God Got Ready for Christmas
Sermon by Rick Crandall
Grayson Baptist Church - Dec. 8, 2013
*Our church has definitely been getting ready for Christmas. A quick look around the room leaves no doubt. The Manger Scene outside looks great too. Plus our Adult and Children's Choirs have been rehearsing for weeks. On behalf of the whole church I want to thank you for your hours of behind-the-scenes work.
*We're getting ready for Christmas, and today's Scripture reminds us that God got ready for Christmas too. This 2,000-year-old story about how God got ready tells us a lot about our God. Here we can see some of God's greatest desires for our lives.
1. First: God wants to treasure our faithful service.
*In vs. 5-10 we meet some people who were faithfully serving the Lord: Zacharias the priest and his wife Elizabeth. Verse 6 tells us that "they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless."
*This Scripture does not mean Zacharias and Elizabeth lived perfect lives. The only person who ever lived a perfect life was Jesus Christ! And by vs. 20 in today's Scripture, Zacharias is about to lose his voice because he did not believe the good news God sent by His angel. But the Bible also includes praise for Zacharias and Elizabeth in part to remind us that God pays close attention to His servants, and He treasures their faithful service.
*Now the Lord had something new, something special for Zacharias to do. In vs. 8&9:
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.
*This was a big, big deal for Zacharias or any other priest. John Harnish gives us this important background: "The problem was there were just too many priests. All the male descendents of Aaron formed the royal priesthood, and as the years rolled on they multiplied.
*There were way too many for the daily rituals of the temple. So they were organized in divisions, maybe only serving a few weeks every year. Within that band of servants, they cast lots, like the roll of the dice, to see who would actually get to offer the incense, lifting the people's prayers to God. Maybe only once in a lifetime, maybe never, but now it happened to Zacharias!" (1)
*Imagine his joy when the day came for Zacharias to serve God in this new and special way? Church: God wants us to have that kind of excitement when it comes to serving Him, knowing that each and every opportunity is a gift from God, something that He treasures and wants us to treasure.
*God cherishes our faithful service for His cause: Both the old service, and the new service He has in store for us. Don't think for a moment that luck took Zacharias to the Temple that day. It was all part of God's perfect plan.
*And God has plans for your service too: New opportunities for us, more divine appointments for us to keep. God wants to treasure our faithful service.
2. He also wants to touch our lives.
*This Christmas story reminds us that God wants to touch our lives with hope and joy. And we need God's touch, because there is sadness, stress and pain all around us.
*Zacharias and Elizabeth remind us of this truth. Yes they were faithful servants for the Lord, but at the same time they had a lot of heartache. Verse 7 tells us that "they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years." To deeply want a child and not be able to have one is a terrible heartache, and there are heartaches all around us.
*Marshall Hayden wrote about this truth in an article titled "Would Every Non-Hurter Please Stand Up." Marshall pointed out that people come to church wearing their best clothes and their best smiles. Everybody looks happy, so we think everything is okay. But Marshall said: "We need to look beyond the facade and realize that the pews are full of hurting people.
*Then he gave some examples from his experience: "Over here is a family with an income of $550 a week and an outgo of $1,000 a week. Over there is a family with two children who, according to their dad, are 'failures.' 'You're stupid. You never do anything right,' he is constantly telling them.
*The lady over there just found a tumor that tested positive. The Smith's little girl has a hole in her heart. Sam and Louise just had a nasty fight. Each is thinking of divorce. Last Monday Jim learned that he was being laid off. Sarah has tried her best to cover the bruises from her husband. That teen over there feels like he is on the rack, pulled in both directions. Parents and church pull one way. Peers and glands pull the other.
*Then there are those of us with lesser hurts, but they don't seem so small to us: An unresponsive spouse, a boring job, a poor grade, a friend or parent who is unresponsive. On and the stories go. The lonely, the dying, the discouraged, the exhausted, they're all here." (2)
*Sadness and pain are all around us, both inside these doors and out in the world. But God wants to touch our lives with new hope and joy! The story of Zacharias and Elizabeth proves this to us.
