,
       75 In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.
       76 " And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest;
      For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways,
       77 To give knowledge of salvation to His people
      By the remission of their sins,
       78 Through the tender mercy of our God,
      With which the Dayspring from on high has visited[
e] us;
       79 To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
      To guide our feet into the way of peace."

80 So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 

SERMON

You will have to excuse my strange attire. I come from a place far away, and a time before you were born. You may have never met me, but many of you may have heard who I am. My name is Zecheriah. Thousands of years ago I was a priest of the Lord Most High. Most of my ministry was spent in the hill country of Judea. But when it was my turn to serve in the Temple I would pack up my things, head to Jerusalem, and work in the Temple of the Lord in the heart of the holy city.

One time I went down to the Temple was especially memorable. That is what I want to share with you about.

Before I get into all of what happened, you need to know a little bit about what my life was like before I was in the temple that day. I married my wife Elizabeth when she was marriageable age when I was a young priest. Those were the days! And man we had dreams. Dreams of a big family with lots of boys and girls! And we prayed for children. Then we prayed again. And we would wait. We would think Elizabeth was pregnant, and she wasn't. We thought we needed to pray longer. It didn't work. We thought we needed to try harder. It soon became clear that would not work either. We listened to every old wives tale to help a woman get pregnant. Nothing worked. Soon months turned into years, and years turned into decades. No child. No matter how often we prayed. It was like God never heard our prayers.

Having no children was even harder on Elizabeth than it was for me. I just poured myself into my work. I taught more. I studied more. I visited the people in my care more. I prayed more. And people respected the work I did. And they talked about what a good father I would be when I worked with the boys teaching them the Bible in the synagogue.

Things were not that easy for Elizabeth. The women whispered about her behind her back. They did not want to speak against the priest, so they started to speak about how we did not have a child because Elizabeth had committed some great sin. Or somehow God was mad at her. They made fun of her. Or, if they were nice they would simply just shake their heads and say "Poor Elizabeth".

I remember several days where I would walk home for lunch and see her crying. She overheard something, or saw some woman give her a dirty look. We prayed and we prayed. We prayed for a child until that time in Elizabeth's life came where we knew there was no longer a possibility for her to have a child. Then, we gave up.

It is easy to give up on prayer, isn't it? To pray and to pray, and feel like God is not hearing anything or choosing not to answer. And then we wonder. We try to keep hope. We try to keep praying. We try to have faith. But we wonder if God really is listening up there or if he we are just talking to ourselves.

When it became apparent that we might not have children, we started putting that energy we would put toward a family in other places. Elizabeth would watch other people's kids when they needed it. We started having our cousins, nieces and nephews come up for a visit here and there. Elizabeth was especially close to her cousin Mary. Elizabeth would have all sorts of things Mary had done around our small home. A pet rock here. A flower arrangement there. It should have come as no surprise then that John and Jesus would cross paths the way they did….but I am getting ahead of myself.

I began to work harder to support parents in raising their kids. That had mixed results too. Some of them would run off with these renegade military groups hoping to ambush Roman soldiers and end up dead. Others would seek to go to a big city far away and we would just hear rumors about them and shake our heads. Others would try and scratch out a living on our hard dirt up in the hill country. Year after year soldiers would march through. Demanding our food stuffs as tax and provision. Beating one of our men to make them an example. Raping some of our women just for sport.

I began to pray for my people. Lord, I would wonder, when are you going to give us a new word? When are you going to send a deliverer? When are you going to remember us and rescue us? I would take this prayer with me into the synagogue where I worked, and into the Temple when I worked there.

So, like I said before, I was doing my work in the Temple one day, and it became my turn to light the incense inside the holiest part of the Temple. So I purified myself. And I went into to tend the incense. And as I was doing that something miraculous happened.

An angel appeared to me. Now, when I saw the angel,, I was afraid. I thought maybe it was just my time. I was old. Maybe this is what it is like when you die I thought.

Then the angel Gabriel said, "Be not afraid". He went on and said that God had heard my prayer. Wow! Which prayer? The prayer for my people? The prayer for a Messiah?


 


 

He went on to say that my wife was pregnant. That she was going to have a son. And that our son's name would be John. The angel said that he was going to be a prophet. And that he was not only going to be "a" prophet, he was going to be "the" prophet. The one that prepares the way for the deliverance of the Messiah. The one that turns the hearts of the sons back to the father. He would not have any strong drink touch his lips ever. He would be a holy man full of the Holy Spirit.

I said the only thing I could think of. "How will that work?," I asked "my wife is well past her childbearing years!"

Well, Gabriel got mad at me for questioning him and the message he sent. And so I was unable to speak for months. Actually until after the birth of my son John, I was unable to speak.

I guess the other priests were a little bit worried about me. I was in there for quite a long while. They asked me what had happened when I had gotten out of that holiest of places in the Temple, but I could not speak. I tried, but no words came out. My hands just started to fly everywhere. Nobody could understand me. They thought I had gotten a stroke, or gone mad.

Those months went really quickly really, and before long Elizabeth had given birth to a child. We took him to be circumcised on the eighth day, as was the custom of our people. They asked Elizabeth what we would name him. She said his name was John. They thought she was mistaken. They asked me. I found something to write with. I said John as well, after all that is what the angel Gabriel had told me. All of the sudden I could speak. And I spoke. Actually, as the Bible records it, I sang.

I sang a song about how God had answered my prayers. He had answered my prayers for a child. He answered my prayers for a son. He answered my prayers for a deliverer and a Messiah. And he used the conception and birth of my son to pave the way for the son of God. God not only answered my prayers, he answered my prayers in a way that went far beyond what I could have thought or imagined. My prayers for my family. My prayers for my community. My prayers for my nation. My prayers for the world.

God had begun to enter the world in a unique and powerful way. Through sending his son to save us and to forgive us. Christ came to deliver us from our enemies, from our sin, from our despair. To bring light into our dark and lonely world.


 


 

You need to know this. Waiting time is never wasted time. I waited for God to send me a Son, to send our nation a Messiah, to send the world a Savior. I prayed and I prayed and I prayed. And just when I began to doubt, when I began to lose hope, it was in that very moment that God began to bring his deliverance. It was in that time that God began to answer my prayers, yet in a way I was yet to imagine.

God is at work answering your prayers as well! You may be discouraged. You may have waited and waited and doubted if God ever heard your prayers. God has heard your prayer, and he is working out a merciful and loving answer in HIS time and HIS WAY. Trust Him! Believe Him! Keep hoping in Him!

The answer to your prayer is just around the corner. If you will keep hoping. Keep trusting. Keep walking.

And don't forget that God is working in a way that is bigger than you imagine. God is working in a way that will make a difference in your family, your community, and our world. If you will have the courage to wait, and the willingness to join God in what he is doing.

Amen.