When Elizabeth was full-term in her pregnancy, she bore a son. Her neighbors and relatives, seeing that God had overwhelmed her with mercy, celebrated with her.
On the eighth day, they came to circumcise the child and were calling him Zachariah after his father. But his mother intervened: “No. He is to be called John.”
“But,” they said, “no one in your family is named that.” They used sign language to ask Zachariah what he wanted him named.
Asking for a tablet, Zachariah wrote, “His name is to be John.” That took everyone by surprise. Surprise followed surprise—Zachariah’s mouth was now open, his tongue loose, and he was talking, praising God!
A deep, reverential fear settled over the neighborhood, and in all that Judean hill country people talked about nothing else. Everyone who heard about it took it to heart, wondering, “What will become of this child? Clearly, God has his hand in this.”
Then Zachariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied,
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;
he came and set his people free.
He set the power of salvation in the center of our lives,
and in the very house of David his servant,
Just as he promised long ago
through the preaching of his holy prophets:
Deliverance from our enemies
and every hateful hand;
Mercy to our fathers,
as he remembers to do what he said he’d do,
What he swore to our father Abraham—
a clean rescue from the enemy camp,
So we can worship him without a care in the world,
made holy before him as long as we live.
And you, my child, “Prophet of the Highest,”
will go ahead of the Master to prepare his ways,
Present the offer of salvation to his people,
the forgiveness of their sins.
Through the heartfelt mercies of our God,
God’s Sunrise will break in upon us,
Shining on those in the darkness,
those sitting in the shadow of death,
Then showing us the way, one foot at a time,
down the path of peace.
The child grew up, healthy and spirited. He lived out in the desert until the day he made his prophetic debut in Israel.
Mary didn’t waste a minute. She got up and traveled to a town in Judah in the hill country, straight to Zachariah’s house, and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby in her womb leaped. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, and sang out exuberantly,
You’re so blessed among women,
and the babe in your womb, also blessed!
And why am I so blessed that
the mother of my Lord visits me?
The moment the sound of your
greeting entered my ears,
The babe in my womb
skipped like a lamb for sheer joy.
Blessed woman, who believed what God said,
believed every word would come true!
And Mary said,
I’m bursting with God-news;
I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It’s exactly what he promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now.
Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months and then went back to her own home.
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth to a virgin engaged to be married to a man descended from David. His name was Joseph, and the virgin’s name, Mary. Upon entering, Gabriel greeted her:
You’re beautiful with God’s beauty,
Beautiful inside and out!
God be with you.
She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that. But the angel assured her, “Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus.
He will be great,
be called ‘Son of the Highest.’
The Lord God will give him
the throne of his father David;
He will rule Jacob’s house forever—
no end, ever, to his kingdom.”
Mary said to the angel, “But how? I’ve never slept with a man.”
The angel answered,
The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
the power of the Highest hover over you;
Therefore, the child you bring to birth
will be called Holy, Son of God.
“And did you know that your cousin Elizabeth conceived a son, old as she is? Everyone called her barren, and here she is six months pregnant! Nothing, you see, is impossible with God.”
And Mary said,
Yes, I see it all now:
I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve.
Let it be with me
just as you say.
Then the angel left her.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby…
I go to the famous Christmas passage, but just to consider one aspect of it, we could say pre-Christmas, and fitting well into Advent maybe in the sense that God’s coming may take us by surprise. Shepherds did move around, but their way of life was the same. They lived with their flocks of sheep, taking care of them, especially on guard at night. The group here who witnessed the angelic hosts proclaiming the Lord’s birth were surely just as ordinary as any of us. But they also were each and everyone created by God, loved by God, and each gifted by God. Yes, in humble work, but didn’t our Lord live in obscurity? Surely good in its place, but not anything extraordinary. Our Lord has been there.
I’m so glad that God mercifully in grace reveals himself to us, and works with us right where we are. One of the many lies from the evil one (Satan, the satan meaning the opposer) is that if we get out of line this way or that, God will no longer deal with us. That is a plain out old fashioned lie. Christ died for our sins. In him we are forgiven as we accept that sacrifice of love for ourselves. God certainly wants to help us do better, and grow spiritually. But God will not abandon us, the work of his hands both in creation and now in new creation in Jesus.
Of course again, I’m not talking about us living in out and out sin. Even then God will seek to rescue us in God’s deep love. But none of us have it altogether. We all have our weaknesses, and faults along the way. So glad the Lord wants to meet us there, right where we’re at. So that we can receive his blessing directly and through others, and be a blessing to others. Just like the shepherds of old. In and through Jesus.
So this is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;
the one who relies on it
will never be stricken with panic.”
But the Master, God, has something to say to this:
“Watch closely. I’m laying a foundation in Zion,
a solid granite foundation, squared and true.
And this is the meaning of the stone:
a trusting life won’t topple.”
A trusting life, as Eugene Peterson puts it, or one who relies on this stone who we know is Jesus is said to not topple, be stable. Not stricken with panic. According to the NET footnote the Hebrew there means “will not hurry, i.e., act in panic.”
I find it does me a world of good to slow down. I can all too often live with a sense of fear and a feeling of panic. Instead I need to act on what I profess, that God will take care of it now, that God has already established the new reality in Jesus, and that God will bring everything to full fruition.
