Summary: The first in a series explaining the symbolism of the Christmas Wreath - Hope. Prophecy of OT fulfilled in John the Baptist.
Advent 1: Hope
Luke 1: 5-25
Grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father above, Jesus Christ our savior and the Holy Spirit who strengthens us and keeps us in the faith. Amen.
Today we start the first part of a sermon series based on the symbolism of the Christmas wreath. During this season, we place a wreath with purple, white and pink candles near the altar. Each week, we light an additional candle. But, rarely do we explain what each of these candles represent. During this advent season, we’ll be examining each of the ideas behind these candles as we build towards the celebration of our coming Lord. These candles stand for Hope, Preparation, Joy and Love. Tonight, we will look at the candle of Hope and how it relates to the coming of our Savior.
We are here tonight, to prepare ourselves for the Christmas season. That is the same reason for our Gospel message today. At the beginning of each of the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, there is a mention of the activities leading up to the birth of Jesus. A moment ago, we heard from Luke about one of those preparations, the announcement of the coming of John the Baptist.
Zacharias was a faithful priest who had been bestowed the honor of representing the entire nation of Israel in the temple. He was granted the honor and responsibility of burning incense in the morning and the evening as a form of worship to God in front of the Most Holy Place of the temple. This was not an ordinary honor. Only priests could do this service and then, usually only once in their lifetime. This was an honor that he surely relished.
But, the moment would become special in more than one way. As Zacharias was going about his priestly duties, the angel Gabriel appeared above the altar of incense. The appearance of angels was not a normal occurrence in any respect. But, it was no accident that the angel spoke in front of Zacharias. He had come to give hope to Zacharias with the promise of child. The prayers of Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth were being answered. Not only by the blessing of a child, but with a messenger sent from God Himself! A new found hope must have come upon Zacharias and Elizabeth and they looked forward to their infant sons arrival.
To make it apparent to others, as well as give a lesson to Zacharias for doubting the message, he was not allowed to speak until the baby was born. This was seen as a sign from God by those around him. Ultimately, that was the intended purpose because this was a message from God. A message with a profound impact. One that would change the world. The people realized that there was something special happening, but they didn’t understand what that was.
This moment was more that an important development in the lives of two future parents. The soon-to-be parents were not the only ones looking forward to the arrival of John. John was more than just another baby on the scene of Israel. He was more than a child born to parents thought too old to be parents. He was a predecessor to the coming messiah. He was to prepare the way for the savior!
Isaiah prophesied that John would come. In Isaiah 40:3-5 he wrote:
3 A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
This is a message of hope for the future written 700 years before the birth of John. Only a true message from God could predict the truth so far in advance. But, how can we be certain that this was written about John and not some other man yet to come?
In Mark, the Gospel writer opens up his book with a direct reference to this passage in Isaiah. Mark 1: 2- 3 reads:
2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,
“ Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’ ”
“What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is he of whom it is written,