Midweek Advent #1
Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, oil and water in a jar, they are both enclosed in one thing, but they are two separate things, they are completely opposed to one another, they are completely different and distinct, and you can see the difference. In a similar way there is two separate things inside each one of us. Yet, it’s much more complicated to see than a jar of oil and water. Inside each one of us there are two opposing forces, if you will, two separate entities. There is the old sinful nature that we inherited from our parents ever since we were conceived. It’s that sinful image of our first parent Adam that has been passed down to every single human being born in the natural way from a human father and human mother. This sinful nature inside of each of us loves sin, loves selfishness, loves anything that’s wrong, loves to disobey, and is completely opposed to God and what God wants. It loves to doubt God, to wonder if what He’s telling me is true, to be skeptical and suspicious of God, to hesitate at what God says and to question Him.
However, at the same time when you were brought to faith in Jesus totally by God’s grace, when the Holy Spirit worked through baptism or the Word to create faith inside of your heart, at that same time God created in you a new person, a new man, created in God’s image that loves what God loves, that hates what God hates, that wants to do what is good and right, true and noble. This new man loves God, loves to trust in God no matter what, leans upon God in all things and loves to take whatever God says as absolutely true and perfect. To be confident in Him, rely upon Him in all things, to depend and count on Him wholeheartedly.
So, as you can see there is an intense battle going on inside of each one of us. It’s true for every believer in the true God. It was also true of the old man in our reading for this evening named Zechariah. At the very beginning of the Gospel of Luke we are told about Zechariah. He was a priest and a descendant of Aaron. He and his elderly wife were both upright in the sight of God and observed God’s commands blamelessly. They were classic Old Testament believers, trusting that God would one day send a Savior. But they had a problem. They had no children. Specifically, Elizabeth was barren, she couldn’t have children. Back in this day that was a hard thing to swallow, people looked down on you- figuring God must not be happy with you to not allow you have children, and also you knew that there was no way God would be using you in the line of the Savior if you had no children. Well, Zechariah’s division was on duty to serve at the temple. Since the time of David there was 24 separate divisions of priests and each division served about 2 weeks a year, people have figured it out that given how many people were in each division and that only one person each day was allowed to go into the temple to replenish the burning incense every morning and evening. And since it was chosen by lot who would do this, each priest had a shot at doing this once every 30 years or so!
And “coincidentally” Zechariah is chosen. As he’s in there going about his tasks all alone and…Wooah…an angel of the Lord appears to him!! Zechariah was gripped with fear. The angel essentially says, “Don’t be afraid. You’re going to have a child and you’re going to call him John and he’s going to do some incredible stuff, he’ll be filled with the Holy Spirit, preach the good news to people and fill them with joy, and get them ready for Lord who’s coming.” This is the point where our text picks up. “Zechariah asked the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.’” Literally, what Zechariah asked is, “According to what can I know this” or in other words, “What sign are you going to give me so that I know this is going to happen?” Wait a minute. An angel has just appeared to him, an angel from the LORD, knows who he is, knows about his prayers, tells him who John is going to be and what John is going to do, and over against all of these heavenly reasons to believe, what does Zechariah say? “It can’t happen…I’m too old.” What should Zechariah have said? “I am the Lord’s servant; may it be to me as you have said.” But he didn’t.
So the angel said, Oh, you said, ‘I am old’ well, “I am Gabriel. (meaning either God’s power or person of God) 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 knew this was an angel, knew this was a message from God, but he assigned more trust in the earthly than in the heavenly, more trust in the human than the divine. So now Zechariah would be silent, not able to speak until the baby would be born. 9 months of silence. Every time that he wanted to say something, but couldn’t would be a reminder for him to repent of his sin of unbelief and to trust in God’s words.
Zechariah was a believer in God, but he let his doubting side win out, let his unbelief get the upper hand so he didn’t trust God’s message to him. Now the reality is that this is written also for us today. We, too, are no different than Zechariah. There is in each one of us a battle between trust in God and doubt and worry. A battle between relying on God and relying on ourselves or what we think should happen.
So many things in life will try to feed our sinful side, feed our doubts, our worries, our concerns, our lapses of faith: troubling news, sickness, illness, tragic events in life, disappointments, and don’t forget about the general attitude of unbelief that surrounds us in the world, on TV, on the internet, in the things we read, with our coworkers, with acquaintances. And it has an effect on us, perhaps most clearly in our prayer life.
One of my favorite Christmas movies is It’s a Wonderful Life, you’ve all probably seen it at some point or another, but near the end when George Bailey is standing on the bridge when his whole life seems to finally come unglued, in his tears he prays, and what does he pray? Something like, “I’m not a praying man, but if you’re up there, and if you’re listening…” Isn’t that often how movies portray prayers? Do our prayers sound similar? “I don’t know if you really care about this God, but…” “I’m not sure this is even something worthwhile to pray about…” “I doubt praying would do any good anyway…” All those things are full of…doubt and uncertainty, that is sin. We must constantly ask the Lord, “Lord, I believe, help me overcome my unbelief.”
And notice God’s mercy here. He doesn’t strike Zechariah dead, doesn’t cast him off, doesn’t say, “I’m through with you,” rather God continues to use him, even gives him a sign (not the one he wanted) to assure him of the truth. The same is true with you and me. In mercy and love God doesn’t cast us off when we have doubts or lapses of faith, but He continues to be faithful, continues to draw us back to Him and His Word with His continual words of grace: Like, “Hey look in a lonely stable in Bethlehem, look in a lowly feeding trough, look in the arms of a poor human young lady, and see there again my faithful love for you, my undying compassion to send your Savior, my willingness to give up my own Son, myself, for you, that you might not die in your sins, but live, live forever with me!” That’s the awesome proof God provides for people like you and me who are constantly tempted to doubt and uncertainty.
In this time before Christmas let’s wait with a trusting expectancy to be ready to receive everything that God has to give us. Let His Words drive doubt, fear, and uncertainty out of your hearts. Listen to God’s Word and trust in Him. He gives us all the proof we need. Amen.