Summary: The song of Zechariah reveals that saying “yes” to God’s pursuit, promises and purposes brings God’s peace
In 1963 Andy Williams released his first Christmas album which contained a song that has become one of the top ten holiday songs of all time – “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”. So it’s not surprising that the song has been recorded by nearly 20 other artists ranging from Harry Connick, Jr. to Garth Brooks to Amy Grant to Chicago.
But for many reasons, Christmas is not necessarily the most wonderful time of the year for everyone:
• For some, it’s the reminder of the loss of a loved one.
• For others, it’s a reminder of their broken families – perhaps as a result of a divorce or rebellious children.
• For still others, it brings attention to financial struggles that are going to be exacerbated by the money they feel pressured to spend to meet the expectations of the season.
• For many, it would more accurately be called “the most stressful time of the year”, with all the pressure to decorate, and send Christmas cards, and bake and to find just the right gift for everyone on your list combined with all the extra activities that occur this time of year.
Or perhaps this Christmas you’re going through some trial or difficulty that is completely unrelated to Christmas – maybe a health issue or problems at work or relationship problems. So this really isn’t the most wonderful time of year for you, either.
If, for any of those reasons or any others, Christmas isn’t the most wonderful time of year for you, then this morning’s message is particularly relevant for you. And even if you really love the Christmas season and things are going great for you, there are some things that all of us can learn that will be of great help in our lives and in the lives of others when the times of darkness and despair inevitably come.
This morning, as we continue our series on the Songs of Christmas from Luke’s gospel account, we’re going to focus on a couple who was unlikely to view Christmas as the most wonderful time of year. But we’re going to see how God turned everything upside down in their lives and turned their darkness and death into light and life. And more importantly, we’ll learn how he can do the same for us and how He can use us in the process of brining hope to others.
Turn with me to Luke chapter1 and follow in Luke’s gospel as I describe the situation that faced Zechariah and Elizabeth. Beginning in verse 5, we learn that Zechariah and Elizabeth were both advanced in years and yet they had no children, which was considered to be a curse in that culture.
The historical context for the nation of Israel didn’t provide for a lot of hope either. Although the people of Israel were looking for the coming of the Messiah, it had now been over 400 years since the people had heard from God through the prophet Malachi. And now they were living under the rule of an oppressive foreign king, King Herod, who served as a vassal king under the authority of the Roman Empire.
So both personally, and as a part of the nation of Israel, there were many reasons why this certainly wasn’t the most wonderful time of the year for Zechariah and Elizabeth. But that is about to change.
Zechariah was one of about 20,000 priests who served in the Temple. His division of priests was on duty for one week two different times during the year, and during those times he would travel to Jerusalem to fulfill his responsibilities at the Temple. In verse 8, Luke reveals that on this particular occasion, he was chosen by lot to be the one to enter the Holy Place and burn incense outside the curtain to the Holy of Holies. This was a once in a lifetime experience for a priest since once he was chosen he would never have that opportunity again. Obviously, as we’ll see, this was no chance occurrence as God was working behind the scenes to carry out His plan.
While Zechariah was arranging the incense and interceding for the people, a large group was also praying in the courtyard as well. While all that was going on, the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah and revealed that he and Elizabeth are going to have a child who will prepare the way for the Messiah. When Zechariah asks how he can be sure that this is really going to happen, Gabriel tells him that he will be mute until the birth of his son.
It is during this period that Gabriel also appears to Mary to reveal that she is going to be the mother of the Messiah, Jesus. Shortly thereafter Mary comes to visit Elizabeth and speaks the song that we looked at last week.