As Steve mentioned last week we are in a period that the church has called Advent that begins four Sundays before December 25. You will not find this tradition in the bible – it is something that dates back to the 6th century and was a time to anticipate the return of
Jesus. And later this tradition then became linked to Christmas and then became a time to celebrate the first coming of Jesus as well as anticipating His second coming.
We are a privileged people as we can look back to celebrate the first coming of Jesus. We have the assurance that a saviour has already come; that over 2000 years ago God sent His only Son into the world so that the world could be saved through Him. As a
Christian I can say with confidence ‘I am saved’. But before the birth of Jesus people could only look forward in hope to the time when God would intervene into history to save His people. We are going to look at the start of Luke’s Gospel today and in the
first chapter when Gabriel speaks to Zechariah he quotes from Malachi from the very last verses of the OT. Here Gabriel is announcing that things Malachi prophesied about are now going to happen. The Jews had been waiting 400-500 years for its fulfilment. And here God is announcing that the time has come for it fulfilment. And then just 6 months after Gabriel had made this announcement God sends him again this time to visit Mary and announces the birth of the Son of God.
There is a real sense at the beginning of Luke that after hundreds of years of waiting God is saying ‘Let’s get this show on the road!’; first God causes John and then Jesus to be conceived. Today I want to look to take a look at Zechariah and Mary, the people that God used to fulfil his purposes at this time. So first of all let’s look at Zechariah
Read Luke 1: 5-25
So here we have Zechariah who was a priest – and this would have been as a result of his ancestry; he would be a descendant of Aaron as indeed we read his wife, Elizabeth, was. So it is not a case of him having to have the right qualifications and applying for the job – he was born into it. Though it seems he, with his wife, they were well qualified to fulfil this role.
And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.
They were a couple that loved God. And out of that love for Him they were obedient to Him. They did not get entangled in sin or any dodgy activity. Luke says they were righteous and blameless. Now God can use anyone for His purposes whether they love Him or not. God can use people even though they were not aware of it or do not even know God. But He is more likely to use people who love Him. If we want God to use us to help fulfil His purposes then we need to be a people like Zechariah and Elizabeth who were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and
statutes of the Lord’.Each division or class of priests were on duty for only 2 separate
weeks each year. And it was during one of these weeks that when the lot was taken for which priest was going to offer the incense before God that day – Zechariah was chosen. I don’t know if they had a bag or a hat with names in that they shook up and pulled
Zechariah’s name out of it. We’d say it was the luck of the draw.
Often we put things down to chance. How often do we say things like ‘I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time’;by pure chance I happened to be there’; ‘guess who I bumped into today’ but in the Bible we see people who have faith in God working even by ‘lot’. I don’t think Gabriel had been hanging around in the temple muttering ‘Zechariah’s name must be chosen this time!’Gabriel was only there because he knew God was going to cause Zechariah’s name to come out of the hat.
Was anyone here born in Civray? Who was born in La Vienne? X could say – well I am here because I was born here, others could say well it seemed a nice area to live in, we ended up here by chance. For whatever reason you are living where you are, or whether you are aiming to stay or move away we need to have faith in God that He has His hand on our situation. That we are where we are today because this is where God has purposed us to be. The important thing is how do we respond to that? Are we seeking God as to why we are where we are and how we can serve His purposes here? Let us not think we are here by chance or it was down to some good or bad decisions that we made in the past. Let's have faith in a God who works all things out according to his
People might not like revealing their age but Z admitted that he and Elizabeth were old. So they must have been married a very long time ago. After their marriage they would have been hoping for a child and when no child appeared they would have started
praying that God would give them a child. We can assume, from what Gabriel says, that they continued to pray for a child even though they were both now past the age when they would normally expect to have children. Perhaps they were taking hope from what
God did for Abraham and Sarah who had a child in their old age. Gabriel says to Z that his prayer had been heard and that God was going to provide Him with a son. It is not that God hadn’t heard any of his prayers during the previous decades but that it was now the time within God’s plan for Elizabeth to conceive This teaches us that we shouldn’t give up praying. Howard, Jim and Gina have been a good example of this to me in praying for me to be healed nearly every time we meet. When God does answer it can sometimes be more than what we were asking for.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.
