Summary: Zechariah' prophecy predicts the Messiah's coming and his own son's prophetic ministry.
Getting Ready for Jesus
How many of you wind up at the end of the Christmas season feeling empty and unfulfilled? You’ve finished all the shopping and wrapping and gift giving and parties and you’re done with the church and family obligations, the preparation and cooking of the family Christmas dinner are over, you’re sitting at a table filled with dirty dishes and turkey bones and you’re not sure whether you are happy it’s over or not. There’s a slight emptiness in your spirit and you can’t help but feel, “I’ve been ripped off.”
We’re in the season of Advent. It’s the season right before Christmas. I know the shopping malls want you to believe it was Christmas at the end of October, but it’s still not Christmas even yet. For those of us in the church, it’s Advent.
The word advent (little a) can be defined as the anticipated coming of something important. In the Christian church we celebrate Advent (big A) each year, beginning four Sundays before December 25th.
On his web page on Advent, Noel Piper writes: “For four weeks, it’s as if we’re re-enacting, remembering the thousands of years God’s people were anticipating and longing for the coming of God’s salvation, for Jesus.” (Noel Piper)
Charles Wesley, bother to John penned it well in his hymn:
Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, Born to set Thy people free.
From our fears and sins release us; Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel's Strength and Consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art--
Dear desire of every nation, Joy of every longing heart.
So, this is Advent, the waiting, the anticipated coming of something important.
I remember well waiting for the birth of our son Jason, our first child. I remember waiting for our daughter’s birth as well, but Jason was our first. There were joys and concerns. Suzanne went into labor weeks early and was put on complete bed rest just as we moved to a new city for me to pursue a new job. We were dead broke and hundreds of miles from family surrounded by strangers. We had both joys and concerns.
One reason I so anticipated his birth was the projected birth date: 8-8-88. He missed being born on 8-8-88 by 12 hours. He’s always been a bit impatient. (Can’t imagine where he gets that.) Jason’s twenty-fourth birthday was Tuesday, August 7, 2012.
Shortly after he was born, he was put into infant ICU because his heart was beating too fast. We found out later that this was both a common condition for newborns and that a stint in infant ICU is a common response to the condition. But for us, as brand new parents, it was tragic. I remember going into the restroom in the hospital and locking the door, kneeling down and begging God to heal my son. I went so far as to pray for God to take me out if it meant saving our son. I wasn’t really a Believer at that point, but you know the old saying “there are no atheists in foxholes.”
I went to look at Jason through the glass window during his short stay in infant ICU. As I stood at the window, it was as though he knew I was there. He turned his head and looked right at me as if to say, “I’m coming home soon, I’ll be your responsibility then.” I know he probably couldn’t even focus his eyes at that point, but it seemed to me he was looking into my soul. Joys and concerns.
Jason recovered, came home and grew up to be a fine young man. He now attends Asbury Theological Seminary under a call from God to be a worship leader.
Every parent understands the joys and concerns of being a new parent. I can hardly imagine the joy and concern that gripped the hearts of Zechariah and Elizabeth as they awaited the birth of their first child, a son…a son to be named John according to the Angel Gabriel. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Luke, tells the story: “It all begins with a Jewish priest, Zechariah, who lived when Herod was King of Judea.” “He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive (barren), and they were both very old.”
A couple of things to notice here: first, Zechariah was of the priestly order of Abijah. The priestly orders looked after the business of the Temple. It was his turn to minister before the golden altar of incense in the Holy Place, possibly for the first time in his priestly service. Centuries before, King David divided the priests into twenty-four courses. The order of Abijah, to which Zacharias belonged, was the eighth in line. Each course would be called to minister in the Temple on only two occasions during the entire year, each occasion lasting for one week. With nearly a thousand priests in each course, it becomes evident that entering the Holy Place and kindling the incense on the golden altar was quite possibly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But this was Zacharias’ day. (1)