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LUKE 1:5-45, 57-64
Series:  The Characters of Christmas

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
December 18, 2005

This morning is the fourth Sunday in Advent.  Does anyone know what the word “advent” means?  Advent comes from a Latin word advenine which means “to come.  It refers to the first coming of Jesus to Bethlehem and to Jesus’ second Advent - His future coming at the end of this age.

Advent season is a part of our Christian tradition.  In other words -
there isn’t a command in Scripture to celebrate Advent.  But as early as the 5th century Christians felt the need for preparation in order to understand and properly celebrate Jesus’ birth.  They set aside these four Sundays prior to Christmas as a season of meditation on the coming of Jesus.

This morning -
in order to help us in our Advent preparation - I’d like to share three events from the life of Elizabeth.  Elizabeth - who you’ll remember was the mother of John the Baptist and a relative of Mary the mother of Jesus.  I’d like to share three events which were a part of Elizabeth’s preparation for Jesus’ birth.  Events that can help us prepare as we go through this Advent season.

turn with me to the Luke - chapter one.  We’re going to cover 48 verses this morning.  Relax.  We’re not going to read every verse.  What I’m suggesting is that you have your Bible open to chapter one as we look at these three events.  And as we look at the events and go through the chapter I’m going to focus on specific verses that will be helpful to us.

The first event comes in verses 5 to 25 and focuses on
Elizabeth’s Personal Preparation.

Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah lived in the hill country of Judah.
  They were mountain folk.  Kinda like the Waltons or the Clampetts.  Ordinary folk like us.

They were a Godly couple - righteous - obeying the commands of God.  And, they had no children
- right? - because Elizabeth was unable to bear children.  They were pretty old.  We don’t know how old.  But, by human understanding a baby was an impossibility.  Yet, we know that they were still seeking after God - still praying for a miracle - that God would gift them with a baby.

We know from verses 5 to 25 that
Zechariah was a high priest of the division of Abijah.  In those days the priesthood was divided into 24 divisions of priests - each division served in the Temple 2 weeks out of the year.  Not bad - one week on - 6 months off - one week on - six months off.  50 weeks of vacation time per year.  Not a bad job.

The work that they did - the individual responsibilities of the priests - was given out by random choice. 
The most solemn duty was the burning of incense.  Because it required the priest to come closest to the Holy of Holies - the innermost room in the Temple - the holiest place on earth.  The honor of burning this incense was given only once in a priest’s lifetime.  Many of them never had that honor.  It was a unique and sacred privilege.  On this one day, Zechariah was chosen.

This is one of those scenes that I would have loved to seen.  Not from the outside.  On the outside of the Temple is this huge crowd that praying.  We know that at the
appointed time - Zechariah and His two assistants proceed to the door of the Holy Place.  Then, leaving his assistants outside - Zechariah proceeds inside to place incense on the burning coals.

Being outside here is boring.  The prayer meeting is dragging and Zechariah isn’t coming out.  People are starting to peek.  What’s going on?  Where is he?  The priests are going,
“PSST, Zechariah.  Hurry up in there.  People are getting restless.”

Inside would have been overwhelming.  Right? 
Zechariah goes in.  Standing next to the alter - is the angel Gabriel - the messenger of God.  This is one of those defining moments in history.

Gabriel says to Zechariah
“....your petition - your prayer - has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John.  He will bring joy and gladness to his parents and many others.  He will be great in the sight of the Lord - His message will be to call the hearts of Israel to repentance - He will be the forerunner of the Messiah.” (Luke 1:5-12, 13-17, 18-25) 

Wouldn’t you like God to answer your prayers this way?  Gabriel shows up fresh from the throne of God with the answer. 
“This is God’s will for your life...”  This is powerful and miraculous.  The effects of which are felt even today.  God answers the prayer of this Godly couple in a way that goes beyond anything they could have imagined.

Luke 1:24
- in verse 24 we read, “After these days Elizabeth his wife became pregnant; and she kept herself in seclusion for five months, saying, ‘This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men.”

Elizabeth’s personal preparation. 
This is a beautiful prayer of gratitude - a soft reflective prayer - a picture of believing faith.  It shows where Elizabeth’s heart was at.

In response to God’s graciousness Elizabeth chooses to take the first 5 months of her pregnancy for isolation and privacy.  She needed time to pray - to be with the Lord - to consider the Old Testament prophecies and what God was doing through her - time to be with her husband - time to prepare for a difficult birth - time to prepare to be the mother of the baby John - the forerunner of the Messiah.

Think back - when did you see your first Christmas commercial?  For me it was in July.  Can you imagine this? 
Attention shoppers - there are only 180 shopping days ‘til Christmas.” 

A while back
I went looking for Christmas cards - and I got really angry.  Every card had something to do with warm fuzzy feelings - or good food - or time as a family - an “old fashion Christmas” - “peace on earth - good will to men” - nothing to do with Jesus.

I must looked like I was stressed because the sales person came over and asked if I needed help.  I told her - I said,
“None of these cards have anything to do with Jesus.”

