Comfort of God
The Second Wednesday of Advent
Isaiah 40: 1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins.
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ! Amen.
INRODUCTION: Did you notice in your bulletin this evening that tonight’s service centers around the title “Zachariah’s Song?” Does that seem a little odd to you? We know that Marry has a song; you heard of that last week. Mary’s song is famous isn’t it? We even have a great church Latin word for it, “The Magnificat!” Wow, that even sounds important. But what is all this about Zachariah Song? Glad you asked! Zachariah song is really words of prophecy that God spoke through Zachariah concerning a question that was asked about his son, John the Baptist. Verse 66 in our Gospel lesson is where we find this question: "What then is this child going to be?" The answer to this question is what provided great comfort to Zachariah, his wife, and latter their son John.
What gives you comfort? Maybe it’s your favorite pair of shoes or a worn in sweat-shirt or your favorite easy chair? For some it’s a favorite food that Mom used to make or maybe a good book and some peace and quiet. I have a friend who swears that he finds comfort only at the seashore, and then I have a few acquaintances who say that there is nothing like a good stiff drink or two to bring real comfort. All these things are ways that Christians and non-Christians alike turn to in order to relax and get comfortable, but…
Do these things really bring comfort during times of illness, death or crisis? They didn’t for Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, but he did find comfort. Tonight, I would like to examine a period in Zachariah’ life and his true source of comfort and then see if you and I can turn their as well.
I. Zachariah’ Song is about his source of Comfort: The story of Zachariah is the beginning of John the Baptist’s story, and it is part of our Gospel lesson for this evening. We entered our Gospel lesson on the eighth day of life for baby John, who would be called “the Baptizer.” It is his circumcision day and that was a big event in the life of a Jewish male; in ceremony, it was much like our sacrament of baptism. It took place in the village synagogue. I imagine that this day was a bright early morning, and the dew was still wet upon the shrubs and trees. Walk with me in your minds eye, up the stone steps and into the stone building that was the local synagogue.
As you enter, your eyes have not adjusted to the dark. You are drawn to torches around a stone table, and you see a group of people gathered around that table. You soon realize that this is the family of Zachariah the priest, and you are here to witness his son’s circumcision. There’s his wife, Elizabeth, boy she sure is old looking, and then you remember that it is because she really is old. What a miracle story that is. Here is a woman unable to conceive throughout her childbearing years and now, well somehow she had this baby. You feel happy for her but you also remember her shame as well; she’s been the source of gossip in this town for years. But now, well look at this, no one can deny that she has done well by giving good old Zachariah a baby boy! You remembered last month hearing the strange story about this little baby jumping for joy when Elizabeth’s cousin Mary came to visit. Elizabeth said her baby was excited because Mary was also pregnant, but not just with any normal baby but with the Messiah! As your eyes begin to grow accustomed to the light, you find Zachariah, the proud father. He’s been literally silent for the last nine months. You heard that something happened to him nine months ago when he was performing his duties as priest within the Lord’s temple. Elizabeth said that the angel Gabriel came to him and told him that a son would soon be on the way. Zachariah doubted the Lord’s Word, so the angel said that since he would not accept the Word of the Lord, no words would be heard from his mouth either, that is not until the circumcision of his baby.
‘Wow, what a day,’ you think, ‘things couldn’t get any stranger than this!’ But then you hear the Rabbi begin the ceremony by stating that the baby’s name will be the same as his father Zachariah, when all of a sudden Elizabeth screams out, "No! He is to be called John.” The Rabbi quickly turns to Zachariah and says that there are no Johns in your family, what is this woman talking about?! Zachariah signals for a writing tablet and at the same time he writes and screams out, "His name is John." So Zachariah gets his voice back just as promised and the baby gets a surprise name that’s a good one too! You see, John means, “The Lord is faithful.” God has been faithful to Elizabeth and given her a son, and he has been faithful to Zachariah when he promised that his voice would return after the boy was named John, but He has been faithful about another promise that is far more important than any of this, and through the Holy Spirit, Zechariah is keenly aware of this.
Now, with his voice in the best form that it has ever been, Zachariah begins to sing a song about his child, but it is really a song about what the Lord will do first through John, and then through Mary’s Son, the Son of God, the Messiah. It is a song of hope, it is a song of prophecy fulfilled, and it is a song of comfort!
“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.”
Zechariah knew that the arrival of his son meant the fulfillment of every prophetic word that was ever spoken concerning the Messiah. He knew that his son John was the fulfillment of our Old Testament Lesson tonight, found in Isaiah 40 that speaks of a prophet crying in the desert: “Clear a way for the Lord.” ““Comfort my people! Comfort them!” says your God.” He knew that his son was the one that would come in the power of Elijah, drawing men to the saving work of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Before John, a host of great prophets had been sent by God to announce the future coming of the Messiah; of a time when God would wipe all tears and save men from their fears and sins. Prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah who would say “Wait just a little longer. The Messiah IS coming.” But now, John will get to say, “Your wait is over-He is here! Your Savior has come and He will make all things new! Prepare the way of the LORD!” Zechariah speaks of this when he says that John will be called the prophet of the Highest because he will go before the Messiah to prepare His way! “To give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of sins.” Zechariah knew that his son would preach about the one thing all men and women have in common: THEY ARE FULL OF SIN! He knew that John would preach about the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of not just the Jews but the world. The Savior who delivers men from darkness and sets those held captive by their sins free! John would preach that men could now, through the Messiah find peace with God!