*As Zacharias served in the Temple, vs. 10-14 tell us:
10. . . 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."
*Rejoice Zacharias! Your wife is going to have a baby! What a joyous thing!
*Through one of His angels, God got in touch with Zacharias. And God wants to get in touch with you! Our God is not a cold, dead, distant God. He's alive! He loves us! And because of what Jesus Christ did on the cross for us, His Holy Spirit is here with us today.
*God had a message for Zacharias, and He's got a message for you too. It's a message of joy and gladness. It's a message of what God has already done for us in Jesus Christ, and what He wants to do in our lives when we receive His message of salvation.
*Notice that there is a close connection between prayer and this touch from God. Back up in vs. 10, the people were praying when the angel appeared. And in vs. 13, the angel Gabriel said, "Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard."
*Which prayer? -- Probably not a prayer Zacharias prayed that morning. He was most likely praying about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity he had to serve the Lord. I very much doubt that Zacharias prayed for a son that morning. He had most likely given up on that a long time before. Remember in vs. 7, "Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years."
*Zacharias hadn't prayed for a son in a long time. He might have even forgotten about those prayers. But God didn't forget. And He hasn't forgotten your prayers either. God will answer in the best way at the best time, because He wants to touch our lives with new hope and joy.
3. He also wants us to help train up new leaders.
*God wants to train up new leaders, and He gives us a part in the process. In today's Scripture God honored Zacharias with the privilege of burning incense in the Temple. But the Lord had planned even more important service for Zacharias and Elizabeth: They were chosen to train up the one who would prepare the way for the Lord.
*John the Baptist would prepare the way for the Lord, but someone had to prepare John for that task. And no one had a more important role than his own parents. We see part of the preparation in vs. 14-16, where the angel Gabriel told Zacharias:
14. . . "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."
*With godly help from his parents, John was going to be a great leader for God. Now God gives us the duty of training new leaders for His cause. All of us as parents, grandparents, and church members have the responsibility to do everything we can to raise up a new generation of Godly men and women, godly leaders who will take a strong stand for the cause of Jesus Christ.
*Pastor Jim Wilson reported on seeing signs of the right spirit in one of his own children. Jim said: "A couple of years ago, due to medical bills, our finances were kind of tight at Christmas time. The church was participating in Operation Christmas Child so my wife and the children went shopping for some Christmas presents for the needy children in war-torn countries.
*When they got back, I asked the inevitable question, 'Honey, how much did you spend?' She didn't answer the question. Instead, she gave me a look that says, 'You don't want to know.'
*'Honnnnnnney' I said, with a tone that was a cross between a whine and a scold. Before I could say the next word, my 9-year-old son replied: 'But Daddy, it's for the poor people.' Suddenly, I felt pretty small. There I was a grown man, looking up to my son who stood just 4 feet tall. He had the right perspective. He wanted to respond to the challenge to give a little boy a smile for Christmas.
*We made the adjustments we needed to make in our finances and we survived. But that day I felt like the richest man in the world, because I saw giving through the giving eyes of a child." (3)
*Jim didn't take credit for it, but you know that his son's giving spirit had to come from Mom and Dad. And one of God's greatest missions for us is to raise up more children like that. God wants us to help train up new leaders.
4. He also wants to turn people in the right direction.
*This is crucial for us to see: God wants to turn people in the right direction. In vs. 16&17, Gabriel tells us that this was to be John the Baptist's main responsibility.
16. . . "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,' and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."
*People may be preparing for Christmas. But most of them are not prepared for the Lord.
*Billy Strayhorn captured the sad truth with these words: "Many folks won't be able to rejoice over Christmas, because they will completely miss the point of it all. . . They won't give a moment's thought to faith or the church or even God. The closest some people will get to thinking about God this Christmas will be to use God's name in vain when they drop an ornament or complain about the crowds at the mall." (4)
*People are headed in all kinds of wrong directions today. But God wants to turn people in the right direction. God wants to turn people to the Lord their God. He wants to "turn the hearts of the fathers to the children." He wants to turn disobedient people to the wisdom of the just.