I have to be in Scripture and prayer, prayer and Scripture, and just keep doing that. And when I’m afraid, make prayer the focal point of what I’m doing. To pray and listen, listen and pray. Add to that the new faith community Deb and I are a part of. We so much have enjoyed being with them, albeit now on Zoom, and seek to discern truth, God’s truth together.
Yes, yes, yes. We have all we need in Jesus. And all that’s needed comes in and through Jesus, a wonderful new world. The reality of that world begins now, but the full break in, we await. At the heart of what Advent is about. In and through Jesus.
During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest assigned service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God. But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old.
It so happened that as Zachariah was carrying out his priestly duties before God, working the shift assigned to his regiment, it came his one turn in life to enter the sanctuary of God and burn incense. The congregation was gathered and praying outside the Temple at the hour of the incense offering. Unannounced, an angel of God appeared just to the right of the altar of incense. Zachariah was paralyzed in fear.
But the angel reassured him, “Don’t fear, Zachariah. Your prayer has been heard. Elizabeth, your wife, will bear a son by you. You are to name him John. You’re going to leap like a gazelle for joy, and not only you—many will delight in his birth. He’ll achieve great stature with God.
“He’ll drink neither wine nor beer. He’ll be filled with the Holy Spirit from the moment he leaves his mother’s womb. He will turn many sons and daughters of Israel back to their God. He will herald God’s arrival in the style and strength of Elijah, soften the hearts of parents to children, and kindle devout understanding among hardened skeptics—he’ll get the people ready for God.”
Zachariah said to the angel, “Do you expect me to believe this? I’m an old man and my wife is an old woman.”
But the angel said, “I am Gabriel, the sentinel of God, sent especially to bring you this glad news. But because you won’t believe me, you’ll be unable to say a word until the day of your son’s birth. Every word I’ve spoken to you will come true on time—God’s time.”
Meanwhile, the congregation waiting for Zachariah was getting restless, wondering what was keeping him so long in the sanctuary. When he came out and couldn’t speak, they knew he had seen a vision. He continued speechless and had to use sign language with the people.
When the course of his priestly assignment was completed, he went back home. It wasn’t long before his wife, Elizabeth, conceived. She went off by herself for five months, relishing her pregnancy. “So, this is how God acts to remedy my unfortunate condition!” she said.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
Christmastime is special for the church in that we remember and celebrate the coming of the Messiah. And as no more than a little baby, but no less than God. “God in the flesh.” God become human, the God-Man, the God-Human.
This means that God in the Person of the Son became fully human, one of us. So that God knows our struggles firsthand, in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).
Our Savior. Our Lord. The one hope of the world. That’s what we Christians celebrate at Christmas. No less and no more. In and through Jesus.
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
We who follow Christ live by faith in God’s word. That is the heart of Mary’s response to the amazing word the angel/messenger gave to her. Along with a servant’s attitude, that God’s will be done.
It’s interesting that the gospel in the person of Christ came into the world through the faith of this young woman. Yes, God could have done it any way God would have chosen, but he chooses by and large to work through our faith in him, in his word. Our trust is not at all in ourselves, or even in our faith, but in God and God’s promises. That is where our faith rests. And by which we see God’s miracle come. In and through Jesus.
Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:
He appeared in the flesh,
was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
was taken up in glory.
What is the difference for the Christian? What enables us toward true godliness? The simple answer is Christ, and Christ in his coming. What we celebrate at Christmas. And what we see in Christ in his incarnation, life and ministry of teaching and healing, his death and resurrection, his ascension and the Spirit being poured out, and the promise of his return when what he has accomplished will be completed.
The hymn like any good hymn gives us a particular focus. And the focus is on Christ himself, and the events and impact of that on the world. That makes all the difference. In and through Jesus.
This time of the year is called Advent on the church calendar. I miss Advent, since the church we’re part of is not much into church liturgy. I think Christmas is a most special time of the year since we’re remembering and celebrating the birth of the Savior, our Lord Jesus.
Advent is simply about the Lord’s coming. And that includes his coming in full as given to us in Scripture, which means his first coming, already accomplished, and his second coming, which we look forward to.
Scripture likens Jesus’s second coming to a “hope,” even “the blessed hope.” Hope as in something we’re anticipating and again, looking forward to, not a kind of “hope so” attitude, where we’re not sure. By faith we’re certain and assured.
Still I wonder just how much anticipation I really have. Yes, chances are I’ll die before the Lord’s return. But that won’t much matter when the return takes place. The dead will rise first, and then those who are alive will be caught up together with them in the air, and so we will all be together with the Lord forever.
The gospel accounts tell us we need to be alert. I am not much into the signs stuff and looking at events. I’ve been burned too often in my lifetime, and have long since dismissed such notions as poor Biblical understanding. But regardless of how we view things, we need to be alert with the imagination: What if Jesus actually would return today? Would we have been preparing ourselves? Or do we think and live like that could not possibly happen?
Faith, hope and love are a triad, love being called the greatest of these. They’re interwoven together, so that our “hope” in our Lord’s return comes from faith with love following and accompanying that. I think the most important thing we can do is to endeavor daily to be in an interactive relationship with our Lord through his word and Spirit, and paying attention in life. Then, through the grace he gives us, we can be ready when that moment arrives. In and through Jesus.