|THE PREPARATION OF ELIZABETH
Series: The Characters of Christmas
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
December 13, 1998
Today is the third Sunday of Advent. Does anyone know what the word “advent” means? Advent comes from a Latin word (advenine) which means “to come” - and it refers to the first coming of Jesus to Bethlehem and to Jesus’ second coming.
The Advent season is a part of our Christian tradition. In other words - the word “advent” doesn’t appear in the Bible - 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 - to help us in our Advent preparation - I’d like to share three events from the life of Elizabeth - who was the mother of John the Baptist - and a relative of Mary the mother of Jesus. I invite you to turn with me to the Gospel of Luke - chapter one. We’re not going to read every verse. But I encourage you to follow along with the text as we go through. In Luke 1 there are three events - three acts of preparation - from the life of Elizabeth that can guide us in our own Advent preparation.
1. ELIZABETH’S PERSONAL PREPARATION: Her Prayer and Seclusion (verses 5-25)
Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah lived in the hill country of Judah. They were a Godly couple - righteous - obeying the commands of God. And, they had no children because Elizabeth was unable to bear children. Even though the were pretty old - they were still praying for a miracle - that God would gift them with a baby. By human understanding a baby was impossible. But they we’re seeking after God - praying for a miracle.
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 a bad job - two weeks of work - 50 weeks of vacation. When they were working - the work was divided up by lot - random choice. Each priest was given his own individual responsibilities.
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 - and many of them never had the honor. It was a unique and sacred privilege. On this one day, Zechariah was chosen.
Picture this scene. While this huge crowd is outside praying - 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.
And inside - as 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)
This is no ordinary answer to prayer. 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.
In Luke 1:24 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.”
This is a beautiful prayer of gratitude - a soft reflective prayer - a picture of believing faith. And 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.
I went looking for Christmas cards the other day - 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” - and nothing to do with Jesus.
I must looked like I was stressed out because the sales person came over and asked if I needed help. And I told her - I said, “None of these cards have anything to do with Jesus.” She looked at me kind of strange and 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.” And there were about 5 cards there with religious sentiment - none of which mentioned Jesus.
This year I saw my first Christmas commercial in August. Think about that - “Attention shoppers - there are only 150 shopping days ‘til Christmas.” Its not just that Christmas is commercialized - our society has forgotten Jesus.
Its so easy to get caught up in all this - 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.
Elizabeth went into seclusion for 5 months. Most of us would be happy if we could take 5 minutes. But we need to take the time to ponder - the miracle of Jesus’ birth - God’s love towards us - and pray and prepare our hearts for what God desires to do in us and through us.
Secondly we want to notice:
2. ELIZABETH’S PRAISE: Her Response to the Working of God (verses 26-45)
Six months into Elizabeth's pregnancy - the angel Gabriel is sent to Mary - and Mary is told that she is going to be the mother of Jesus. As proof that God can do this - Gabriel tells Mary that Elizabeth - her elderly - barren - relative is already 6 months pregnant.
Luke 1:39: Now at this time Mary arose and went with haste to the hill country, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And it came about that when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit - God gives to Elizabeth a revelation - a understanding of the unseen spiritual realities that are taking place in and around her.
Overwhelmed by the power and presence of God - Elizabeth breaks into loud improvised song. Verse 42: ‘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 should 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.
What Elizabeth is saying to her young relative is that Mary and her unborn son are honored - blessed - of God. This is a hymn of praise for the One who is coming in fulfillment of God’s word. In verses 46 through 55 Mary responds with her own improvised hymn of praise. Then in verse 56 we read that Mary spent 3 months with Elizabeth. Those must have been incredible months.
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. The words - the melody - touch us deep inside and bring to mind the reality of Jesus’ coming.
Christmas is a time when we should allow ourselves to be overwhelmed with the presence and graciousness of God. To join together around family tables - and in Services of Worship - wherever we may be - and to praise God. Maybe individually - to spend time just singing to God - in personal worship. Or writing our words of praise.
Third - we want to notice:
3. ELIZABETH’S PROCLAMATION: Her Declaration of God’s Graciousness (verses 57-60)
During the time of Elizabeth and the birth of Jesus - 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. 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 - and now they were controlled by Rome. As Armenians we can relate to this kind of dominance.
Herod - in reality - wasn’t even a real king of Israel. He was a puppet king - put there by the Roman government. As king he should have been a spiritual leader - a model to the people. But he was ungodly - degenerate.
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 not much different than today - here in the Bay Area. This season of the year - which is suppose to be joyful - has really been hard for many people in our fellowship - some facing debilitating diseases and some - life threatening disease. There are those who are remembering the loss of loved ones.
Around us there is economic uncertainty - is the market going up or down? Are we headed into a recession? Who will be the President next year? From every direction comes pressure on our time and resources. Just as in the days of Herod - many today are just weary of being weary.
In the midst of all of this is born John. Luke 1:57: Now the time had come for Elizabeth to give birth, and she brought forth a son. And her neighbors and her relatives heard that they Lord had displayed His great mercy toward her; and they were rejoicing with her. 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 - which was the traditional thing to do - And his mother - Elizabeth - answered and said, “He shall be called John.”
In 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 couple is born John - whose name - given by God Himself - means “God is gracious.” His ministry is given by God - he is to go before the Messiah and proclaim that God’s salvation is at hand.God cares about His people! He is concerned with the circumstances of our lives and He is concerned with our spiritual salvation. Through out the book of Luke the theme of rejoicing and gladness is repeated over and over - and it begins here - with Elizabeth and Zechariah - with the realization that God is graciously fulfilling His promises.