She looked at me
this kind of strange look liked I’d dropped in from another planet.  “Are the pointy ears showing again?”  She sent me down to the end of the display to the “religious section.”  Imagine this.... at Christmas - the cards that talk about Jesus are segregated to the “religious section.”  There were about 5 cards there with religious sentiment - none of which mentioned Jesus.  Its not just that Christmas is commercialized - our society has forgotten Jesus.

We know this.  Every year we vow that it’ll be different.  And we get caught up in it again. 
Its so easy.  The preparation and activity - the programs and family gatherings - to rush through and endure the Christmas season and miss the personal reality of Jesus’ birth.  Satan loves this - getting us so busy celebrating Jesus’ birth that we forget about Jesus who’s come for us.

Elizabeth went into seclusion for 5 months. 
Think about that.  Most of us would be happy if we could just take 5 minutes.  But its not an option.   If it wasn’t so important why would Satan be trying to keep us from it?  We need to take the time to ponder - to purpose to carve out adequate time to ponder the miracle of Jesus’ birth - God’s love towards us.  To spend individual personal time alone with God - to pray and to prepare our hearts - to open our hearts to what God desires to do in us and through us.

- thinking about Advent and preparation - the second event we want to notice comes in verses 26 to 45.  That is Elizabeth’s Praise - her response to the working of God.

Six months into Elizabeth's pregnancy - the angel Gabriel is sent to Mary - and Mary is told
what?  that shes going to be the mother of Jesus.  As proof that God can do this - the virgin birth and incarnation - Gabriel tells Mary that Elizabeth - her elderly - unable to bear children - relative is already 6 months pregnant.

Look with me at verse 39: 
Now at this time Mary arose and went with haste to the hill country, to a city of Judah - Remember these are mountain folk.  Mary goes off to visit her kin. - and [Mary] entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.  When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Men don’t really understand this.  Its an amazing thing to feel a child moving inside its mother.  But to have that child moving around inside of you - at all hours of the day - or night - that’s something only a mother understands.  This is not a growth - like a tumor or something.  This is a living human being - inside - growing - with all the potential of his or her life ahead.  There’s a bond there - mother and child - that’s totally unique and absolutely amazing.

John hears Mary and he moves - jumps.  To confirm the uniqueness of that movement - that relationship - that potential - the Holy Spirit fills Elizabeth with His presence.  There’s a God-moment of revelation -
an understanding of the unseen spiritual realities that are taking place in and around Elizabeth.

Verse 42 -
Elizabeth breaks into loud improvised song of praise:  ‘Blessed among women are you, - Mary - and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me?  For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy.  And blessed is she who believed that there would be fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.

There are three parts to this song of praise.  First, Elizabeth says that , among women, Mary is blessed.  Meaning that she’s been honored by God.  The pregnancy is a God thing.  The son she carries is also blessed - to be honored - unique among all children.

Second - Elizabeth acknowledges that the child Mary carries is her Lord.   
“How has this happened that the mother of my Lord has come to me?”  No question in her mind.  John the Baptist leaps and Elizabeth knows the truth of what Gabriel has said.  This is the One - the Messiah - the Savior.

Third - Elizabeth expresses confidence in God.  She says Mary is blessed - why?  Verse 45.  Because she believed that God would accomplish what God said He would do.  God is sovereign.  God is faithful.

Last Sunday we saw that Mary - at this moment - Mary responds with her own song of praise and worship - the Magnificat.  Remember that?

These ladies spent 3 incredible months together.  Praising God.  Filled with the Holy Spirit.  Pondering the uniqueness of their situation - blessed of God.  The coming of the Messiah.  The faithfulness of God towards His people.

Do you ever find yourself listening to a Christmas hymn - in a store - or on the radio - and begin to sing the words - or hum along
?  I’ll be in like a grocery store or department store or someplace where they’ve got muzak going on in the background.  My mind slowly becomes conscious that the music is about Jesus.  In the midst of all the chaos around I’ll just start praising God.  Singing along.    Ever do this?  The words - the melody - touch us deep inside and bring to mind the reality of Jesus’ coming. 

Advent -
Christmas - is a time when we should allow ourselves to be overwhelmed with the presence and the graciousness of God.  Even in the midst of what’s going on around us.  To join together around family tables - in Services of Worship - or in personal worship - times of singing and prayer - writing out our thoughts or in creative art - giving praise to God.  To speak back to Him words of adoration and thanksgiving for His faithfulness and blessing.    

event - personal preparation - praise.  Say those together:  “Personal preparation.  Praise.”  And third - coming to verses 57 to 64 - Elizabeth’s Testimony Of God’s Graciousness.

For 580 years the Jews had been under the domination of the Babylonians - the Persians - the Greek Empire of Alexander the Great - the Ptolemy Empire of Egypt - the Syrians -
at one point even the Armenian Empire - imagine such a thing - the Armenian Empire had stretched as south as Lebanon and threatened Israel.  And then came the Romans.

In Elizabeth’s day - during the time of John and Jesus’ birth -
Herod was king in Israel.  He was the first Jewish king to sit on the throne since the fall of the Southern Kingdom some 580 years earlier. 

