Pastor James Hopkins will preach this sermon on Wednesday in the First Week of Advent, 11/30/2022. The bulletin is available as a PDF: Advent1 Vespers Bulletin
The texts for the sermon were the day’s gospel lesson and Psalm 85. To read the gospel texts for the Wednesday services in Advent, click here.
Elizabeth and Zechariah are faithful. They are justified by God’s grace, through faith in Christ, and they also live that way. Thus, they are described as “righteous” and “blameless.” This isn’t a throw-away complement.
Righteous and blameless puts them in the company of Noah, Abraham, David, and Job. Though they have a rich family history, and a top-rate pedigree, nevertheless this holiness, this righteousness, is hidden from the eyes of men, because they have no children. This was the source of much grief, and the inspiration for much gossip.
They bore it well, with a stiff upper lip. But they couldn’t have always let the rumors and the sneers roll off their backs like water. Elizabeth meant it when, after the conceived, she said,
In this way the Lord has dealt with me at the time when He looked upon me in order to take away my shame among men.
Being righteous and blameless didn’t mean that they were always thought well of. Their righteousness does not make the news. They waited for the Lord to deal with them, to look upon them, and to take away their shame.
And so, they waited. As married couples do, they waited on God for children. As one who wanted to serve well, Zechariah waited on God for opportunity – for this was likely the only chance he would ever have to burn incense in the Holy Place. Finally, they waited on God for his salvation.
I don’t just mean that they waited on God for salvation in the general sense, as all Israel did. But they waited intently and prayerfully. Thus, Gabriel declares that Zechariah’s prayers had been heard, and that Elizabeth would bear him a son.
Here it becomes clear that all of Zechariah’s prayers: for children, for opportunity to serve, and for the Messiah to come… They were all really one prayer. At least, they were all answered in the same way.
To understand that Zechariah wasn’t merely asking God for children, you might look back to the last time Gabriel showed up, which was in the prophecy of Daniel. There, as here, the great Archangel showed up at the moment of prayer and sacrifice.
While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before the Lord my God for the holy hill of my God, while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice.
He made me understand, speaking with me and saying, “O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding. At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision.
“Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place.”
Daniel was pleading for God to be merciful, to deliver His people for His namesake. And His prayer was answered. Zechariah could not have missed the reference. It was about as subtle as if I casually alluded to Pastor Dutzmann’s fondness for snow.
As Gabriel prophesied that in seventy weeks there would be deliverance for Israel, so also, it would be seventy weeks until the baby Jesus was presented in the Temple.
From the announcement to Zechariah to the announcement to Mary is 180 days. From the conception of Jesus to His birth, 270 days. From the birth of Jesus to His presentation in the Temple, 40 days. You can do the math, too. 490 days, 70 weeks, until the Messiah will enter the Temple He will rebuild. For those paying attention, it’s remarkably on-the-nose.
And so, I’d encourage you not to merely consider Zechariah’s imperfect reply utterly faithless. It’s true that he didn’t perfectly believe and comprehend Gabriel’s message. But there’s more to it than that. The silence with which Zechariah was struck served a purpose.
Throughout Luke’s Gospel it is clear that God will reveal things in His own time. Even Gabriel said that his words would be fulfilled “in their proper time.” Zechariah wasn’t supposed to get out ahead of things. But there is one thing more, and this might be even more important.
When Zechariah came out of the Holy Place, the people were waiting and wondering. Firstly, they were wondering what was taking so long. Secondly, they were waiting to receive the benediction.
You might imagine me on a Sunday, just standing there with my hands outstretched, and not saying a word, while you all stared and started to look around puzzled.
Perhaps this benediction, withheld in the first scene of Luke’s Gospel, is the one given at the end of the Gospel by Jesus Himself, as He sends the disciples to the Temple.
The purpose of the Gospel is located in this blessing, withheld and then given. It is about Jesus, God’s Messiah, whose birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension, are the content of all OT blessings.
With Zechariah’s silence, his liturgical service in the Temple is finished; indeed, all such service is now obsolete.
This is a season for you to wait on the Lord. Pray for faithful spouses; pray for children; pray for Christ to come and deliver us, whether He takes 70 weeks or 70 seconds.
Pray for patience. God has made you righteous and blameless in Christ, and the world sees it not. Maybe you’ll be ignored. Maybe you’ll be mocked. But your righteousness and blamelessness will not be celebrated; and it doesn’t need to be.
Your prayers have been heard by God. Like Zechariah’s prayer and Daniel’s prayer, they’re really one prayer: hosanna. Save us now.
And as it was for them, so it is for you and for all us us, they are completely answered in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection – and soon, in His glorious return.