Summary: Advent is the good news that there is hope regardless of your situation
Most of you are probably familiar with the classic Christmas movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The movie begins with George Bailey about to commit suicide in Bedford Falls, New York on Christmas Eve in 1945. As the prayers of his friends are heard in heaven an angel apprentice named Clarence Odbody is dispatched to help George regain his hope. While the movie is certainly far from accurate theologically, especially in its portrayal of angels, the theme of finding hope at Christmas is a timeless theme that actually does have its roots in the Scriptures, as we will discover this morning.
Over the next four weeks, and again on Christmas Eve, we’re going to take a fresh look at Christmas through the eyes of some of the people who were an integral part of the coming of our Savior. These are certainly not the people that we would expect God to involve in bringing His Son into the world. That first Christmas God did not choose to work through religious or political leaders or people of power and prestige. Instead, he partnered with an elderly couple who were childless, a group of pagan stargazers, a bunch of smelly, uneducated shepherds, a teenage girl and the carpenter she was planning to marry, and a humble innkeeper. I’m convinced that God did it that way because He wants all of us to understand that the power of Christmas is available for every single person, no matter our position in this world.
Before I proceed this morning, let me just make a couple of comments about the messages leading up to Christmas. You will notice that your bulletin insert isn’t the normal “fill-in-the-blank” outline. That’s because the passages that we’ll be looking at are stories and narratives that don’t necessarily lend themselves to a logical outline. If you want to make a few notes, I’ve left some space for you to do that, but my goal is that we’ll use these familiar Bible passages to take us on a journey in which we experience the wonder of the incarnation in a fresh way rather than just make this an academic study.
For the children who are here with us, this is going to be particularly challenging for you, but I know you are up to the task. On your handout, there are a few questions that I hope you can answer as you listen to the message today. But in order to do that, you’ll need to listen very carefully. I know that your parents and grandparents will help you listen for those answers.
With that in mind, you can either turn in your Bibles to Luke chapter 1 or you can follow along using your bulletin insert which contains the passage we’ll be looking at this morning.
The very first Christmas occurred during a very dark time in the life of Israel and in the life of an elderly couple named Zechariah and Elizabeth. For Israel, it was a dark time because it had been roughly 400 years since God had spoken to His people through the prophet Malachi. That certainly doesn’t mean that God hadn’t still been at work in the lives of His people, preparing them for the coming of the Messiah. But the people still probably felt like God had abandoned them. But now, God was about to intervene in their lives in a way that would give them permanent, lasting hope.
And God would announce the source of that hope in quite an unexpected way – by sending his angel to an old priest who had experienced his own darkness in life because he and his wife were childless. Let’s pick up the account of that encounter in Luke chapter 1, beginning in verse 5:
In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
We are introduced here to two people who only appear briefly in Scripture – Zechariah and Elizabeth. We’ve talked before about how important names are in the Bible and this is certainly one of those times where the names of the people involved in the story foreshadow what God is about to do in their lives.
Zechariah means “God remembers.” And we are about to see that even though Zechariah might feel like God has forgotten him, exactly the opposite is true. God remembers Zechariah and He remembers His people.
Elizabeth means “God is my oath.” And God is indeed about to make an oath, a promise, that is going to bring great light that will dispel both the darkness that Zechariah and Elizabeth have lived under and the darkness that Israel has experienced as a people.