Good morning! I am excited to start this next series of studies with you: The Call of Christmas.
Have you ever felt like God was silent. You just could not hear Him. You wanted to hear, but you just were not hearing from Him.
The people of Israel experienced this. They were God's chosen people, the descendants of Abraham by God's solemn promise. Their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had heard from God directly. Then, God selected certain of their relatives to be the ones to hear from Him directly, and then share His Word with them all. Joseph, Moses, Aaron, the High Priests, Joshua, the Judges, Samuel, the Prophets, and certain others like David and Solomon.
However, though God spoke to them through His chosen servants, the people of Israel had turned a deaf ear to the Lord. They abandoned Him. So, He warned them, and eventually punished them. Part of that punishment was that there would be a period of time during which they would not hear from Him. Amos foretold this.
“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “when I will send a famine through the land— not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.
God did not do this to be spiteful. He disciplined them so they would come to know Him, that He is the LORD.
Calamity upon calamity will come, and rumor upon rumor. They will try to get a vision from the prophet; the teaching of the law by the priest will be lost, as will the counsel of the elders. The king will mourn, the prince will be clothed with despair, and the hands of the people of the land will tremble. I will deal with them according to their conduct, and by their own standards I will judge them. Then they will know that I am the LORD.”
As dark and depressing as this time was, there was always a remnant of Israel who believed--those who loved and believed the Lord. Those people continued to cry out to hear from the Lord.
We are given no miraculous signs; no prophets are left, and none of us knows how long this will be.
And while they cried out, they also held onto hope, that God does not change. God does not lie. God covenanted with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God established His covenant with Israel, and with David. God would be faithful!
But you, O God, are my king from of old; you bring salvation upon the earth. It was you who split open the sea by your power; you broke the heads of the monster in the waters. It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan and gave him as food to the creatures of the desert. It was you who opened up springs and streams; you dried up the ever flowing rivers. The day is yours, and yours also the night; you established the sun and moon. It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth; you made both summer and winter.
Have regard for your covenant, because haunts of violence fill the dark places of the land.
They looked forward to the day when God would speak again. They knew from the prophecies, that the Messiah would come. And before Him, one who would prepare the way for the Lord!
“See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty.
So for 400 years, that remnant waited. They prayed. They went to the Temple when it was rebuilt. They sought the Lord through their prayers and tears.
And, finally... the Lord spoke!
The Lord did not have any prophets to speak through. So, He used His servants, the angels to begin spreading His Hope, His Promises, His Call.
During this series, we are going to look at the Call of Christmas. Those initial Calls from the Lord given through the angels which would lead up to the final Word from the Lord, Jesus, coming into the World.
I hope and pray that we will listen. That we will want to hear from the Lord like that remnant did. That we will listen, and heed the Call that God has given! He is speaking. Let us Hear!
Let us pray to hear from God this Christmas Season, and this morning specifically as we look into His Word, the record of His Call.
Play Zechariah Video
The first call given was to Zechariah.
This is recorded for us in Luke 1:1-25. It was a Call to Prepare.
Let's dig into this passage.
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
Luke used what was a typical, formal introduction for his account. By this formal introduction, the readers of the day, including Theophilus, to whom it was addressed, would realize this is not a story--not fiction. It was indeed, Factual--nonfiction. And, being written when it was, it could be verified by the sources., or those around when it happened.
What was the topic of Luke's account? It was the things which had been 'fulfilled among us'. Right away Luke is drawing attention to God's faithfulness. All that was about to be discussed was a fulfillment of what God had promised and foretold would happen! God does speak, and what He says, happens! Just as He says it will happen.
So, where did it begin...
In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years. Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
Zechariah was a priest in the division of Abijah. There were a lot of priests since all the descendants of Aaron, the first High priest were priests. Those priests were divided into 24 divisions, as outlined in 1 Chronicles 23-24. Each division would serve in the temple for one week, twice a year, and at major festivals.
Zechariah was married to Elizabeth. They were said to be upright, or blameless in the sight of God. That doesn't mean sinless. All people do things wrong in God's eyes. But, they were blameless because they followed God's laws and regulations, which included sacrifices to cover their sins.
Also mentioned here is that they were childless, and past the natural age of having children.
In this situation, with this people, it came time for Zechariah to go to the temple to serve. And, on this particular occasion, he was chosen by lot to offer the incense in the temple. An individual priest might offer the incense with either the morning or evening sacrifice only one time in his lifetime, since there were so many priests!
So Zechariah went in to offer the incense, and prayers along with the incense. While he was inside praying and offering incense, the other priests and people who were at the temple were outside praying.
Then it happened!
Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
While he was praying, the angel appeared. Have you ever 'known' you were alone, and turned around to find someone there. I love doing that to Jen when I get home from work. I walk in quietly behind her and ... :)
Now, imagine that you 'know' you are alone, and you turn around to see a bright, mighty, majestic angel! Also keep in mind that angels were used to meet out justice at times.
