Summary: This is the first in a Christmas series that examines the several "Fear Not" commands given throughout the Christmas story. This is the story of Zechariah.
(Song - "Fear No More" - Building 249)
That might be you this morning. You didn’t choose to be situated quite like you are this morning. Things haven’t turned out just like you’d hoped. And here you are. If the future is anything like much of the past, it’s looking pretty scary. But there’s a certain comfort to be found when you give up trying to be in control and instead trust that God is truly in control.
That fits well on a Jewish priest in Luke 1 named Zechariah. We don’t have much information about him, except for 3 verses which are a common starting place for reading about the Christmas story. We know that he and his wife Elizabeth were descendants of families of priests. They’re described as being righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. They were also childless and “advanced in years.”
Now, after that description, you may have already concluded that you and Zechariah have very little in common. Let me help you with that: if you’ve ever asked God for something and were confused or let down about His response to you, then Zechariah’s story may actually hit home with you very well.
I have a few goals for this message today:
1. Introduce this series “Unafraid” which will run through this Christmas season right to Christmas Eve.
With all the warm fuzzies and fond feelings of Christmas, there are also a whole sleigh full of worries, stresses, and fears. But when I study through the Christmas story in the Bible, I keep running across this simple instruction: “Fear Not” or “Don’t be afraid.”
It’s almost as if the Lord means for the story of Christmas to help alleviate our fears! This series may have the potential to help you have your first fear-free Christmas!
2. A more biblical understanding of prayer
I mean the kind of understanding that will prevent anyone from saying, “Prayer works!” You may be guilty of that. I am. I’m guessing that if you’ll look at that more carefully, you’ll change the way you say what you’re meaning.
A person who grows tomatoes might buy some Miracle Grow plant food and have a great tomato year with it and say, “Hey, it works!”
Prayer isn’t something like fertilizer. It just doesn’t fit into a category of things that either “work or “don’t work.” I’ve been praying for over 50 years and I’ve reached the conclusion that you just can’t speak about it by saying, “It works!” when the thing you prayed for happens or “It doesn’t work!” when the thing you prayed for didn’t happen. We need to use Bible words for Bible things as much as possible.
3. Comfort that comes from being confident that God does “hear” our prayers.
I noticed that ET made it back onto a TV commercial this year. Remember how ET sent a message out into space, just in the hopes that someone on the other end might hear it and might care?
Too many people feel like they’re just sending some signal out there in the hopes that somewhere, someone might be listening and might respond. Is that what prayer is? Like a random radio message shot into space?
Wouldn’t it be great instead to be confident that God listens to you?
First of all, it should be amazing that He even bothers to care about us at all. But beyond that, we have good reason to understand today that God does hear us - which is even more amazing! For instance, just look at a few of the Psalms:
Psalm 4:3 But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him.
Psalm 6:8-9 Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping. The LORD has heard my plea; the LORD accepts my prayer.
When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.
For the LORD hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners.
Let’s go back inside the holy place of the temple in Luke 1. Zechariah is there, offering incense. It’s a big day for him, because this is probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for him personally. He is there to throw incense onto the altar, bow, and then get out. But standing to the right of the altar of incense is a cute little naked baby with wings, no wait, that’s not right…a beautiful woman with long hair and wings, no wait, that’s not right either! Standing to the right of the altar is Gabriel, the archangel of God - a being whose appearance is so overwhelming it consistently evokes the same response from every human who sees him. Luke uses 2 words - one for being stirred up on the inside, and the other common word for “fear.” That’s why the angel tells Zechariah, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard…”