Wednesday after Advent I - Luke 1:1-25 - December 2, 2015

Order of Matins - Pg. 32
Hymn #540 With The Lord Begin Thy Task
Hymn #63 On Jordan's Bank the Baptist's Cry
Hymn #62 O Come, O Come Immanuel

Sermon on St. Luke 1:1-25

1)         Nothing about this child is ordinary. His story begins on a normal day in the Temple. The priests do lots to see who would offer the incense offering that day and the lot fell to the aged Zacharias. He enters the Holy Place of the temple with fire from the bronze altar and kindles there the sweet smell of incense, which rises to the heavens as the people’s prayers do the same who are attending the serve. But that is where the normalcy of that certain day ends. In that moment the angel of the Lord, Gabriel by name, appears in heavenly glory beside the altar of incense. When angels appear in their splendor, sinful man has only one response: fear. The angel quells the priest’s terror and says, Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard. It’s as if Gabriel were saying, “Don’t be afraid of me, Zacharias, I have not come in judgment and wrath. The prayers you offer at this altar on behalf of Israel are heard by God.” What better way to calm the terror-stricken conscience? You have no reason to be afraid of the Lord’s messenger. The Lord accepts your worship because you are righteous before God, as St. Luke wrote in six, which means that Zacharias believed the Lord’s promises of the coming Messiah and was counted righteous, just as Father Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness (Genesis 15:6). Because Zacharias was righteous by faith, He had nothing to fear from God, for God was for him and not against him. This divine favor is shown chiefly to Zacharias in the promise which Gabriel gives. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.

2)         This is no ordinary situation. Zacharias and Elizabeth are elderly, well beyond the age of having children. This news alone calls to mind Isaac, the child of promise, who was born when Abraham was one hundred years old and Sarah ninety. This news of a woman who had been barren all hear life reminds us of Rachel who pleaded with Jacob for children and was finally given Joseph and later, Benjamin. This news recalls the birth of the mighty Samson, who was born after the angel of the Lord visited Manoah and his wife who barren. This child, even at his conception, was not ordinary. Just as the Lord gave Isaac, Joseph, and Samson for the sake of His promise of the Messiah, to move that promise further to its fulfillment, so it would be with the child of Zacharias and Elizabeth. The news that a baby is coming should always bring joy to the parents. But this child is not an ordinary child. Gabriel says, And you will have joy and gladness, and many will at his birth. This child will do much more than remove the reproach of Elizabeth as one cursed by God and the stigma of barrenness. Many will rejoice at his birth. He will be a Nazarite, though he’s never called that specifically, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. The Nazarite vow set men apart from the world for a short time of special devotion to the Lord. This child will be a perpetual Nazarite, his entire life and calling a special calling from the Lord, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. John is drenched in the Old Testament, born out of barrenness by the Promise of God to be THE Nazarite.

3)         Gabriel describes John’s special task in Old Testament language as well. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from His mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to ‘turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. Like Moses, Joshua, the Judges, and King David, He will be filled with the Holy Ghost so carry out His divine calling. The Lord gives the Holy Ghost to John even in the womb, showing us that God wants to give faith and salvation even to infants and children through His Word of promise. John will go before Him, that is, God Himself in human flesh, to prepare His way and he will do that work in the spirit and power of Elijah, which means He will be bolder than bold, confronting Pharisees and Scribes to their face, and cornering wicked Herod in his own court, condemning Herod’s sin of taking his brother’s wife. Just as Elijah preached God’s law and afflicted those comfortable in their sin, John would do the same. John would only surpass Elijah in that where Elijah was taken alive to heaven, John would give his life as the seal of his preaching. As Elijah preached God’s Gospel and comforted the afflicted, so John will do by pointing to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Gabriel even applies the prophesy of Malachi to this child in that he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, that is to say, He will turn the old, who rely upon their works and genealogy and piety for salvation to their children, showing them that as children simply believe their parents and trust them for every good thing, so salvation comes simply by hearing the Gospel and believing it, which itself is a gift from God so that no one can boast.