Zechariah responded as I would have... "startled and ...gripped with fear!"
But quickly the angel reassures.. Do not be afraid! Your request has been heard. What was Zechariah's request? It could have been a son. It could have been for God to speak, and fulfill His promises to send the messenger, and the messiah. Based on Zechariah's response, I don't think he was looking for a son anymore. I think he was looking for God to fulfill His promises! But he got both!
The angel said his wife would bear a son, and Zechariah was to name this son, John. This name means, "Jehovah-given," or "Jehovah has been gracious." Grace is a gift given.
God was giving a gift to Zechariah and Elizabeth. But not only to them, but to all! Not only was this son going to bring joy to Zechariah, but also to many, because of what he was going to be!
Luke often uses joy in close relation with salvation, both in this account of Jesus' life, and in the account of the early church, the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. Many would find joy in relation to God's salvation.
This son was going to be great in the sight of the Lord! He was going to be a priest who would hear from the Lord! He would literally be filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb on! He was going to bring people back to the Lord! This is what they had been hoping and waiting for!
This son was going to be the fulfillment of Micah 3:1, the messenger that would go before the Lord, the Messiah! God was going to speak through this messenger. God was going to speak again!
Just like Elijah who prophesied to the people of Israel and brought many to repentance, so would John! He would declare the word of the Lord like Elijah and make a people prepared for the Lord!
This was great news! Unfortunately, Zechariah did not believe it.
Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” The angel answered, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.”
Zechariah was a priest. He was one who knew God's promises, and taught others. He was doing God's work! He should have believed the angel. I mean, this was an angel!
But he did not believe. And is it really that different than you or I? We have God's Word. We have the Bible. We have heard a lot about God and the Bible. We pray. We know some of the promises. Yet, when God speaks, sometimes we don't believe it, because it doesn't make sense in my mind. "I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years." Honestly, too often I think we are like Zechariah, and doubt God even though of all people, we should know better.
The angel knew Zechariah's unbelief. Because he did not believe did not mess up God's plan. God was going to do what God was going to do. However, Zechariah would not have the joy of being able to proclaim aloud what God was about to do. He was going to be silent.
Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak. When his time of service was completed, he returned home.
Zechariah went back out, and the people realized he saw something, but he could not explain it to them. I mean, come on. How are you going to explain an angel giving you the message that your wife would have a son, you were going to name him John, he would not be able to drink wine, but would be great in the sight of the Lord, be filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb, and go out like Elijah and lead a revival among the people having them be prepared for the coming of the Lord as prophesied by Isaiah and Micah?
Joseph, you're Italian and used to talking with your hands. Come give it a try.
Not so easy is it?
Well, eventually Elizabeth became pregnant. God always does what He says.
After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”
As we read earlier in the service, Zechariah did get his ability to speak back after John was born. And when He did, he rejoiced in the Lord, that this child would make a people prepared for the Lord.
So what is the Call to Prepare? How does all of this relate to you and me?
What is it to be prepared for the Lord? This is a reference to Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1.
A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.
The context of Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1 is that the people needed to clear the way, or prepare for the Lord's coming. Like making a smooth road through the wilderness for a coming dignitary, they needed to remove obstacles that would keep them from the Lord and His coming.
When this child came, grew up and began his work, this is what he said:
and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
He made a people prepared for the Lord by calling them to repent--to recognize the things in their lives that God would say were wrong, and to confess them. That is what they did. People were going to John, confessing their sins and being baptized by him to show they really believed his message, and that they needed to be ready for the Messiah.
This Christmas, let's listen to the first Call given by God--the Call to Prepare.
What is it in your life that comes between you and the Lord? If you are not hearing from the Lord, could it be that there is sin of some sort in your life? Just like the Israelites had turned away from the Lord Often times, though they still worshiped at the temple and did the right rituals on the outside, their hearts were far from God. Other things were priorities to them. What things have become more of a priority to you than God? Has education? Career? Money? Sports? Listen to what you say to your kids. Are you telling them these things are more important than their relationship with God? I mean when you are not in church. Obviously in church the answer is God. But the rest of the week, what do we tell our kids is most important?
In what ways are you and I like Zechariah? We look good on the outside. We do all the right things. We are 'blameless'. Yet, in what ways are we lacking in faith? What promises are we failing to truly believe? Have you given up believing that God does have a purpose for you, right here/right now? Have you given up believing that God does love you? Have you given up believing that God does have a plan for you? Have you given up believing that God is living within you and desires you to know Him? Have you given up believing that God does speak through His Word and through the Spirit who lives within you? Have you given up believing that God has called YOU to make disciples, sharing Him with others? Again, if you say you have faith, let your actions prove it!
Let us take this week to heed the Call to Prepare the way for the Lord. To listen to what He is saying. To examine our hearts and lives for sin and unbelief.
Then, let's turn to Him in repentance, and find joy in the salvation He has provided!
“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us— to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”