Sunday 20th December 2020
Luke Chapter 1:5-56
May it be to me…
20th of December – not many sleeps now until Christmas! Nearly all the doors open on the Advent Calendar! Time is quickly moving on…Is that how you have found this year?
That the time has flown by or has this year felt more for you like walking through treacle? And the idea of time, whether it seems to be going quickly or slowly, is a good one for us today, as we ponder the whole sweep of Scripture from a time long ago, right through to a time to come…the whole sweep of time…
Before we do, let’s take time to pray:
Open our hearts and minds, by the power of Your Holy Spirit, so as we ponder Your precious Word, we may be open to all You would say to us and all to Your glory. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Last week we looked back in time to Isaiah Chapter 11 and a wonderful promise given to God’s people, and the promise was: ‘A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from its roots a Branch will bear fruit…the Spirit of the LORD will rest on him…’
So, the promise to God’s people long ago was of a Person, God’s Son, God’s ultimate choice…I wonder did God’s people expect Him right away? Any minute? Or at least very soon? But that’s not what happened, there would be a long, long time of waiting and God’s people would have to remain patient, trusting and faithful, holding on to God’s promises and holding on to God’s Word…and as we reach the end of the Old Testament, the promise seemed about to be fulfilled, but then…silence. For four hundred years, that’s the space between the end of our Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament, that’s what the blank page in your Bible represents, 400years…No record of divine visitations, no further word from the prophets…
But then quite suddenly after all those years something incredible and wonderful happened. Word was sent to the most holy city in Israel, Jerusalem. To the most holy place in Jerusalem, the temple. To a holy man, Zechariah. An angel brought Zechariah a message, and the silence was broken. Zechariah, whose name appropriately means ‘God has remembered’, was serving in the temple when an angel, God’s messenger, appeared.
The sight of the angel, not surprisingly, stunned Zechariah. ‘Gripped with fear’ is how the text describes his reaction. Listen for how the silence was broken, this comes from Luke Chapter 1, from verse 13: The angel said to him, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son. You are to name him John…and he will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. He will go ahead of the Lord, strong and mighty like the prophet Elijah…he will get the Lord’s people ready for him.”
I’m sure as the angel brought his message it must have felt, just for a moment, that time stood still…But Zechariah wasn’t sure, “How can I be sure…” he stammered…”How shall I know if this is so?”
“I am Gabriel,” the angel answered. “I stand in the presence of God, who sent me to speak to you and tell you this good news. But you have not believed my message…Because you have not believed, you will be unable to speak; you will remain silent until the day my promise to you comes true.” Zechariah wanted a sign, as if the appearance of an angel wasn’t enough and because of his unbelief Zechariah is struck dumb.
The next word from heaven came very soon after, and again, the messenger was Gabriel. This time the message was delivered to a woman named Mary. The angel came to her and said, “Peace be with you! The Lord is with you and has greatly blessed you!.”
It was not the angel that startled Mary, as he had startled Zechariah, it was the angel’s greeting, “The Lord is with you and has greatly blessed you…”
“Don’t be afraid, Mary….said the angel…[the same greeting that he gave to Zechariah] God has been gracious to you. You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will make him a king, as his ancestor David was, and he will be the king of the descendants of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end!”
Timid words gather on Mary’s lips to form a self-conscious question. “How will this be since I am a virgin?” It is not the message she questions. It’s not even the miracle. She doesn’t doubt Gabriel’s words. She only wonders how they will be fulfilled. As the angel explains the miracle, Mary responds, and what a response, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.”
Mary knew her God, she trusted God, and she submitted to God’s will. We are told in the text she travelled to spend part of her confinement with her relative, Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth, and she did something else as well, she overflowed with praise to God, recorded for us simply as, Mary’s Song, a Song that begins, ‘My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour…’ Luke 1:46-47.
Let’s move on in time. Think with me on a different scene. In your mind’s eye move forward to a lonely hill, to the place called the skull, and that scene at the cross. The crucifixion. Christ, Son of Mary, Son of God, hangs on the cross. Cruel nails pierce his hands and feet. Hair matted from the morning’s thorns. The Son of God condemned to die the death of a common criminal. Crucifixion, the supreme Roman penalty, designed to maximise humiliation and pain. Picture too Mary there at the cross. I wonder did the ancient words of the prophets come to her mind. Words from the prophet Isaiah…
He was despised and rejected by men, A man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering…But he was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities…He was led like a lamb to the slaughter…
Did Mary also remember the words of Simeon when Jesus was just days old? Those words also recorded for us in the Gospel of Luke? Mary and Joseph had brought the baby Jesus to the temple as was the custom. Simeon was there, a man who had been waiting all his life for the Promise…It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Christ. And the moment he saw Mary, Joseph and the baby he knew exactly who the baby was, and as Simeon held the baby Jesus in his arms, he said this to Mary: ‘This child [Jesus] is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel…And a sword will pierce your soul too…
On Calvary’s hill just over 30 years later, as Mary looked at the cross, she must have felt the pain as sure as a sword that pierced her soul. It must have seemed more than a mother could bear but somehow, she did. She was there when he was born into this world and she was there when he left it. But in the space of just three days on the first day of the week as the women quietly approached the tomb, what would greet them? Another announcement from a heavenly messenger and what an announcement! ‘He is not here! He has risen!’
- And in the story that stretches across the pages of time,
- From Eden to the New Jerusalem, from Genesis to Revelation, the Promise, Jesus Christ, who is the Word, speaks to the world and says,
- I am the Alpha and the Omega.
- I am the First and the Last.
- I am with you always, to the very end of the age…
The Promise of a Saviour, a promise that is celebrated in the Book of Revelation through the most glorious sound in the whole universe, the heavenly host, angel voices once again, but this time numbering ten thousand times ten thousand, and every creature on heaven and earth, singing and worshipping: ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb,
Be praise and honour and glory and power, For ever and ever!’
We have now reached the fourth Sunday of Advent. Advent calls us to search the Scriptures, to patiently trace the line of the Promise through the pages of our Bibles and the pages of time. And to askourselves, ‘Now that the King, the Promise, is risen, now that the king, the Promise, is here, as He promises He is, what does that mean for you and me?’
It means we in our turn, are to be patient when patience is called for, to trust and to be faithful to God’s calling on our lives. It means to trust in God’s promises and His Word, in good times and challenging times, when time sails by and all is well and equally when time seems to crawl, and things are more of a struggle…
Not many sleeps until Christmas! As the day approaches, never lose your sense of wonder at God’s amazing plan, at the sending of His One and only Son to die for you and for me, and like Mary never cease in your praise of our amazing God.
Once more we give You thanks and praise for your Word to us, but more than anything, we thank you for sending Your one and only Son, the One who IS the Word, the One who IS the Promise, the One who came to set us free and bring us life, and that at its very best. In this season of Advent, this season of promise, help us to keep our focus on you and may we serve you well. And all to your glory. Amen.