4)         John is not an ordinary prophet either. He is drenched in the Old Testament. He isn’t just a picture of the Old Testament, he’s a collage of images from the Old Testament. This is because he is the end of the Old Testament, the last of the Old Testament prophets before the advent of the Christ, with one foot in the Old and the other in the New Testament. He is the forerunner, the one who will go before the Messiah to prepare His way by preparing the Old Testament church for the arrival of her heavenly Bridegroom. This is why Gabriel says that many will rejoice at his birth. It’s not just a baby being born into the world. It’s the baby whose birth means that the Messiah long-promised is at hand. With the birth of John the Baptist, the promises of God are coming to fulfillment. All the anticipation of the Old Testament, the redemption, the atonement for sin, the promise of sonship for Jew and Gentile is near. With John the Old Testament, its worship, its ceremonies, its priesthood, it all is about to go silent because of John’s preaching.

5)         Which is ironic since that is Zacharias’ punishment for his unbelief. Zacharias rejects the Word of the Lord. He thinks the arm of the Lord is too short to accomplish what it promises. The judgment falls swiftly for the priest’s unbelief. Behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take placed, because you did not believe my words which will fulfilled in their own time. Gabriel gives Zacharias such great and precious promises but Zacharias questions them in doubt and unbelief. This isn’t the same as when Abraham questioned the Lord about Sarah’s ability to have children because Gabriel specifically says the punishment is on account of his unbelief. Zacharias will not take God at His word. He would rather listen to human reason, his own imagination, and the thoughts of his own heart. Since he would rather listen to his own word instead of the Lord’s Word, he is made mute for nine months’ time. Can you imagine being mute for nine months? By this the Lord wants to teach us that we are to hear only His Word and trust in it alone, despising and casting aside all of our words from our hearts.

6)         This also shows us that even Zacharias, righteous before God by faith in God’s promises, still struggled against unbelief in His own flesh. Zachariah, the priest who walked in all the commandments and ordinances of the Old Testament in a blameless way as Noah had, still carries the Old Adam around with him, tempting him not just to sin, but to disregard God’s Word and promise. There is no perfection in this life that one can attain because we are still tainted with the sin of Adam and Eve, always wanting to be like God and make Him in our own image and expectations. This is the way it has been since the beginning and it will continue to be until the Last Day when Christ returns to judge the quick and the dead. In a great irony of Scripture, but yet a terribly comforting irony of Scripture, Zacharias needed the preaching of his own son John. John preached repentance from sin, which is difficult when we are sinners through and through, which is why even repentance must be a gift from God, as Peter says in Acts 5:31. The Christian, though washed in Holy Baptism and cleansed from in that water combined with God’s promise, still will struggle against the Devil, the world’s influence, and the sinful nature. There’s no escaping it. There is only one way to deal with sin, big sin, little sin, disgusting sin, hidden sin, whatever you call yours, there is only one way to deal with it. The child promised to Zacharias and Elizabeth will show you that way. He bids you repent of your sin daily, whatever it might be, to consider your life according to the commandments and see yourself in them. And if you can’t think of any sin, which just means you’re not thinking hard enough, then simply confess that you are by nature sinful and unclean, because that is where your sins come from. Repent of trying to make God in your own image. Repent of listening to your own word, for those who repent and confess then get to hear the second half of John’s message, that of the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:28) and bestows the forgiveness of sins upon all who believe and are baptized (Mark 16:16). John’s proclamation was most certainly law. But it was Law to prepare the hearts of his hearers, to make them ready through repentance to hear the Gospel that God forgives sins.

7)         Zacharias, pious, priestly, righteous before God by faith Zacharias could only regain his voice at the arrival of John. The same is true for us. We can only find a voice to praise our Triune God when He gives it is to us, when we trust Christ for the forgiveness of all our sins. This is why Matins opens with the words of Psalm 51:15, O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise. This voice is given to us when God forgives our sins for Christ’s sake, when we believe that we have a gracious God who gives us repentance and faith, who bestows upon the gifts of salvation and forgives all our sins in Christ Jesus. So this is no ordinary baby, this child born from God’s promise out of barrenness. He is not ordinary in any way, because His message is not one you will hear anywhere else in all the world. Repent, believe the Gospel that God gives Christ to be crucified for you, because He loves you, and He provides all this for you and much more in His Gospel, in His baptism, in Word. Amen.


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