He certainly did that here – not only was God giving Zechariah and Elizabeth a son but a son who will play a significant role in turning many back to the Lord and preparing a people ready to respond to Jesus when He arrives on the scene. Lets us now look at Mary
John has been conceived and it is he who is to fulfil Malachi’s prophecy of someone coming in the power of Elijah. Some Jews believed that it was actually Elijah who would come again – hence when John, 30 years later, started preparing the way for Jesus,
some asked him if he was Elijah. And Jesus later confirmed that John was the fulfilment of this prophecy (eg Matt 17:12-13, Mark 9:13). So step one is underway now the next step was for Mary to conceive.
Read Luke 1: 26-45 With Z and E we had a couple longing for a child. I doubt whether having a child was high on the list of Mary’s prayers at this time being a young teenager who was only engaged to Joseph. So it must have been a shock to hear that she was going to be pregnant before she was married. No girl at that time would have wanted to be in Mary’s situation – pregnant and unmarried. We read elsewhere that Joseph, her fiance, when he finds out that she is pregnant is aiming to break off the engagement. So Mary could have ended up as a single mum – who in that culture no man would have wanted to marry. So being pregnant would have been the last thing Mary would have wanted. But we read that her response to hearing she was going to have a baby was one of obedience – Luke 1:38 And Mary said, …. let it be to me according to your word.” why did she agree to this? Because as she said just before that… Luke 1:38 …. I am the servant of the Lord;
So it is not surprising that earlier Gabriel told her that she had found favour with God. Obviously she was someone like Z and E who was devoted to walking in God’s ways and to be pleasing to Him. And wanted to serve God’s purposes. She could have said no and opted for a more ‘normal’ life. I am reminded of Ruth and her devotion to Naomi when she said
“Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.
Ruth was totally committed to Naomi no matter what sacrifices she had to make and what the consequences were going to be – and we see a similar dedication by Mary to God. Committed to serving Him, doing whatever He wanted no matter what the
consequences were going to be.
When I am asked to do something I tend to think first of myself, is it convenient for me? Is it something I fancy doing? What excuse can I make to get out of doing it? I’m focused on me – whereas my attitude should be like Mary – I am a servant of the Lord – it is what He wants that should matter most of all. What would Jesus want me to do should be my first question to myself? I am also reminded of what we looked at recently in Acts 2:42 where the early church was devoted to the apostles teaching – meaning that they were committed to obeying that teaching. Mary was committed to following God and His laws and commandments. She knew God – this is evident from what she declares in her Magnificat; which is just after the passage we just read. It is full of quotations from the OT. A sign of love for God can often be seen in how much a person loves reading God’s word to learn more about Him – and Mary seems to have been very familiar with the scriptures.
In Acts 2:42 we also read that the church was devoted to fellowship – and one reason for that is they shared a common faith and purpose. And here we see Mary hurrying to see Elizabeth – wanting to have fellowship with someone who had a similar experience to
her. She was wanting to be with someone who understood her situation and could encourage her. And likewise we should not neglect meeting together – otherwise we will miss out on the encouragement that can bring.
God’s aim in the story was not to meet the needs of of Zechariah, Elizabeth or Mary but to fulfil His purposes in establishing His kingdom upon the earth. But to do that, He needs people – here, he partners with Zechariah and Elizabeth, and Mary. People who were devoted to God.
Who are His partners here in Civray and in this region? He needs a people who are devoted to serving Him. It is easy to think of Advent as leading us to the goal of Christmas – and indeed it is a time for us to celebrate the fact that Jesus, the Son of God was born 2000 years ago – but He was born in order for people to be saved, for the world to be redeemed. So likewise let us remember not just the event but the reason for the event – that there is a world to be saved and that God has chosen to speak to you and me and want us to be available as people he can use to speak to others.
So let us individually choose to be devoted to God so that we can be people that He will use to serve Him here in France. And that together we will then impact this region with the gospel. Amen.
Talk by Paul Tostevin,