1st Midweek Advent Service
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, to direct the behavior of someone or something, to cause someone or something to do something. We like to be in control, don’t we? We like to choose what temperature to set our thermostats at home. We like to buy the car that has the features that we want. We like to turn the TV station to the channel we want to watch. We like to have an array of choices to pick from when we go to a restaurant. We like to pick what we want to wear. We like to be in control, don’t we? What we don’t really enjoy is not being in control. How many restaurants would exist if the restaurant managers would be the ones who told you what you could or couldn’t order? How many people actually choose to wear their company uniforms on vacation? How many of us would like it if someone else told us what we could or couldn’t watch on TV? We like to be in control. But the problem is: often we aren’t in control. In fact, there are certain things in life that we can’t pick and probably things in life we wouldn’t pick if we had the choice. Be it a job loss, an unexpected bill, a sickness, a death in the family, a relationship problem. We like to be in control and perhaps it can be frustrating when we’re not.
Zechariah also had to learn that he wasn’t in control. He was a Levite, so he was also a priest. Priests were the ones who were responsible for making sure that the daily tasks were done in the temple- one of which was the burning of incense. Burning incense was meant to demonstrate that as the smoke goes up in the air and it smells pleasing, so the prayers of God’s people go up to God and are pleasing to Him. Well, this happened once a day, so 365 times a year and only one priest could do this each day. So they divided all the priests into 24 divisions and each division was responsible for about 2 weeks of the year, 14 days. Each division had around 860 priests in it. So, each year only 14 people were chosen by lot out of your 860 man division could burn incense in the temple. It was quite an honor and privilege. But, only once in 30 years did you have a chance of actually doing it.
Can you imagine being Zechariah? Year after year after year the drawing is held and year after year you have to watch as others get the honor and privilege of burning incense, not you. But then it happened! Your name was picked! This is like a once in a lifetime opportunity! Can you imagine how many times he practiced it to make sure that he did everything right? How many times he went over what he was supposed to do? Can you imagine the eager anticipation along with the nervousness he felt? And so, while he’s doing this once in a lifetime thing of burning incense making sure he’s doing it all right, whoa! All of a sudden everything goes haywire! An angel shows up! Wait a minute! This wasn’t in the script, this wasn’t what I practiced. And the angel announces that he and his wife are going to have a child! That’s almost cruel! They are way too old to have children! And this child is going to prepare the way for the Lord? And the angel is announcing all of this when he’s supposed to be focused on burning the incense? And then came his reply: “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” In other words, “There’s no way this can happen.” So, who’s in control? Zechariah or the Lord? God had sent his angel to announce great news to him and what was his reply? His reply was sinful and full of skepticism and unbelief.
Sound familiar? Who is in control? You and me or God? “There’s no way God can bring good out of this situation.” “God, you’re not listening to me!” “This isn’t what I planned for my life!” “I had everything figured out until now, now my plans are all ruined!” Who is in control? You and me or God? And if God is in control and working things out for the good of His people like he promised, is it not sinful and wrong of you and me to complain about things instead of searching intently in every situation for God’s blessings?
Well, because of his unbelief God blessed Zechariah with an inability to speak and hear. Now he had plenty of time to reflect on who exactly is in control, plenty of time to reflect on God’s precious promises- the very promises he no doubt knew by heart. 9 months of no hearing and no speaking. Then God fulfilled his promise when he had a son. And just after he was born they were wondering what to name the child and Zechariah wrote on a tablet, as the angel had told him, his name is John. And immediately he could speak and burst out as a more mature believer with this song of praise to God:
(walk through text)
Here is the one who is in control. God is certainly awesome and powerful, but he uses that power in surprising ways. God sent His King Jesus who doesn’t lead with a sword, but with his words. He leads not from an executive palace or a presidential mansion, but by walking the streets with His people. He leads not with might, but with the light of His teaching and life. He rescues not through the blood of his soldiers fought in a war, but with His own blood shed on a cross. His victory won not riches and real estate, but forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation for you and me. His enemies of sin, death, and the devil were not exiled or enslaved, but crushed and defeated. And He did all of this not motivated by power and ambition but only by His grace, mercy, and love for you and me.
That’s the God whom Zechariah prophesied about and the God whose way his son John would prepare. So, here’s the question: How are you going to lead your life? By seeking power and taking control of life yourself or by entrusting your whole life to the One who is in control? This is Zechariah’s answer and by grace through faith in Jesus it’s yours too. Amen.