*God wants people to know the danger and destructive power of sin. He wants to turn people to the truth of His love and salvation. Zacharias later prophesied about this salvation when their son John the Baptist was born.
*His prophecy starts down in vs. 67. Please listen to it today from the New Living Translation:
67. Then his father, Zechariah, was filled with the Holy Spirit and gave this prophecy:
68. "Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited his people and redeemed them.
69. He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant David,
70. just as he promised through his holy prophets long ago.
71. Now we will be saved from our enemies and from all who hate us.
72. He has been merciful to our ancestors by remembering his sacred covenant with them,
73. the covenant he gave to our ancestor Abraham.
74. We have been rescued from our enemies, so we can serve God without fear,
75. in holiness and righteousness forever.
76. And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you will prepare the way for the Lord.
77. You will tell his people how to find salvation through forgiveness of their sins.
78. Because of God's tender mercy, the light from heaven is about to break upon us,
79. to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace."
*God wants to turn people to His mercy and forgiveness. God wants to turn people to His righteousness, life, light and peace. God wants to turn people to His salvation. And He uses people like us to do it.
*Pastor James Moore tells a great story about how God can use people like us to turn others in the right direction. It's the story of a father named Roy and his family. They were James' friends. And this story is a living example of vs. 17.
*Roy and his wife were going through a tough time. Their daughter, Debbie, had become rebellious and arrogant. She was constantly in trouble, but Roy and his wife kept on loving her, forgiving her and praying for her.
*When Debbie was 16, she ran away from home. All kinds of terrible reports came back about the lifestyle she was living, but nobody could pinpoint exactly where she was. Finally, Roy got word that somebody had seen her in Memphis. So Roy and his Pastor went to look for her.
*James said, "I'll never forget that experience or the look on Roy's face as we searched all day and into the night for his prodigal daughter. Written large on his face was this look of intense urgency and deep love. as we went into one dive after another, one bar after another, one teenage hangout after another.
*And everywhere we went, Roy would do the same thing. He would show people the picture of his daughter and ask if anyone had seen her. No luck. They either hadn't seen her or they weren't talking. And everywhere we went that day, Roy stuck a picture of him and his wife near the door. With it was a note that read: 'Debbie, all is forgiven! We love you! Please come home!' (Signed) Mom and Dad."
*They didn't find Debbie that day, but two weeks later she did come home. Dirty and hungry, but okay. Debbie said: "I couldn't believe my eyes. I walked into this bar one night and saw my mom and dad's picture and that note. And then, I went to another place, and another, and another. Everywhere I went there was my mom and dad's picture, and that note forgiving me and pleading with me to come home. And for the first time in my life, I realized that night how much my mom and dad love me! I have hurt them so many times. I have broken their hearts so many times. And still they came looking for me, still they love me."
*Pastor James asks us: "Where did Roy and his wife learn to love like that, to reach out like that, to forgive like that? You know, don't you? They learned it from Jesus." (5)
*This is the same love that sent a baby to Zacharias and Elizabeth after they were way too old to have a baby. This is the same love that sent God's Son into the world on the first Christmas Day. And it's the same love that led Jesus to die on the cross for us.
*Let His love turn your heart around. Turn away from sin. Turn to the Savior and put your trust in Him. These are God's greatest desires for our lives.
(1) Sermons.com sermon "Zechariah II: Thy Prayer is Heard" by John Harnish - Luke 1:1-18
(2) Adapted from SermonCentral illustration - Source: Melvin Newland in "He Overcame Our Hurts"
(3) Adapted from llustration by Jim L. Wilson - Source: http://www.freshsermonillustrations.net/data/CHRISTMAS.htm
(4) Adapted from Sermons.com sermon "Invited to Rejoice" by Billy Strayhorn - Luke 1:39-45
(5) Adapted from Sermons.com sermon "Encounters with Christ IV" by James Moore - John 4:7-15