II. Zechariah’s comfort is our comfort! Zechariah found comfort in God’s promises now fulfilled, because he saw not only what the coming Messiah meant for his son John, himself and the Jews, but he saw into time and knew what it would mean for all the world, for all time. He knew what it would mean for you and me. He knew not only what kind of child John was, but he also knew what kind of child you and I would be because of the saving act of the Messiah…. A precious child of God! We are the righteous children of God not by our own reason or works, but solely because of what Jesus has done for us. This is the same Jesus that John would continuously point to, and eventually die for. This baby Jesus, who’s birth we will celebrate in just two short weeks, has grown up in time and obediently went to the cross for your sins; He died and rose to life again because of you. When he obediently washed in the waters of John’s baptism, God the father declared, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” At your baptism, for Jesus’ sake, God the Father declared the exact same thing about you. Because of Jesus, to whom John pointed, you are a child of God and an heir to eternal life.
Now these are truths that you have heard before. They are truths that perhaps you think you believe, but still you struggle with faith, with life. Sometimes these words bring precious little comfort. Why? Why can’t things be just as easy as this nice Advent story? Well, it is because your sin, my sin, is still at work within our minds and bodies. Our sin would like nothing better than for us to leave the family of God; to get us to run away from our inheritance of a heavenly home. Sin wants us to run back into the darkness and fear away from God’s comfort. Sin wants us to look at the problems in our lives and blame God. Your children don’t love you the way they should, so it must be God’s fault; that’s it, He hasn’t kept his promise. Your parents don’t respect you; it must be God punishing you, right? Your stuck in a dead end job, or you never got to finish school; God has forgotten you. This one is my favorite though, “I am a Christian, and I have raised my children as Christians, yet I have nothing but grief from them. But when I look at non-Christian’s kids they are doing so well in school. They seem to love and respect their parents. What did I do wrong? Why has God abandoned me?” Friends, I am sure Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mother must have felt the same. Perhaps some of these same feelings were heavy on her heart as well, yet she never gave up hope! There she was childless for so many years yet in the end, in her old age, she discovered what we all will discover, “All things work together for good to those who love (and wait for) the Lord.”
III. Advent is waiting for something that has already come! Just as advent is waiting, so is life. As we wait for Jesus to come, we wait in a world full of sin. We need help to find comfort and hope. We need healing from the many hurts that life dishes out, and God gives us that help and it is found in His Word. God’s Word is living and active. Through His Word, Jesus is already here with us! He comes to us in the waters of our Baptism and promises that He will never leave or forsake us. He comes to us in His Supper and says “This is my body, and this is my blood.” “Again He says, “Behold I am with you always, even to the end of time.” Apart from the Word of God no real comfort exists. This is why God had Saint Paul write in Romans that “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Here Paul reminds us that the Living Word of God brings patience and comfort. There is nothing else that we can say for certainty “This is true!” Only God’s Word calls out to the human heart and says “Cling to me and believe. You will not be deceived!” This is faith. It is a gift from God that can not be earned or purchased. It has no price, but it is priceless, because this faith gives us comfort by causing us to hear the Word of God and say, “This is God’s Word; it cannot deceive or fail me. Of this I am certain.”
Some of you here tonight, may be wishing that God would give you more of this faith. Do you remember how much faith it takes to find salvation? Our Lord said just the size of a mustard seed! Friends, large faith is not what saves you; large faith is what gives you comfort and joy! Martin Luther said that perhaps our greatest battle is to keep the Word and to stay with it. When the Word is torn from the heart, a man looses all comfort. You see, comfort is as strong as your faith and faith comes from hearing, reading and using the word of God. Isn’t it obvious then where we should go to find comfort? You guessed it, if we need more comfort, then we need more faith, and if we need more faith we have to get into His Word. But, do not let your weak faith let you ever doubt your salvation. That is a work of God, and it was done for you at Baptism. This is the exciting prophecy that Zachariah’s Song announces. This is the good news that John the Baptist died proclaiming. And this is the good news that I proclaim to you tonight. Rest assured that God does not reject those who are weak in faith. God is not the sort of Father who rejects, He sacrificed everything on the cross so that you would be included.
CONCLUSION: May I suggest something new this advent season? You know that during lent, we give something up. I suggest that during advent we take something up, or pick something up that is, God’s Word! Let us resolve ourselves to grow in faith by reading His Word, and as we grow in faith we will also experience the joy and comfort that Zechariah found. It is that same joy and comfort that will cause you and I to sing that old favorite hymn: AMAZING GRACE!