Herod was piece of work.  In reality, Herod wasn’t even a real king of Israel. 
He was a puppet king - put there by the Roman government.  And while he should have been a spiritual leader - an example for the people to follow - Herod was about as spiritually alive as doorknob.  He was ungodly.  He was degenerate - perverse.  Just evil.

Herod built Roman temples and introduced Roman gods and idols to the people.  Gentile money flowed into the country causing economic instability.  Under Herod the priesthood was corrupt - they were buying and selling priestly offices.  These were desperate times in Israel - times of injustice - weariness - economic and spiritual desperation.

In many ways
its not much different than today.  In many ways Merced is changing.  Not all for the better.  There are uncertainties in what’s happening around us.  One thing is certain - the changes are more ungodly and more perverse. 

There’s a more personal reality.  We’re all suppose to be joyful and merry.  And sometimes that’s hard.  We have personal struggles with illness and emptiness.  Stuff happens.  We were reminded this week of the absence of people we love.  For many - this has been a very hard year.  Many people around us are just weary of being weary.

In the midst of
these days John is born.  Verse 57:  Now the time had come for Elizabeth to give birth, and she brought forth a son.

When Gabriel speaks to Zechariah in the Temple - back up in verse 18 - we know that Zechariah doubted what Gabriel said.  Zechariah says,
“I can’t believe this.  I’m an old man and my wife is old.”  Gabriel says three things in response.  First, “I was standing right in front of God when He told me to tell you this.”  Second, “Because you didn’t believe me you’re going to be mute until all this takes place.”  And third, “It will take place in its proper time.”  The birth happens right on schedule - when “the time had come” - planned from before creation by the Almighty God according to His sovereign will.

Verse 58: 
And her neighbors and her relatives heard that the Lord had displayed His great mercy toward her; and they were rejoicing with her. 

Elizabeth - the barren one.  Barrenness - understood at the time to mean that God was withholding His blessing.  Certainly - so they thought - barrenness was a great tragedy.  The barren one is now blessed - Zechariah and Elizabeth will have a posterity and a child to care for them.  Praise God.

Verse 59: 
And it came about that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to call him Zechariah, after his father.

Circumcision is a sign of the Covenant - a line of continuity and covenant promise that stretched all the way back to Abraham.  God’s promise to bless Abraham with a land - with a posterity - with a blessing that would extend to all the peoples of the earth.  Circumcision is a reminder of what the Covenant God expects from His people - a circumcised heart - the inner purity and devotion of His people.

Circumcision was an outward sign of an inward ongoing relationship - God and His people.  Every day of a Hebrew boy’s life he would be reminded that he was a part of that Covenant.  Every time he relieved himself - made love with his wife - washed Himself.  Reminded of God and His promises to His people.   

Culturally circumcision is a community event - a time of rejoicing and renewal.  Everyone is there - the aunts - the uncles - the neighbors.  They all came for the circumcision.  To celebrate the blessing of God.

The boy is on the table in the midst of this crowd.  In the midst of the ceremony the question is asked,
“What shall he be called?”   Even before Elizabeth can speak the crowd gives the traditional answer, “Zechariah.”

Verse 60: 
But his mother answered and said, “No indeed; but he shall be called John.”  And they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by that name.”  And they made signs to his father, as to what he wanted him called.

Imagine this.  All the relatives and the whole community - this close knit mountain village - all the kin - are staring at Elizabeth. 
“Elizabeth, have you lost it?  No one in your family has that name.  Think again and give us the right answer.”  Can you imagine the peer pressure.  But, apparently Elizabeth stuck to her guns.  “The name is John.”

The crowd turns on Zechariah. 
“Forget Elizabeth.  Let’s ask Zechariah.”  Forgetting that he’s mute, not deaf, they start in with charades.  He’s been mute for 9 months so they’re acting out their question.

Verse 63: 
And he asked for a tablet and wrote as follows, “His name is John.”  And they were astonished.  Clueless as to why. 

Verse 64: 
And at once his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed , and he began to speak in praise of God.

n the Bible - names are important.  The name Zechariah means “Yahweh Remembers” - a reminder that God does not forget His promises.  Elizabeth means “The Oath of God.” - a reminder that God fulfills His promises.  To this Godly couple is born John - whose name - given by God Himself through the angel Gabriel - his name means “God is gracious.”  His ministry is given by God.  Hes to go before the Messiah and proclaim that the Covenant God’s salvation is at hand.

Imagine if Elizabeth had caved in
.  “Okay.  You’re right.  Silly me.  Call him Zechariah.”

She sticks to what she knows to be true about God.  Her testimony - even in the declaration of her son’s name - her testimony at the proper time is that
God cares about His people!  He is concerned with the circumstances of our lives and He is concerned with our spiritual salvation.  God is moving and fulfilling His covenant with His people.

This is our time.  Amidst the voices that are declaring Christmas to be something less than it is.  Advent is our time to testify that God does care about each of us in the circumstances of our lives.  Of what God has done in our own lives.  To testify that we can be restored into a relationship with God - the forgiving of our sins.  And that we can live life with God - never alone - always with purpose - with His strength and His peace within.

Can you think of someone that needs to hear that testimony?  Advent is the time to share Jesus with others.



Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.