[Read Luke 1:5-25] “…………….. 11 And there appeared to [Zechariah] an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been 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 ….……”
Waiting, Waiting, Waiting
Zechariah, this child will be born to your barren wife, and “he will be great before the Lord”, “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb”, “he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God”, he will “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just” – Many will rejoice at his birth – but he will not be the one for whom they’ve all been waiting – he will not be the Christ. Zechariah, you are waiting, waiting, waiting still, just a little while longer.
Brothers and sisters, you wait for the Lord to keep His promises, to answer your prayers, day by day by day – even hour by hour – but He does not answer until He does.
Zechariah and Elizabeth were waiting day by day – certainly prayed day by day – before they knew it, they had prayed all the way into old age – praying that Elizabeth would no longer be barren, but have a child. Day after day, God did not answer – until the day He did.
And how long were the people of God waiting for their Messiah, the Christ, their Savior to be born? Anticipation at every birth in every generation – And now God has promised a great child, but not quite yet the child to come.
When did the wait begin? When our first ancestors fell into sin, God, in Genesis 3:15, immediately made the promise – The devil will be at odds with the Woman and her offspring, her Son. The devil will bruise that Son of the Woman, but that Son will crush the devil’s head. Waiting for a Son to be born of the Woman.
Eve thought she was the Woman and rejoiced at the birth of her son – a son who turned out to be a sinner and a murderer. So waiting, waiting, waiting, began.
For all centuries, a people of God who believed that promise waited. Many centuries after Eve, a man was married to a barren woman – Abraham was married to Sarah – and a child was promised. But this promised child was not THE promised child – but through this child Isaac, the promised offspring would one day come.
Isaac begat Jacob, named Israel. Israel became a great nation through his twelve sons. Israel’s sons and their sons and daughters sought refuge from famine in Egypt. In Egypt, their descendants became slaves and waited and waited to be returned to their promised land.
They waited daily, under the whip of slavery, generation after generation, for four hundred years. Through a son born and delivered from death in the Nile, the Hebrew child Moses, God’s people were delivered from Egypt.
Then they waited and waited more – wandering in the wilderness for forty years. The next generation entered the land. There they were ruled by judges, deliverers, who again and again saved them from foreign attack. Finally they were given a king and became a great kingdom in their land.
Through one king, King David, they were promised an everlasting King, their Savior, that child for whom they had still been waiting all these centuries. David reigned one thousand years before that child would be born. But the people did not know the timeline – they waited and waited day after day.
The people of Israel, in those thousand years - their kingdom was divided into north and south, they fought wars, they were taken into captivity by the Assyrians and the Babylonians. They were returned from captivity back into their land. They rebuilt. And they waited more.
And then the prophets fell silent. For four hundred years there was no word from God. No prophets speaking. And the people waited. They were taken by the Greeks and then by the Romans. And they waited and waited and waited – and God was no longer speaking.
That is, until today’s reading when an angel of the Lord spoke to Zechariah. God finally spoke a new word: “A child is being born who will be a prophet – a child from your wife Elizabeth will come ‘in the spirit and power of Elijah’ – a child, a prophet finally again, through whom the Lord will address His people.”
John the Baptist, born to Zechariah through barren Elizabeth, would be a prophet born after four hundred years of silence from God. Through John, God would cry to His people in the wilderness. He would cry, “Comfort, comfort, comfort.”
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins” – double the good, as compared to all their wrong done. This was the cry of that child, and soon to be man, John the Baptist – “Comfort my people; her warfare is ended; her iniquity is pardoned – a voice cries in the wilderness.” [Isaiah 40:1-3]
God would finally announce through His prophet John the Baptist that the Offspring, the Son of the Woman, for whom they’ve been waiting since the days of Eve, is finally about to be born – about to come – about to save. In fact, Jesus, that promised offspring, would be born of the Woman only six months after the birth of John the Baptist. The promise was near.
On Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus, that promised Son. On Christmas Eve, as always, we will read the Christmas gospel from Luke chapter two – the account of Jesus’ birth. In these three Wednesdays of Advent leading up to Christmas, we will prepare for that Christmas arrival of the Son born by reading, in three pieces, through Luke chapter one. We are reading through the chapter of the final anticipation of that long awaited birth. Today, the promised birth of John the Baptist – the final forerunner of Christ and the announcer of Christ’s arrival.
You, brothers and sisters, wait and wait and wait. You wait for God to finally take care of a, b, and c – to finally answer your prayer – to finally deliver you from the pain of your body or from the distress of your mind – to finally help your child or grandchild – to finally take you home – to finally answer your doubts and your unanswered questions – to finally end your distress and fulfill His help to you – you wait day by day in prayer and groaning. Give thanks that you have the example of God’s people, over those many centuries, to show you that the waiting does come to an end. God does come. God saves.
You, brothers and sister, are at an advantage - you wait with the help and aid and comfort of that Savior already born. Wait in sure and certain hope on Jesus your Savior:
“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” [Psalm 27:14]
“Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.” [Psalm 33:20]
“But for you, O Lord, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.” [Psalm 38:15]
“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.” [Psalm 62:5]
Give thanks for the Child born. Wait patiently for His Salvation. Amen.